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What I learnt from my time in police custody

As part of our latest recruitment campaign to encourage people to apply to be Independent Custody Visitors, Joanna Randall from our comms team spent a day at one of Avon and Somerset’s custody centres to see what happens. Here’s her experience.

A couple of weeks ago I spent time in police custody – in the Keynsham Custody Centre near Bristol – to be exact.

If you don’t know what happens when you are arrested and taken into police custody read on…

When you are arrested in Avon and Somerset you are taken to one of three custody centres – Keynsham, Patchway or Bridgwater.

You are then processed through these centres which involves having your rights read to you and the reasons for arrest and charges against you explained; have a chance to call your solicitor (or speak to a duty solicitor); be searched; have your photo and fingerprints taken; undergo sample testing as required e.g. for drugs/alcohol.

After this process has been completed a Detention Officer will then escort you to a cell to await an interview or for a charging decision, release or visit to court.

Once in your cell the custody team is then responsible for looking after you – it can be a daunting experience for both first timers and those who have been in custody before.

This was my first time in custody.

Your rights and what you are entitled to are explained and, as I found out, there are certain things you can ask for – food, drinks, a shower, access to regular medication or to see an onsite health care professional. There are books that can be borrowed to while away the waiting time and you have the right to let someone, a friend or family member, know where you are.

The cells themselves are of course pretty basic with a place to sit or lie down and a toilet and there is some natural light. For people who are claustrophobic or experiencing heightened anxiety there are also different types of cells which feel more open or have designs on the walls. There are even fidget toys designed to help calm and provide focus in what can be a very stressful situation. There is also an outdoor exercise area.

One thing I was not aware of is that, although most people are at the custody centres for short periods of time, some detainees get visited by a member of the public while in the cells.

These people are volunteers and they are called Independent Custody Visitors, or ICVs.

They come to see people in custody – unannounced so the Detention Officers and police custody staff do not know when they are coming. Their role is to review the custody record of who is being held and then go to the cells to visit several people with the sole focus of checking their welfare, wellbeing, and to confirm that they know their rights and what they are entitled to.

They also check the food preparation areas, healthcare rooms and generally take a look around to make sure things are running smoothly, that detainees are being treated respectfully and that their needs are being met (as far as possible of course – there are limitations on what you can ask for – asking if you can pop into town to meet a mate is unlikely to be granted!).

You might be wondering why I was in custody? It was in fact to learn about these volunteer roles which anyone can do. No experience or qualifications required just an interest in people and compassion for their needs.  You need to be an adult and after applying go through the usual police vetting process – which is all done online via a series of simple questions.

Visits are flexible and arranged around your own schedule, family commitments and lifestyle. It’s important that all ages, backgrounds and life experiences are represented.

These visits are invaluable and form an important part of the independent scrutiny which is overseen by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in Avon and Somerset which works on behalf of local people to improve efficiency and effectiveness of policing, victim support and criminal justice services. 

If you can spare two hours a month to buddy up with another volunteer custody visitor and undertake one visit per month to one of the region’s custody centres please get in touch.

Apply between 27 November 23 and 18 January 2024

For more information: The Independent Custody Visiting Scheme | OPCC for Avon and Somerset (