UK police cells not to be used for under 18s from December

These figures highlight that drugs and alcohol remain a significant factor in deaths in police custody, and indicates that this is as much a public health issue as a policing issue

By
Wadood Mushtaq

LONDON: During the 11 years 2004/05 – 2014/15, 82% of people who died in or following police custody had some link to alcohol and/or drugs. Overall, 49% of those who died had alcohol and/or drug related factors identified specially as a cause of death in a post- mortem examination.

The government has announced a ban to use of police cells for under 18s in mental health crises from this December. “Legal aid will be awarded to families in case of death in police custody,” says an official notification.

Ministerial council to develop further solutions to healthcare in police custody, in both the inquest process and the post-incident support available for bereaved families.

The government has published a report of the independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody which was commissioned by Prime Minister Theresa May in July 2015, whilst Home Secretary, following her meetings with bereaved families.

The review makes 110 recommendations, regarding the use of restraint, the custody environment, training for officers and making it easier for families facing inquests into deaths in police custody to access legal aid. “The government’s response to commit to review existing guidance so that the starting presumption is that legal aid should be awarded for representation of the bereaved at an inquest following a suspicious death or suicide in police custody or in prison”.

It also makes clear that from December, police cells will not be used as places of safety for those under the age of 18 detained under the Mental Health Act and that transparency and accountability in police use of force has been improved through better data collection.

Currently there is no consistency of training in restraint techniques across the 43 police forces in England and Wales. There should be mandatory and accredited national training for police officers in restraint techniques and supervision of vital signs during restraint, with appropriate refresher training for officers.

These figures highlight that drugs and alcohol remain a significant factor in deaths in police custody, and indicates that this is as much a public health issue as a policing issue. The adherence to policies designed to protect the health and safety of detainees is fundamental.

The need to effectively implement observation regimes for severely intoxicated detainees is therefore of manifest importance.

In the report, there is a downward trend in child arrests. According to Home Office statistics the number of 10 to 17 year olds arrested in England and Wales has decreased by two thirds since 2009/10 (88,577 in 2015/16 compared with 241,459 in 2009/10, a 63% reduction). “However, there is more work to do. Children and young people should be held in police custody only as a last resort, and where charged and refused bail.

In a statement issued separately, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: "This report shines a light on this profoundly important issue and the government thanks Dame Elish Angiolini for her comprehensive review which sets out a clear need for action."

When my predecessor Theresa May met the bereaved families, she was struck by the difficulties they faced as they sought answers about what happened to their loved ones. This simply isn’t right, and is why the government is taking steps to ensure that families bereaved in this way in future get the support and answers they need.

The government is committed to tackling this issue, and when tragically deaths in police custody do occur, we are clear that they must be investigated thoroughly and action taken to support families better in future, said Amber Rudd.

In relation to the new presumption that legal aid should be awarded, the Lord Chancellor will make clear in the guidance that bereaved families should be spared the distress of filling out complex paperwork around means testing where possible. “She added.”

This work will be completed by the end of the year, alongside steps to ensure the bereaved are made fully aware of their rights under this guidance in every case. Work is also in progress across a number of areas raised in the review:

Across government ministerial council, consisting of ministers from the Home Office, Department of Health and Ministry of Justice and an Independent Advisory Panel, will consider further recommendations for healthcare, inquests and support for families.

Limiting the use of police cells as places of safety: From December, police cells will not be used as places of safety for those under the age of 18 detained under the Mental Health Act and stringent controls will be put in place about their use for adults. The government has provided £30 million to the NHS to ensure there is sufficient provision of alternative and health-based places of safety.

The report further says, “representing a commitment to ensure children who are charged and denied bail are transferred from police custody to local authority care, and never held overnight in a police cell.”

Report reveals: “The Government is also reforming the Independent Police Complaints Commission(IPCC) (which will be renamed as the Independent Office for Police Conduct in January) to increase its powers and give it greater independence from the police, including giving the new Director General powers to determine roles within the watchdog. 

Originally published in The News