Maureen Line is an Independent Custody Visitor (ICV). Here she blogs about what her role entails:
Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) always work in pairs and our visits are arranged with each other in advance, usually at our ICV Support Meetings. We meet outside the police station at the agreed time, ready for an unannounced visit.
Each visit presents a unique set of circumstances and combination of people.
If the Custody Officer is not occupied, then this is a good time to ask if there are any issues that we need to be aware of.
The purpose of the visit is to check on the conditions in which a detainee is being kept and that their health, wellbeing, legal rights and entitlements are being properly managed.
This includes identifying what needs to be put right but it is also an opportunity to report on what is being done well, therefore providing reassurance to the wider public regarding this element of policing.
Many detainees speak of being treated fairly.
The Detention Officer (DO) escorts us on our tour of the cells.
As we go round the cells, the DO will advise if there is anyone who it may not be safe to talk to in their cell on the grounds of health and safety to themselves or to an ICV. A detainee may have exhibited violent behaviour on arrival, or may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
When we go into a cell, the DO will stand out of earshot but always remains visible. We briefly explain to the detainee what the purpose of our visit is and check with them whether it is alright for us to ask them some questions.
Most detainees seem to appreciate the visit, however, some prefer to carry on sleeping or choose not to talk. We tend to take it in turns to ask questions whilst the other ICV takes notes.
Sometimes, there may be a request for another blanket, some food, water or reading material.
As well as talking to the detainee, we also look at the cleanliness of the cell and toilet and whether there is anything that could be used as a ligature point from which to self-harm.
Part of the visit usually includes a check of the exercise yard as sometimes the drains can get blocked. We also look at the showers if they are not in use, shower mats and test the basin taps are working.
In the medical room, we check whether first aid equipment is in date and that clinical and sharps waste is secured and in the kitchen that surfaces are clean and food is within date.
After the visit, we are escorted to one of the interview rooms where one of us writes up a formal report of the visit.
We discuss each detainee separately, consulting our notes if there are any doubts.
Sometimes we ask to see a detainee’s Custody Record if we have a specific concern or one that has been raised by the detainee. There is a section on our form where we can flag up any particular issues but it is also an opportunity to provide comments on the helpfulness of the DO or the cleanliness of the Custody Suite.
We both sign the completed form to agree that we will not disclose any information that we have obtained during the visit. It is then taken to the Custody Officer; drawing attention to any comments we have made that require remedial action. A copy is then forwarded to the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner so that forms can be monitored for say, recurring issues or trends across the county.
Police and Crime Commissioners across the country are responsible for coordinating an effective Independent Custody Visiting Scheme for their county. Bedfordshire currently has 32 Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) and Maureen Line has been an ICV since 2012.
The Police and Crime Commissioner is always looking for more volunteers for the ICV Scheme. Click here for more information or contact the Office of the Police and Crime Commission by email.