When suspects are arrested, they spend their time in police custody largely in isolation and out of public view. These custody blocks are police territory, and public controversies about what happens there often only arise when a detainee dies.
Custody visitors are volunteers who make what are supposed to be random and unannounced visits to police custody blocks to check on the welfare of detainees. However, there is a fundamental power imbalance between the police and these visitors, which calls the independence and effectiveness of custody visiting into question.
Investigating this largely unexplored part of the criminal justice system, this timely book includes the voices of the detainees who have a unique insight into the scheme. It offers detailed proposals for radically reforming custody visiting to make it an effective regulator of police behaviour, with an explanation of the political context that could make that a reality.
Suspects arrested by the police spend their time in police custody out of public view: custody visitors check on the welfare of detainees being held in police custody and report on their findings. The key issues are policy, independence and effectiveness, and the key concepts are power and the ideology of criminal justice. The research was carried out by a former visitor, and was specially designed to suit the subject matter, centring on an in-depth local case study. The setting, custody, remains very much the police’s territory, where legal representation is inadequate. Custody visiting is a type of regulation as part of the United Kingdom’s National Preventive Mechanism: police behaviour in custody blocks should be subject to more, and more effective regulation.
This chapter provides a critical and analytical history of custody visiting, centring on the policy issues, and compiled from desk and archival research. Michael Meacher MP made the first proposals for custody visiting in 1980, and in 1981 the Scarman Report on the Brixton riots adopted this idea and included a recommendation for a statutory scheme of custody visiting. The scheme would provide for the supervision of the conditions of police interrogation and detention. The government declined to implement the proposals. However the government encouraged the growth of custody visiting from 1984 on the rather haphazard and unofficial basis known as ‘lay visiting’, run by police authorities. A statutory scheme was introduced in 2003. Over the whole period to date, the powerful influence of the police, and the Home Office following their views, have eroded the original regulatory purpose of custody visiting, and has airbrushed out the role of custody visiting as a deterrent to police misconduct leading to deaths in custody.
This chapter discusses the concepts of independence and socialisation. Visitors are likely to carry out their work with more rigour if they feel independent of the police, and custody visiting is required by statute to be independent. The visiting scheme is completely controlled by the Police and Crime Commissioner. Socialisation is part of the process by which the power of the police affects the visitors in their work. The visitors receive orientation, training and mentoring, from the scheme administrator, and from the police and other visitors, and receive no training from former detainees or defence lawyers or probation officers. The chapter examines the visitors’ attitudes as shown by their behaviour on visits and opinions expressed in interview, by comparing their views with those of the Police and Crime Commissioner and the police, and finds that the visitors hardly ever challenge the police, and that the attitudes of the three groups are closely aligned. The chapter ends with a close focus on the attitudes of the visitors to deaths in custody and their role in relation to them, neither of which show much independence from the police.
This chapter assesses the effectiveness of the work of custody visiting, and sets out how it can be measured: it is examined according to five criteria of its regulatory function, to assess principally whether the work made any difference to police behaviour. Custody visiting is found to be largely ineffective: in particular, detainees do not trust the visitors, finding the meetings as being of no benefit to them. Custody visiting is measured against the United Nations standards for monitoring detainees, including the need for expertise, and the chapter finds that the United Kingdom is in breach of these international obligations. The chapter looks at the claims made for custody visiting in the scheme’s official literature, including the claim that custody visiting offers reassurance to the public: this is found to be impossible to assess, but probably false, since so few people have heard of the scheme. The chapter concludes that the comprehensive regulatory failure is likely to be the result of deliberate policy, driven by the strong forces of crime control ideology and the power of the police.
Custody visiting is not independent, and it is not effective as a regulator. The relation between custody visiting and deaths in custody has been suppressed by the police and the Home Office. The chapter then discusses whether, and if so how, the current system could be rebuilt to provide effective regulation, identifying the radical changes that would be necessary. It would depend on a fundamental reconsideration of all the policy issues; how to deal with the power of the police; independence of the scheme from the state; and would need greatly enhanced statutory powers. The chapter asks why the scheme has been allowed to survive. The explanation is that it causes the police no trouble, and, beyond that, there is a positive reason, that its existence justifies the absence of further regulation. This book provides an authoritative evidence base for a challenge to that line. The revelation to parliament and the public that custody visiting has no legitimacy could lead to a real chance of reform.
This paper argues for the substantial reduction of the ambit of police custody, and for the regulation of police conduct in custody blocks. Detention in custody is widely used by the police to apply pressure on suspects to make confessions. This is oppressive and wasteful. Custody should be used much more sparingly and only where detention is necessary for safety reasons. Custody can in any case be a dangerous place for detainees. An average of up to 23 people die in police custody every year, including four detainees from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Heritage, a greater proportion than their percentage of the population. Regulation of police conduct in custody blocks is supposed to be carried out by the little-known statutory Independent Custody Visiting Scheme. The scheme enables members of the public to make unannounced visits to police stations and to check and report on the welfare of detainees. As the result of government policy and the power of the police, the visiting scheme is neither independent nor effective, fails to challenge the police, makes no discernible impact on their behaviour or on the deaths in custody figures, provides no measure of police accountability, and obscures the need for urgent reform. This paper recommends immediate implementation of these reforms because they would save lives.
The financial position of English social policy charities has received much attention, with a particular focus on the difficulties that small- and medium-sized organisations are experiencing. However, in this article we show that the evidence base has a number of limitations. We then demonstrate, analysing data from a survey of more than 1,000 charities, that organisational size, per se, is only one dimension of the problem: perceptions that the operating and financial environment is challenging are related to other organisational characteristics. We then add to the survey data indicators of financial vulnerability to investigate whether there is a relationship between perception (responses to questions about the resources available to charities) and financial reality (the recent financial history of these charities). Somewhat reassuringly, however, we demonstrate that there is a degree of consistency between the perceptions that organisations report and we discuss the implications of the findings.