Oversight of how detainees in England and Wales are being treated in police custody is inadequate regarding the deterrence of police misconduct, a conference heard.
The independent custody visitors scheme supposedly enabled members of the community to monitor the wellbeing and treatment of detainees. Yet Dr John Kendall, external associate at Birmingham University’s centre for crime, justice and policing, deemed the scheme inadequate in a presentation to the British Sociological Association as reported in The Guardian.
15 to 20 detainees are dying annually within police custody, a disproportionate percentage being Black. There were 56 apparent suicides alone last year following custody. Kendall argues the UK are failing to comply with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture laid out by the United Nations, requiring a standard of safeguarding for detainees.
He claims: ‘my research found that visitors are not independent and the scheme is designed to cause the least trouble to the police. Meetings between detainees and visitors were brief and detainees disclosed that they did not trust the visitors, Under the code of practise there was always a member of the custody staff stood at the door, monitoring the meetings.’
After consulting with visitors, custody staff and lawyers, additional to his observations of the diverse urban police force located in England, he found visitors failed to challenge police if access to specific detainees was denied. Other issues included visitors not reporting back to detainees when asked to enquire on their behalf, as well as the visitors assuming detainees were guilty, failing to view themselves as independent.
For Kendall an overarching issue was the visitors lack of independence due to schemes being run by Police and Crime Commissioners. He claimed both the Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA), made only of PCCs, and the Home Office refused discussion on the matter.
Since the ICVA have welcomed Kendall’s commitment to detainees wellbeing and have encouraged his recommendations, yet the ‘the police continue to mark their own homework on how they treat detainees in their custody.’
Kendall further suggested that the ‘community should be given statutory powers to regulate and deter police conduct from causing potential harm and death to detainees.’