INDEPENDENT CUSTODY VISITING
The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner runs an Independent Custody Visiting Scheme, where volunteer members of the public visit police stations unannounced to check that people being held in custody are being treated properly.
The people who carry out these visits are called Independent Custody Visitors. They are volunteers recruited from a variety of backgrounds and sections of the community. They must be over 18 years old and because of the need to be independent, serving police officers and other serving members of the police or Police and Crime Commissioner staff, special constables, lay justices or members of the Police and Crime Panel cannot be Independent Custody Visitors. This maintains the independence of the scheme.
What is the role of Independent Custody Visitors?
To observe, comment and report on:
- The rights of the detainee;
- The health and welfare of the detainee;
- Conditions of the facilities of detention.
When and where are visits made?
Currently visits are made to the following Custody Suites; Shepcote Lane in Sheffield, Doncaster Police Station, and Ecclesfield Police Station.
Barnsley Custody Suite is currently closed and being rebuilt on site. The new suite is expected to re-open in October 2016 at which point Ecclesfield Custody Suite will close.
By the Autumn of 2016 Independent Custody Visitors will be making visits to Barnsley, Shepcote Lane in Sheffield and Doncaster Custody Suites.
An Independent Custody Visitor will usually be expected to undertake at least one visit a month. Visits can be at any time of the day or night and they can take anything from less than an hour up to 2 hours depending on how busy the station is. It is the responsibility of the volunteer in consultation with their visiting partner to arrange a mutually convenient time to undertake a visit. The visits should be random and unannounced.
Independent Custody Visitors will be appointed to a local Panel which meets every few months to discuss the results of their visits and any related issues with police custody officers and the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.
What happens when independent custody visitors make a visit?
Visits are always undertaken by pairs of custody visitors, under no circumstances do they ever visit alone, nor do they combine visiting with any other business at a police station.
Independent Custody Visitors must maintain their independence and impartiality. They do not take their sides but look, listen and report on what they find in the custody unit.
On arrival at the police station, Independent Custody Visitors should be escorted to the custody area immediately.
Visitors have access to the entire custody area, including cells, detention rooms, charge rooms and medical room to check detainees have been offered their rights and entitlements under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
Independent Custody Visitors must first introduce themselves to the detainees and ask if they will consent to the visit. If a detainee refuses then that must be respected.
Interviews with detainees are, for the Independent Custody Visitors’ protection, normally carried out within sight, but not of hearing of the escorting officer.
Immediate areas of concern will be raised by the Independent Custody Visitors with the Police at the time of the visit and any necessary action taken.
Independent Custody Visitors must treat the details of what they see and hear on their visit as confidential. It is essential that visitors do not name or otherwise identify persons in custody even in reports or discussions with the Police and Crime Commissioner.
A straightforward report is completed after each visit which includes any aspect of treatment and conditions they consider to be unsatisfactory. Copies of the reports are provided to the police and the Police and Crime Commissioner. These visit reports provide a vital source of information on the environment and welfare conditions in which detainees are held.
Animal Welfare Scheme
Independent Custody Visitors are also given the opportunity to join the Police Dog Welfare Scheme.
The purpose of this scheme is to enable an independent observation, comment and report on the conditions under which the dogs are housed, trained and transported with a view to securing greater public understanding and confidence in these matters. It also provides an independent check on the way the police dogs handlers carry out their responsibilities with regard to the welfare of animals in their care.
Why would you want to become an Independent Custody Visitor?
This is your chance to offer protection to both detainees and the police and reassurance to the community at large and gain an insight into the criminal justice system by checking on the treatment of people in police custody, the conditions in which they are held and that their rights and entitlements are being observed. Visiting a custody unit takes a few hours once or twice a month. You and a fellow Independent Custody Visitor decide when the visit is made, morning, day or night!
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) is a major reference for Independent Custody Visitors as they carry out inspections of police custody suites. Full training will be provided and reasonable travelling and out of pocket expenses will be reimbursed.