In March 2015, Met Detention, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) centralised command for police custody, invited independent custody visitors (ICVs) to review its Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) (pdf) and provide feedback. As ICVs we do surprise visits to police stations and talk to the persons being detained. As we are independent of the police and have regular experience of the custody environment, this request for feedback made lots of sense and was welcomed.
Several members of my ICV panel did provide feedback and ICVs from other boroughs likely did as well. As we were not informed as to how our feedback had been used, I asked for a copy of the updated Equality Impact Assessment. In February 2016, I received a copy… of the same document we had been sent to review a year earlier.
I subsequently asked via a Freedom of Information request for all the feedback received when creating and revising this Met Detention Equality Impact Assessment. Met Detention could only find a single feedback dated October 2015 (pdf), that briefly touches upon two issues of interest to Superintendents. Nothing else, neither the feedback from ICVs nor from anyone else.
And they apparently did an exhaustive search for any feedback received. The initial response to my request was delayed as
'Enquiries are still being made in relation to the second part of your request.'
The first part of my request was about the EIA documents, and the second part was about 'the feedback received following each review of these documents'. When a further response was sent with some versions of the EIAs attached, I was then told:
'With respect to the second part of your request, reasonable searches have been made and as at today's date no information relevant to your request has been located.'
And an internal review (delayed as well) explained that:
'the review is satisfied that reasonable enquiries were carried out in the original case with the most appropriate Unit (Met Detention) for ‘The feedback received following each review of these documents’. Following further enquiries only one relevant feedback email was located and is attached to this review - subject to the exemption of personal information by virtue of section 40(2)and(3).
The review is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that no further information is held which falls within the scope of your request for feedback following each Equality Impact Assessment.'
That a year after a review process was initiated, only one feedback can be found raises concern as to the validity of this consultation process. This is compounded by the experience that the feedback that was thought out and had been sent in was obviously ignored.
Bootnote 1: Here's a copy of the feedback I had sent (well within the three weeks we had been offered):
Thank you for sharing this EIA. Here is some feedback (in no particular order) which you may hopefully find useful.
- The findings for the suitability of 21 suites to support disabled and Muslim detainees, and Transgender detainees/staff on p. 8 is in a spreadsheet which is not accessible. Either make this spreadsheet accessible when sharing this EIA or remove the reference to it.
- The constant jumping between custody staff/workforce and MPS detainees/external with several terminology used is a bit confusing. It would help to have a clearer signposting of whether a section is about staff or detainees.
- There appears to be a strong focus on MH & juveniles, and also some mentions of wheelchair users. Impact of the custody on those with learning disabilities and/or who are autistics is lacking.
- There should be a section addressing hyper- and hypo-sensitivities. Sensory, noise and light hypersensitivities are common among autistics, but other combinations also happen and these are not exclusive to autistics. The custody environment can be a sensory nightmare severely affecting the functioning of those having such sensitivities.
- Custody staff tends to be reactive to detainees demands. Detainees with MH can find it difficult or impossible to make requests. A particular concern is of detainees getting dehydrated because they do not ask for water and custody staff is not proactive in offering it.
- In potential changes to the cell environment, facilities for the detainee to wash his/her hands should be considered. It is obviously hygienic, but is also a requirement before food can be touched and prayers for certain religions.
- A sex-related external impact that has been missed is ensuring that custody staff is mixed. There have been situations, especially when short of staff, when a custody suite shift has been operated only with female DDO, this meant that no male detainee could have a shower for instance.
A related point is that there should be representation of vulnerable and disabled individuals (with MH, LD and/or autistics) in forums affecting what’s happening in custody. With Met Detention being a central command, this can’t happen at the SNB level, I would be interested to learn what consultative forums exist at which custody will be looked into.
Thank you for forwarding my earlier comments. As the draft EIA was shared specifically asking for our feedback I do hope the responses received will be taken into account.
Two further thoughts about the EIA I should have included earlier:
- In relation to the point I already made about hypo and hyper sensitivities, there should be a mention in the EIA about interview rooms that are 'soft interview' environment. As I understand it these are less intimidating interview room, often used for children, vulnerable detainees, victims and the bereaved, etc. This is likely to be better for sensory needs (less echo, less smell of sweat, softer lighting, more physical comfort, etc).
I have seen a video filmed in such an interview room when attending a Crown Court in a case where the victim was a young autistic woman. I have never seen any such interviewing rooms in Islington or Hackney. Are they available elsewhere in the stations or do only some custody suites/stations have such rooms?
The guidance 'Think Autism. Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives, the strategy for adults with autism in England: an update.' has the police as one of its target audience.
- This guidance recommends the police to 'have access to expertise to support adults with autism and consider the most effective way of ensuring that autism awareness guidance/training is available to staff.' The EIA should highlight the impact on custody staff training and also how considerations are given for appropriate adults called for autistic detainees to have been trained about autism.
- The guidance also discusses dealings with 'issues such as training and awareness, screening, and reasonable adjustments and the use of IT systems to better support people with autism within the criminal justice system.' So the EIA should list what reasonable adjustment can be made for autistics in the custody environment.
Thank you. FYI, I just realised that there’s guidance from the College of Policing as well about sensory issues for autistics and other vulnerable detainees:
'Those carrying out the risk assessment for detainees experiencing mental ill health should consider whether there is any additional risk of short and longer-term harm. It is also important to identify specific areas which could adversely affect those who are vulnerable because of learning disabilities and difficulties. For example, people who have autism or Asperger’s syndrome can be highly sensitive to their environment, and loud noises or bright lights may in some cases cause distress and possibly even aggressive behaviour.
The risks that a detainee with mental ill health or learning disabilities may pose to themselves or others are individual to each case and cannot be generalised.
Being in a police cell can have an adverse effect on a person’s condition if they are already suffering from mental illness. In particular, isolation and the noise in a busy custody suite can be aggravating factors.
Mental ill health and alcohol/drug misuse often coexist and a person’s impulsivity may make it more likely that they will self-harm or consider suicide.'
Bootnote 2: To become an independent custody visitor and join the panel of the borough your live or work in, apply to the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC).