‘Room for improvement’: Prison chiefs concerned about police custody in Manchester after surprise inspections

By Mihaela Ivantcheva

The Chief Inspector of Prisons is voicing his concerns about the custody provision in Greater Manchester Police and calling for improvements following an unannounced inspection.

Police custody provision in the city was thought to be progressing, but there was clearly significant room for improvement, the report published today revealed.

Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary, highlighted a number of problematic areas that needed to be addressed by the force.

The inspection looked at ten custody suites operating 24 hours a day in North Manchester, Longsight, Pendleton, Swinton, Tameside, Cheadle Heath, Bolton, Wigan, Bury and Chadderton.

“Overall, police custody provision in GMP was heading in the right direction but there were some significant concerns,” Nick Hardwick said.

“There was clear strategic direction and management support, but the force was at a critical point where there was a need to embed some key changes and engage staff in the process.

“This report provides a small number of recommendations to assist the forces and the Police Authority in addressing these issues and improving provision further. We expect our findings to be considered and an action plan to be provided in due course.”

The ten suites dealt with people arrested as a result of mainstream policing.

Two standby suites at Stretford and Oldham, and the custody facilities within Manchester airport and Old Trafford football ground, were also visited.

Inspectors were worried after finding there was no effective monitoring of the use of the force and there was inadequate awareness of the needs of vulnerable groups including young people, women and those with disabilities.

The report said that GMP needed to engage more positively with independent custody visitors and pay more attention to the safety of prisoners by ‘proactively’ providing care.

“Interactions with detainees were generally professional, although some custody detention officers were less engaged and needed better management,” the report said.

“Awareness of diversity issues was limited. Many aspects of privacy were poor, which had implications for the respectful treatment and safety of detainees.”

In the area of individual rights, it was highlighted that some court cut-off times were too early, and there was little flexibility for juveniles or vulnerable adults.

Assistant Chief Constable Dawn Copley described how over the past 18 months GMP has carried out a large scale change and improvement programme within custody.

She said: “It is reassuring that the report identifies that the Force was making improvements at the time of the inspection and that we were at an important stage in developing our custody provision. Custody is now a centralised service which is already proving to be more efficient and effective.

“However, there is still work to do to continue to improve and professionalise the standard of care that we provide to those who come into our custody, wherever that may be across Greater Manchester. A key part of this is that we now have a permanent team of dedicated custody staff who receive regular refresher and update training for their roles.”

Assistant Chief Constable Copley pointed out that each year, around 85,000 people come into police custody across Great Manchester.

She added: “We continuously strive to improve how we look after each of them and aim to provide the best possible standards of care to them during their time in custody. The feedback from this inspection process has helped to identify some areas for improvement which we are working to address.”

The unannounced visit, which was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody carried out from March 5 to 9 2012, also found ‘serious gaps’ around mental health diversion.

However, the report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary also highlighted some areas of excellent practice such as an appropriate balance between progressing cases and the rights of individuals.

The full report can be viewed here.


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