Inspectors find some progress on police custody arrangements but further changes are required
A new report by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) has examined the standards and conditions of police custody arrangements in Northern Ireland.
The inspection reviewed current practice within the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) against its legal requirements under the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (PACE) and expectations designed to meet the UN OPCAT principles and human rights standards.
“The treatment and care of detainees is critical in ensuring those held within police custody are dealt with in an effective, efficient and humane manner,” said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"Police custody suites are an area of significant risk for the PSNI. Managing and caring for detained individuals, many of who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, may be aggressive, in crisis, out of control or in need of protection, often from themselves, presents a constant challenge for all those working in this environment.
"This is the third time in six years Inspectors from CJI and RQIA have reported on police custody arrangements and we are encouraged to see progress being made in some areas.
"We found steps were being taken to standardise practice in custody suites and efforts made to improve conditions for both staff working there and detainees, which would assist custody staff to effectively manage the risks on a daily basis," said Mr McGuigan.
A rolling programme of refurbishment has also ensured the physical conditions in most of the PSNI's 12 custody suites are good.
However, Mr McGuigan said Inspectors still had issues with aspects of the delivery of healthcare within the custody environment.
“Inspectors were concerned to find problems still remained around the administration of medication in custody and level of checks performed before medicines were prescribed by Forensic Medical Officers.
"The storage of medication in domestic fridges in some suites which were unlocked and not checked to ensure they were at the correct temperature, and inconsistencies around the storage and recording practices for medication not consumed by detainees were inappropriate.
"This is an area which requires immediate attention as the safe use and control of medicines cannot be assured," said the Chief Inspector.
He continued: "We therefore have repeated our previous recommendation that the PSNI urgently review its policies and procedures surrounding the safe selection, procurement, prescription supply, dispensing, storage, administration and disposal of medications. A clear audit trail to manage medications should also be established."
Mr McGuigan said that challenges in relation to dealing with children and young people in police custody also remained to be addressed.
"Over 2,400 children and young people aged 17 or under were detained in police custody during 2014-15. While this may sometimes be necessary, it should be possible for Custody Officers to release young people to other suitable accommodation so that they are not held in police custody after being charged with an offence," said Mr McGuigan.
"This is particularly relevant for 'looked after' children or young people and we have recommended legislative reform be taken forward, during the next Northern Ireland Assembly mandate, to bring forward a Bail Act in respect of the right to bail for children and young people.
"We have also recommended legislative changes be made to PACE to make alternative accommodation available for children and young people charged with an offence which will clarify the position for Custody Officers."
In conclusion, Mr McGuigan highlighted the need to finalise the Joint Healthcare and Justice Strategy being developed between the Departments of Justice and Health, Social Services and Public Safety, which the PSNI believe is critical to enable them to develop an alternative healthcare model.
The Chief Inspector also emphasised the requirement for a firm timescale for the completion and delivery of a more effective, alternative custody healthcare model.