Police told to improve after 'too many children kept in custody overnight'

A generic image of a Humberside Police officer locking a prison cell
A generic image of a Humberside Police officer locking a prison cell -Credit:Humberside Police

Avon and Somerset Police has been told it needs to improve how it manages risk in custody to keep detainees safe. A report by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services published today highlighted issues raised during an inspection in January.

The report summarised: "We found limitations to how the force identifies and manages risk. Custody officers don't record risk assessments in enough detail. They don't regularly review care plans and adjust risk levels in response to changes in detainees' circumstances.

"Detainees under the influence of drink or drugs aren't always placed on level two observations with rousing checks. Anti-rip clothing is used without considering higher observation levels as a more appropriate and proportionate way to manage the risk of self-harm. When it is used, it often leads to the use of force or restraint, sometimes more than once.

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"Officers carrying out level three constant observations on CCTV do so in a busy area where they can be easily distracted. Detention officers do not make good enough records of welfare checks. We found evidence of generic and repetitive entries and the use of stock phrases such as AIO to mean 'all in order'.

"Custody officers don't oversee the pre-release risk assessment and handover process when detainees are released to court. Detention officers complete pre-release risk assessments without detainees being present, and the records kept are not detailed enough."

It said the force should act and put in place processes to consistently provide a safe custody environment immediately. Other areas noted included that "the force and its partners are strongly committed to keeping children out of custody" but that "too many children who are charged and refused bail are detained in custody overnight instead of being moved to secure or other appropriate alternative accommodation".

It added "frontline officers have a good understanding of what can make a person vulnerable" and that "the force provides good support for officers dealing with incidents involving people with suspected mental health conditions".

It said cells at sites in Bridgwater, Keynsham and Patchway were cleaned daily, but showers did not offer enough privacy and that removing doors to clinical rooms and replacing them with curtains undermined dignity.

The inspectors reviewed 34 custody records of cases where force was used, and viewed 20 of these cases on CCTV and commented: "In some cases where force was used, it was not proportionate to the risks assessed by custody officers or presented by the detainee. We had concerns about two cases where the use of force could have resulted in injury to officers and detainees, and we referred these to Avon and Somerset Police to review as a learning opportunity.

"We saw cases where there was effective communication and negotiation by custody officers. They were patient with violent and volatile detainees in their attempts to de-escalate situations. When force or restraint was used to remove clothing, incidents weren't always managed well. Custody officers didn't always justify removing the clothing or explain why it was necessary to use force."

It also highlighted release and transfer to custody, saying: "Custody officers generally carry out pre-release risk assessments with the detainee present, but this doesn't always happen when detainees are released to court."

Avon and Somerset Police was approached for comment.