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2023 Police & Justice Service Group Conference
8 June 2023

Conference notes with concern the delicate balance of safely and securely caring for the welfare of detainees in a dignified and professional manner. The temporary loss of liberty whilst being detained coupled with the circumstances of arrest too often leads to irrational behaviour and self-harm whilst being confined.

Tried and tested risk adverse methods of strict adherence to limiting detainees’ access to items that can be used for self-harm are being challenged in the current climate and decisions are being made that increase the risk to the detainees and place even more pressure on custody staff.

Detainees are held in custody because an allegation of a crime, and as a result their liberty has been taken for a length of time for this to be investigated. As such they almost expect for custody to be a somewhat sterile and protective environment.

The biggest change which is currently being sought is to provide “dignity” to detainees by no longer making it routine to remove; cords from clothing, allowing them access to shoes with laces, watches and other large jewellery items and belts. Allowing detainees to keep a range of items such as these it can become “easier” for a detainee to cause injury or harm to themselves or to the Staff who are caring for them.

Limiting items that and being risk adverse can easily be accomplished in conjunction whilst maintaining the dignity of the detainee; this has been tried and tested over many years improving the safety of the detainee and staff.

The current pressures to take more risks will surely lead to more adverse incidents in custody where custody and detention officer members will be involved in Independent Office of Police Complaints (IOPC) investigations.

We call on the SGE to:

1)Survey forces asking:

a)What local policies are regarding detainees’ dignity and retention of items which could routinely cause harm;

b)How many deaths, adverse incidents or staff assaults have occurred involving the retention of items whilst in custody;

c)If retention of personal items by detainees are as a result of budget cuts to the provision of items such as replacement clothing within custody;

2) Consider the findings of the survey to see if a campaign to reverse the trend is appropriate and seek to work with the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) to address our concerns.