The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner runs an Independent Custody Visiting Scheme, where volunteer members of the public visit custody suites 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 (ICVs). 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 ICVs. This maintains the independence of the scheme.
What is the role of an ICV?
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?
Visits are made to Shepcote Lane Custody Suite in Sheffield, Doncaster Police Station, and Barnsley Police Station.
An ICV 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 3 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.
ICVs 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 ICVs – under no circumstances do they ever visit alone, nor do they combine visiting with any other business at a police station.
ICVs must maintain their independence and impartiality. They do not take sides but look, listen and report on what they find in the custody unit.
On arrival at the police station, ICVs should be escorted to the custody area immediately.
ICVs 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 (PACE).
ICVs 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 ICVs’ protection, normally carried out within sight, but not of hearing of the escorting officer.
Immediate areas of concern will be raised by the ICVs with South Yorkshire Police at the time of the visit and any necessary action taken.
ICVs must treat the details of what they see and hear on each 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 South Yorkshire 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
ICVs 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 become an ICV?
This is your chance to offer protection to both detainees and the police, provide reassurance to the community, 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 suite takes a few hours once or twice a month. You and a fellow ICV decide when the visit is made, morning, day or night.
PACE is a major reference for ICVs 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.
Day in the life of an ICV
Julie* has been volunteering in South Yorkshire for a number of years. Here she gives an account of what being an ICV involves…
Several years ago I responded to an advert in ‘The Star’ asking for volunteers to become Independent Custody Visitors (ICV’s). Every Police and Crime Commissioner runs a scheme for the custody suites in their area supporting ICV’s to fulfil their role.
Each custody visit is scheduled with a fellow visitor, you attend in pairs and unannounced.
On entering the suite we’re given brief details of detainees. We then prioritise seeing people with particular needs, such as anyone with significant mental and/or physical health problems, or young people aged seventeen or under. We go through a series of questions with those who agree to see us in their cells. They cover all aspects of the welfare and rights of someone in custody, for example, has the person had access to a solicitor, been offered something to eat and drink, or seen the nurse if needed?
Detention Officers are always on hand to support us during a visit, and to talk to regarding any matters we’ve noted with detainees. D.O’s can raise any concerns they’ve encountered too. ICV’s are also there to look and note down any problems with the physical environment which could be detrimental to staff or detainees.
After viewing any relevant custody records we complete a report sheet for our visit. One copy goes to the custody suite Inspector, and one to the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. It gives snapshot data on all of the above which helps to highlight anything requiring further consideration, and equally the good practice that’s happening locally.
We each currently undertake a visit every three weeks, but this can vary. Each visit lasts up to two hours, but again this is approximate. There’s also a quarterly panel meeting for every area so Visitors, OPCC staff, and an Inspector for the custody suite can review, and contribute together in supporting the local custody service.
*Not real name