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Why apply to be an independent custody visitor?

Bill, an independent custody visitor based in Cornwall, talks about his role and the skills needed to carry out the role.

I applied to be an independent custody visitor because I wanted to do some voluntary work that was a bit different to the perceived norm of volunteering and also something I felt was worthwhile to the police service. I also wanted to contribute to a role in society as a whole by demonstrating the high standards of care shown in the detention of detainees through independent assessment.

I am able to do this through good training received and from skills I have acquired in my working life and previous voluntary work, such as auditing, report writing and work placed investigations.

Personally I think I bring to the role a professionalism which supports the integrity needed to be able to carry out the inspections in what is a highly regulated environment. You also need a good eye for detail and be able to express your observations both verbally and in writing. 

Good communication and people skills are important when speaking with people in detention. My experience has been that they do appreciate a friendly face and one that is interested in their welfare. For the short time we are with them I do hope we make their day better giving the assurance someone independent is looking out for their interests.

Equally I also think custody suite staff appreciate our visits as it is an opportunity for us to assess their working environment and concur that they are meeting the required standards needed to look after detainees. It is also a chance for them to highlight any unaddressed concerns they have which can often result in some discussion around possible solutions or actions needed.

When we visit custody it is done unannounced so this can be on any day, at any time.

Upon arrival we introduce ourselves and show our identity passes and check who the attending officer is for our visit. We establish the number of detainees and how long they have been in detention. We then go to each cell and perform a scripted introduction and subsequent discussion with the detainee.

This establishes that all the processes and procedures have been adhered too and if there are any concerns or needs that both the ICV and the detainee might have during the detention period to date. There is also a check of the data held on computer, again to check that the required steps and actions have taken place and have been correctly recorded in a timely way during the detention period to date. We ask a lot of questions!

Whilst on site we also take the opportunity to check other areas like empty cells, food preparation areas (including dated food products), interview rooms and finger print room for cleanliness, damage and any relevant observations will be noted. We also check on store rooms and items available for the religious requirements of detainees

At the end of the visit a report is filed and explained to the escorting custody officer who will confirm our findings. The visit can take anything between 30 mins and two hours depending on the number of detainees and the issues found.

It is a really interesting role, no two visits are the same and there is a great sense of satisfaction when it is concluded.