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'Little progress' in preventing overnight detention of children

HMICFRS releases report on force's custody practices

Children are frequently being left in custody overnight and staff shortages are putting detainees at risk, an inspection report says.

HMIs highlighted the concerns following unannounced visits to custody suites in Northampton and Kettering.

The report says there are insufficient staffing levels on some shifts to ensure safe detention. In the suite at Weekley Woods, near Kettering, this meant slow responses to cell call bells and infrequent observations of detainees.

Across the two suites with a total of 62 cells there are 26 custody sergeants and 25 civilian detention officers who are employed by G4S.

Children charged and refused bail also continued to remain in custody, often overnight and for long periods. And although there were policies to move them to alternative accommodation, “little progress” has been made, the report adds.

The inspections were carried out in January by a joint team from HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

HMIs were also concerned about the use of force with “inadequate” governance and oversight due to Northamptonshire Police failing to record all incidences as well it being “disproportionate to the risk or threat posed,” in some cases.

Additionally shortcomings urgently need to be improved around Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) compliance, with staff incorrectly rousing intoxicated detainees through the cell door hatch, rather than entering the cell.

However, HMIs did praise the force for treating detainees respectfully, in clean custody suites, which was also effective in keeping many children and vulnerable adults out of detention.

It was also noted frontline officers were effective in finding ways to avoid taking children into custody and those who were detained were well cared for.

Overall, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Wendy Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said: “Custody staff treated detainees respectfully. They recognised, and in the main, met individual and diverse needs. To aid improvement we have identified a number of key areas of concern and areas for improvement.

“While the regional arrangements provided an appropriate governance structure for custody services in Northamptonshire Police, there was insufficient direct oversight and scrutiny at the force’s senior officer level.”