Health & Welfare Concerns For Court Cells In Herts & Beds

There's not enough focus on the treatment and care of people detained in court cells in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

Today Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, published the report of an inspection of court custody facilities in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

The inspection was part of a series of inspections of court custody carried out by HM Inspectorate of Prisons. At the time of inspection there were six courts that had custody facilities in use and an immigration and asylum hearing centre which had two holding rooms. The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) had contracted Serco Wincanton to provide custody and escort facilities for HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) in the two counties.

HMCTS and Serco Wincanton described their strategic relationships as positive but this did not always ensure positive outcomes for detainees held in court custody. All the agencies involved in meetings were aware of the shortcomings of the estate. HMCTS did too little to drive forward improvements and there was not enough focus on the treatment, care and welfare of detainees. Some court delivery managers saw custody as solely the responsibility of Serco Wincanton, which was unacceptable.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:
 
"    there was no formal assessment of detainees' risks on arrival to ensure they were identified and managed;
"    observation levels, particularly for the most vulnerable detainees, were not always conducted at the required frequency;
"    many staff did not know about local safeguarding arrangements;
"    handcuffs were routinely applied, even on children and where court custody facilities were secure, without an individual risk assessment taking place to justify their use;
"    poor prioritisation of court cases contributed to some detainees spending unnecessary periods and sometimes too long in court custody;  and
"    the cleaning and maintenance contract was not managed effectively and too little had been invested in court custody facilities.

Inspectors were, however, pleased to find that:

"    staffing levels were adequate and there was an ongoing commitment to officer training and development; and
"    custody staff dealt with detainees professionally and courteously.

Peter Clarke said:
 
"Overall this was a mixed inspection. We have a number of concerns about safety, risk management, care for the most vulnerable and the physical environment in court custody facilities across Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. We have made a number of recommendations to improve the safety and care of people detained in court custody."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:

“HM Courts & Tribunals Service has been working closely with Serco Prisoner Escort Custody Service and the National Offender Management Service to improve the management of court custody areas.

“As part of our drive to make the justice system more efficient we are also working to avoid prisoners being brought to court unnecessarily through better use of video link technology.”

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