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Research into whether custody environment can be improved

Police custody is a dynamic, fast-paced and often challenging area. Those entering and detained in custody are often at the lowest point in their lives and experiencing a number of issues. Similarly, custody staff are under pressure to maintain a safe and secure environment.

With that in mind, the PCC agreed to work with Bournemouth University on a project researching the current Dorset Police custody suite environment with a view to identifying any recommendations or actions that could be implemented to further improve safety and reduce any risks or pressures for police officers, staff and detainees.

During the summer of 2019, the project saw semi-structured interviews take place with a voluntary sample of detainees held in Dorset custody suites. Individuals were asked about their experiences on entering custody, communication with staff, the detention cells, and food/drink and amenities.

Coupled with other research studies and localised projects, a number of common themes and issues were identified, including:

  • The bland decoration of cells in plain white, prompting irritation and boredom.
  • A lack of awareness of time negatively affecting emotions and prompting anxiety.
  • A lack of activities such as reading to pass the time, prompting irritation and anger’.

Clearly there are limits to the scope of the changes that can be made to custody suites to ensure they remain compliant with national guidelines, remain safe and are not subject to significant cost or restructuring.

However, the project did identify a number of relatively simple steps which have been implemented to improve the environment. These include:  

  • Using the annual maintenance period at Bournemouth Custody Suite to facilitate the painting of cells in a different, calming colour.
  • The purchase of a selection of books with suitable themes, and including easy to read, large print and puzzle books, to help with reducing boredom and anxiety.
  • The purchase of a small number of accessories – such as foam footballs and fidget cubes – which have been successfully trialled elsewhere to reduce anxiety. Usage is considered on an individual basis subject to the appropriate risk assessment for the detainee.

The Commissioner agreed to fund the trial of these relatively simple measures and will conduct a review of the project after an appropriate period of time to evaluate their success.

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