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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Inspectors critical of court custody service

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It is hard to imagine a more critical report, but even more concerning was the inspectors' conclusion that there was very little strategic leadership or expectation that the poor conditions highlighted again in this report would be rectified.

This is the sixth in a short series of posts exploring the final annual report of Prison Chief Inspector Nick Hardwick published on 14 July 2015. This post looks at Hardwick’s findings from the inspections of court escort services.

Court custody service still poor

The conclusions in the court custody and escorts section of the annual report are based on inspections in three court areas covering court custody facilities in five counties. The overall verdict is critical:

[alert-warning]”There had been no discernible improvements in detainee care and too many of our previous recommendations had not been addressed.”[/alert-warning]

Hardwick’s report makes five headline findings:

  1. There continued to be no systematic risk assessment of detainees arriving at court, and they were still given little information about their rights.
  2. Many court custody suites were filthy, covered in graffiti and unsanitary.
  3. There was little court contact with health care professionals, and many detainees did not have their medications in court.
  4. There was still little inter-agency work to lead improvements.
  5. Every year there are hundreds of thousands of escort journeys to and from courts, which could be reduced by greater use of video links.

Further information on some of these issues is set out below.

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No focus on a decent service

Inspectors found that Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Services (HMCTS) monitored escort services tightly but were mainly concerned with security and timeliness with issues relating to the safe and decent treatment of detainees frequently neglected.

They found that very few detainees were told about their rights in custody and if they wished to raise a legitimate grievance were actively deterred from doing so.

There was no systematic risk assessment in many areas and when risk assessments were done, they were often done superficially with a focus on having to complete a form, rather than identify risks and act on them accordingly.

[divider]

Very poor conditions

The state of court cells in Kent were “the worst we have seen with Surrey and Sussex being little better.” Cells were filthy and covered in old racist, pornographic and misogynistic graffiti.

Despite repeated recommendations from the inspectors, no court cells had any blankets, warm clothing or mattresses to offer elderly, disabled or pregnant detainees who could spend up to 10 hours or longer on hard benches, sometimes in unheated cells.

[divider]

Healthcare

Unfortunately, inspectors found the same poor state of affairs in relation to healthcare. They found that custody contractors rarely called out medical practitioners and that mental health and substance misuse practitioners who were available to courts were not required to attend custody suites and rarely visited detainees. This meant that the opportunity to divert individuals with a undiagnosed and/or untreated mental health problems was missed.

So poor was the general standard of healthcare, that one custody provider sent home a man with tuberculosis without any contact with a medical practitioner.

[divider]

Conclusions

It is hard to imagine a more critical report, but even more concerning was the inspectors’ conclusion that there was very little strategic leadership or expectation that the poor conditions highlighted once again in this report would be rectified.

 

Related posts you might like:

Women’s prisons are improving

It is notable that women’s prisons, although facing all the problems of having to operate within a male focused system, have largely succeeded in improving the service they provide when conditions in men’s prisons have deteriorated so far, so quickly.

Read More »

The shocking state of men’s prisons

It will be interesting to see whether the appointment of Michael Gove as Justice Secretary will have any impact on this parlous state of affairs. Clearly, the problems are becoming so entrenched that it will be difficult for much positive change to take place if, as is widely feared, the MoJ takes another big hit in the current spending review whose results will be announced in November 2015.

Read More »
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