Court Custody Facilities Not Up To Scratch

25 February 2014, 16:54 | Updated: 25 February 2014, 17:30

A report out today has criticised court custody facilities in Norfolk and Suffolk, for things like staff shortages and a lack of training.

Detainees were treated with care, but greater scrutiny was needed to improve standards in court cells and staff shortages needed to be resolved, according to the Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick.

The inspection in Norfolk and Suffolk was the fifth in a new programme of inspections of court custody carried out by HM Inspectorate of Prisons. At the time of inspection there were two crown courts and six magistrates’ courts in Norfolk and Suffolk.
Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • relationships between HMCTS and the contractor were positive, but as in other regions, there was uncertainty about the extent and nature of the HMCTS role in relation to the custody facilities

  • there were few formal channels through which problems concerning the care of detainees in court custody could be resolved

  • the HMCTS language interpretation provision did not supply a suitable service on every occasion which led to the court having to remand detainees in custody because they could not ascertain if the detainee understood or consented to bail conditions

  • this seriousness of this issue was compounded by the lack of a telephone interpretation service in the custody suite itself, so detainees with little English did not know what was happening to them

  • there were staff shortages at some courts and it was not clear why this issue had not been resolved earlier through the Prisoner Escort and Contract Services (PECS) contract

  • staff lacked training in local safeguarding procedures and looking after young people

  • at some courts, the temperature of the cells was unsatisfactory and there were no blankets at night to mitigate this; and

  • while custody staff strove to provide good care to vulnerable detainees, they struggled to maintain the mandatory regime of checking every detainee at least once every 10 minutes and recording it.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • at most courts, cleanliness was better than inspectors had seen elsewhere

  • custody staff treated detainees courteously and there were some very good examples of detainee care; and detainees were positive about staff and said they felt well looked after.

Nick Hardwick told Heart: “In Norfolk and Suffolk courts, standards of detainee care were hampered by shortages of staff, the limitations of the physical environment in some courts, and the lack of robust, multi-agency forums in which difficulties in court custody could be discussed and resolved.

"HMCTS and PECS need to clarify their respective responsibilities towards detainees in court custody, and exercise more scrutiny so that concerns are identified and resolved with greater determination and accountability.”