By Rebecca Curley, Local Democracy Reporter, 15 October
Shorts and T-shirts are now being given to people arrested and held in police cells to help provide more dignity to vulnerable detainees.
The two-piece sets replace smock-type clothing that was offered but considered to be undignified for those at risk of self harm.
The new clothing issued in 2018/19 to vulnerable detainees is one of the changes imposed after volunteers inspected custody suites in Surrey.
Other improvements to how people are treated in police cells include making sure embassies have been notified of the arrest of a foreign national and more female detainees being offered sanitary products.
Independent Custody Visiting is carried out by volunteers to check on the welfare of detainees and the changes made were highlighted in the ICV annual report.
Surrey Police has three custody suites in Guildford, Staines and Salfords with 15 spare cells in Woking.
Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) are allowed access to police cells and ask those detained if they would like to speak with them.
Retired Stephen Niblett has been an ICV for nearly two years and as a volunteer said he is not there to judge or to pass guilt, but to check on the welfare of the person being detained.
He said: “They are not guilty just because they are in a police cell. We are not the judge, the jury or the police. If we have got their confidence they will talk to us.”
Volunteers work in pairs and turn up to the police stations unannounced. The first a custody officer knows of the audit is when the doorbell rings with the volunteers asking to be let in.
They are then allowed access to the cells and detainees available are asked if they would like to speak with the ICVs.
Volunteers then check with the person in the cell that they have been offered legal help, food or drink and whether or not they need anything they are entitled to under rights in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE).
Mr Niblett added: “We ask them how they have been treated. You get a few expletives. But in 22 months at Guildford it’s all been five stars.”
ICVs are not concerned with the identity of the detainee or with the reason for their detention. Any issues raised are discussed as appropriate with custody staff. ICVs also inspect and comment on the general condition and facilities of the custody suite including the kitchen, medical room and showers.
They then report back to the Office of the Police Crime Commissioner.
Erika Dallinger, ICV scheme manager, said changes that have been brought in recently include better access for women to sanitary products and changes to anti-rip clothing given to high-risk detainees.
And that the whole idea, which stemmed from race riots across England in 1981 and distrust with the police, is about community oversight.
She said: “Whether it’s someone’s first time in custody or their 20th time, they have had their liberty taken away.
“When it’s custody because it is such closed doors there’s no one doing what we as a relative might do in the NHS system.
“At the end of the day they might be guilty, or they might not be guilty, but it could easily be your neighbour or family member.”
There are 42 active ICV visitors in Surrey and between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019 they carried out 187 unannounced random visits to cells.
Volunteers are split into three groups and each custody suite is audited five times a month at any time of the day or night.
During the 2018/19 reporting year, a total of 12,175 people were held in Surrey custody centres, this was an increase of 387 (3.28%) people from the previous year. At the time of the ICV visits a total of 1,070 detainees were in custody (8.8% of overall annual custody population).
Anti-rip clothing was one of the concerns raised during the visits as it was not seen as offering any dignity to detainees who had to wear them.
With the help of Erika and her team of volunteers the concerns were raised with Surrey Police and that has now changed so T-shirts and shorts are offered as well as the smock-style dresses.
“It’s about treating everyone with dignity and respect,” she added.
Surrey is also said to be “leading nationally” with its treatment of females in custody with more than 80% of those asked saying they were offered sanitary products by a female officer.
To volunteer visit https://www.surrey-pcc.gov.uk/independent-custody-visiting/