Posted: Wednesday 9th September 2015
I have volunteered in prison before so I was expecting the secure systems and the lack of natural light that often accompanies incarceration, but I wasn’t sure what to expect when I turned up for my first custody visit at Patchway Police Custody Centre. I was pleasantly surprised.
The feeling of permanence was replaced with anticipation and constant activity; there wasn’t much feeling of cohesion or community that you may find in an adult male prison, but it was clear custody officers were doing their best to accommodate people’s individual needs, despite the temporary nature of custody.
They were very efficient in dealing with us as custody visitors also, and ensured someone was on hand to escort us round the cells so we could ask the necessary questions and check the rights and wellbeing of the inmates was being respected.
It is also reassuring to know the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and Constabulary are successfully implementing strategies to enable their staff to recognise and support people who present with issues surrounding mental health, through effective training.
Despite having worked for several youth charities who try to engage young people before they come into contact with the criminal justice system, I still wasn’t surprised to see school uniforms through the hatches, and hear from young boys in particular that they were on medication for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
For those with a short attention span, being in an empty room for up to 24 hours, with nothing but your rights and a microwave meal, things can get boring pretty quickly; for someone with ADHD and/or dyslexia, this can be extremely frustrating. The time to consider the arrest and to ensure evidence isn’t compromised and to allow appropriate access and signposting to services justifies the need for isolation during this time.
My observations are that the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner has been extremely conscientious in ensuring the availability of an appropriate adult and timely processing for juvenile detainees in these circumstances. However, my understanding is that the provision of accessible reading material relies on voluntary contributions and expired magazines; therefore I would urge any of you to donate books and magazines to your local custody centre if you can, as it could dramatically alter a young person’s experience of custody and enhance the environment for all!
Independent Custody Visiting Volunteer
For more information about the Avon and Somerset Independent Custody Visiting Scheme please visit the PCC’s website – www.avonandsomerset-pcc.gov.uk