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July 6, 2019

24 hours in police custody – at what cost?

Only two in five of those who are remanded (detained post charge) by police go on to be remanded by the court. And too many are remanded by courts. So are too many detained by the police?

It’s easy to think a few hours in police custody is not a big deal. But for anyone vulnerable or who has never been in a custody suite before, it can be very traumatic. You are usually isolated from friends and family, searched, have your mobile phone taken off you and are left in a bare police cell. There is literally nothing to do in the cell except get stressed. And you often have little idea how long you will be there.

Police custody is temporary imprisonment so should be a last resort. Guidance supports this – pre-charge detention should only be used to “secure or preserve evidence relating to an offence for which the person is under arrest or to obtain such evidence by questioning the person” or to give the CPS time to decide the right charge. PACE created new structures to try to ensure that pre and post charge detention was used sparingly. Numbers have come down considerably in the last few years (from 170,000pa in 2014 to 130,000 in 2018) but could numbers come down still further?

Twitter abounds with stories of people detained by the police who sound as if they shouldn’t probably be there. One of the most surprising was told by an accredited police station representative @MistressLuce2 on twitter.

“I arrive at police station (suspect accused of threats to kill). Disclosure reveals suspect has mental age of 4, ADHD, Autism, learning difficulties. She needs 24 hr care. In spite of this she’s deemed ‘fit for int.’ She’s threatened her carer & told him she will also kill the lady next door. She’s (the suspect’s) on bail with conditions to have no contact with the lady next door. She is NFA’d for the offences. Police decide she’s breached her bail conditions. I say …. but how? ‘Indirect contact with the neighbour.’ I say ‘but she didn’t leave her own home nor make any attempt to Communicate with the neighbour or ask anyone else to”.

The defence representative “Mistress Luce” tries to argue that the breach of bail is unlawful but is unsuccessful. The suspect is locked up in the cells anyway.

I also read on twitter of a 16 year old who was arrested and detained after “attacking his mum – punching and kicking her. Police have been there a few times but male never arrested before due to age and mum not wanting son to get in trouble”. I countered on twitter that I was disappointed a child should be detained for this. But I was challenged by many serving and retired police officers. They said that late at night, custody was the only option due to the risk to the victim (the mother) and that other services were not available to step in and help .

Transform Justice is researching the use of police custody. We would like to know from all those involved whether it is used for the right reasons, whether it is under-used, over-used or used just the right amount . Please do fill in our survey