Watchdog hits out over court cells

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Published: Friday 6th February 2015 by The News Editor

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A series of grave problems has been highlighted in a critical report by the prisons watchdog on court custody facilities.

Inspectors found the condition of court custody suites in Kent was among the worst they had seen, with many cells daubed in pornographic and racist graffiti.

Their report also noted “disproportionate and unreasonable” treatments meted out by custody staff, such as handcuffing of compliant detainees, including women and children.

And the care of detainees, including those vulnerable due to ill-health or age, or because they had self-harmed, was given “very little importance”, it added.

Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the various agencies involved in providing court custody facilities in Kent needed to spur improvements.

The report, published by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, said: “The condition of the court custody suites in Kent was among the worst we have seen.

“In many cells, there was scarcely an inch of wall or door that was not covered in graffiti. Much of it was obscene or racist, and some contained allegations against named individuals.”

In one cell at Folkestone Magistrates’ Court, there was a swastika and graffiti with the phrase “Muslim scum”. Mr Hardwick said the cleaning and maintenance contractor was not fulfilling its contract terms.

Low morale among staff distracted many of them from trying to improve the poor conditions for the detainees, the report added.

Many custody staff had “become inured” to the cells’ poor conditions. Lack of awareness of the vulnerabilities of groups was also highlighted.

Inspectors said they were concerned to hear a custody officer refer to a transgender detainee as “it”. Another called a mentally-ill detainee a “nutter”.

At most courts, detainees were told nothing about their rights, and the management of custody was “fragmented and ineffectual”, the report said.

The National Offender Management Service (Noms) had contracted GEOAmey to provide custody and escort facilities in Kent for HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).

One positive highlighted included the use of virtual courts where detainees appear via video-link from a police station. The report said it had the potential to cut long journeys and waiting times in court cells.

Mr Hardwick said responsibility for custody was split between several organisations whose staff rarely met together, and none had overall responsibility for the whole operation.

He said: “Those detained at Kent courts should be held in a safer and more decent environment than is currently in place.

“This report contains recommendations that we hope will encourage the various agencies involved in the provision of court custody to work together more effectively to eliminate the serious problems we found.”

The inspection was the seventh in a new programme of inspections of court custody carried out by HMIP. There were two crown courts and eight magistrates’ courts in Kent at the time.

Published: Friday 6th February 2015 by The News Editor

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