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24 hours in police custody – is police detention overused?

Fionnuala Ratcliffe and Penelope Gibbs
23 Jun 2020

Police custody is a hidden world to which few outsiders have access. Lawyers and volunteers go in and out, but little hard data is available about those who are imprisoned in police cells, who they are and why they are there. Transform Justice only knows how many people have been detained in custody as a result of freedom of information requests to all police forces. 

Most of those arrested by the police are brought into custody to be detained while police investigate the crime. The police aim to keep suspects until they can charge them but, if that’s not possible, they must release them on pre-charge bail or under investigation. If they gather the right evidence and the crown prosecution agrees to charge, the police can choose whether to release the suspect or keep them in the cells (on remand). Some adults do need to be detained in custody before, and sometimes after, charge but our findings suggest that police cells contain many vulnerable individuals who could be released without unduly risking public protection. 

Recent media headlines have focussed on police releasing too many suspects under investigation, with no restrictions. The implication is that all those suspected by the police are inherently dangerous and should be detained. So few are questioning why the police detain suspects in police custody and why they sometimes detain them for so long. In this report we set out the case that policy custody is overused – that too many suspects are detained, that people are detained for too long and that too many are kept in after being charged. We set out pragmatic ways use of custody could be reduced and scrutiny improved.