Police custody facilities performing to an ‘acceptable standard’ says Inspectorate

A new report by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland 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 and the OPCAT principles.
“The treatment and care of detainees is critical in ensuring those detained within police custody are dealt with in an effective, efficient and humane manner,” said Brendan McGuigan, Deputy Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“As part of this inspection Inspectors carried out announced and unannounced visits to nine of the PSNI’s 21 operational designated PACE custody suites including the Serious Crime suite at Antrim to fully assess the standards in place,” said Mr McGuigan.
“We found a high level of awareness existed among staff in custody suites around risk management and the treatment of vulnerable persons, especially in relation to young people or those who potentially were under the influence of drink or drugs.
“Custody staff were also aware of the need to apply appropriate risk management procedures where a detainee may be at risk of self-harming, have mental health issues or a known medical condition,” he added.
Inspectors found evidence that staff had adopted innovative and imaginative approaches to overcoming language barriers when dealing with foreign nationals or immigration detainees rather than relying solely on a telephone interpretation service.
Cells examined during the inspection were also found to be clean and of an acceptable standard, to hold detainees for short periods of time.
Inspectors however believe that traditional police cells are unsuitable for holding immigration detainees for longer periods of time while they await transfer to an immigration centre in Scotland.
“While custody staff make efforts to ensure immigration detainees are made comfortable, the existing police estate was neither designed nor built for lengthy periods of detention. The Inspectorate therefore recommends the PSNI should, in conjunction with the UK Border Agency, explore alternatives to police cells for immigration detainees detained for more than 36 hours,” said Mr McGuigan.
Weaknesses were identified during the inspection in relation to the PSNI’s clinical governance arrangements and its management and oversight of the work of its Forensic Medical Officers (FMOs).
“Inspectors were concerned to find medications were not sufficiently secured, recorded or disposed of appropriately, and have recommended that policies and procedures surrounding the safe storage and custody of medications be reviewed. Responsibility for this issue must also be clarified with Custody Sergeants and FMOs,” added the Deputy Chief Inspector.
In addition, improved arrangements need to be put in place to ensure the safe and effective handling of clinical waste and sharps. Cleaning and infection control procedures, especially in medical rooms, require strengthening.
As costs surrounding the provision of forensic medical services were found to be high when compared with other jurisdictions, Inspectors have recommended the PSNI undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the current and alternative health care models and implement the most appropriate, cost effective option.
“Overall our inspection found that custody services performed to an acceptable standard. We welcome the action plan which the PSNI has compiled to take the inspection recommendations forward and look forward to reviewing progress made in this area during the 2010-11 financial year,” concluded Mr McGuigan.