The Process of a Visit
All our custody visits are unannounced and conducted by pairs of visitors. These visitors have undergone induction training and have been security cleared by Dorset Police. For the first few months, new visitors will conduct training visits with experienced colleagues and feedback from each visit will be forwarded to the Scheme Manager to enable them to assess each trainee individually.
All visits are planned on a quarterly basis (Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep, Oct-Dec). Initially the Panel Chair will email out to everyone asking them to advise their availability for the coming quarter. The schedule is then put together, visitors are randomly paired and advised which custody suite they need to visit and allocated a week to do the visit in. In Dorset we have two 24 hour suites and one reserve suite. Each of the 24 hour suites are visited weekly, and the reserve suite is visitied when in use. Visitors are expected to visit all of the Dorset suites and are not limited to their nearest suite.
Approximately two weeks before the visit is due to commence, one of the pair of visitors will contact their visiting partner to discuss a day and time to make the visit. The pair of visitors are the only ones to know this information.
Visitors meet away from the custody suite and arrive together to ensure the visit remains unannounced. On arrival at each suite they will make themselves known to the enquiry office staff (or, dependent on the admittance arrangements, the custody staff) who will immediately advise of their arrival. Visitors are admitted through to the custody suite without delay. The Scheme’s credibility could be affected if there is a delay in gaining access.
On arrival the visitors will meet with the custody sergeant to discuss the detainees being held. Visitors will not be informed of the detainees name or the reason they are being detained.
Visitors will identify any vulnerable detainees and prioritise them for a visit and thereafter will make a random selection until they are satisfied that all is well within the suite.
The role of a custody visitor is to ensure that detainee’s rights have been met and to check on their welfare and conditions they are being held in. Questions to be considered will include: Have they been provided with adequate food, drink and exercise? Have their medical needs been met? Are the conditions of the cell/suite acceptable?
Visitors are escorted by a member of custody staff at all times, each detainee is asked by the visitors directly if they wish to receive a visit and if they are happy to allow the visitors to view the detainee’s ‘log’ (the list of recorded actions/events since they arrived in custody), the detainee has the right to refuse one or both of these requests. Detainees can make requests to the ICVs, these can include those for food, drink, a wash or expressing concern for dependents, requests are passes onto the custody staff to fulfill. This list is not exhaustive.
At the end of the visit, the visitors will take time to review the custody logs of any detainees who have granted permission for them to do so, enabling the visitors to corroborate any comments from the detainee about their treatment.
They will then complete the report form. Once visitors have noted their comments on the form, they invite the custody officer to respond with their comments. However, in some cases an immediate response will not available. At the panel meeting visitors are always provided with the opportunity to comment on any visit they have carried out.
Although custody officers are encouraged to respond to visitor’s comments at the time of the visit, an immediate response may not available, or may relate to an issue wider than the responsibility of the custody officer.
Every quarter a report is produced and presented to the the ICV Panel based on the visits conducted. The Custody Manager will be invited to respond to queries or issues raised prior to the Panel meeting. The Panel meetings are attended by all visitors, the Scheme Manager, the Scheme Administrator, the Police and Crime Commissioner or his representative, the Assistant Chief Constable, the Custody Manager and the Custody Support Officer.
At the meeting issues or trends highlighted by the visitors will be discussed. These meetings provide an ideal opportunity for visitors to share experiences, discuss observations and obtain responses from the Force. The benefits of these meetings are far reaching, therefore, we ask all visitors to attend a minimum of three out of the four held each year, along with at least one training session each year.
Independent Custody Visiting is high level volunteering and requires a considerable amount of commitment from volunteers. Good organisational and time management skills can reduce the impact of this work. To see the amount of time committed by an average ICV over a three month period click here.