There are times when the police have no alternative other than to arrest someone who is thought to have committed a crime, or may be at risk of doing so. In a proportion of cases, it will be necessary for that person to be detained while further investigation is carried out and for this purpose, Sussex Police had access to a number of custodial facilities.
These buildings are known as Investigation and Detention Handling Centres (IDHCs) or Custody Centres (CC) and across the counties of Sussex, there are four such IDHCs, located in Chichester, Worthing, Brighton and Eastbourne, with additional capacity at the police stations in Hastings and Crawley.
The Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Katy Bourne, has the statutory responsibility for the whole police estate, including these facilities, and as such she ensures that they are sufficient and appropriate for both detainees and the police.
The four Sussex IDHCs have all been in use for about 20 years and, unsurprisingly, there is now a comprehensive programme of renovation being undertaken to ensure they meet the extremely high standards demanded by the Criminal Justice Inspectors. Furthermore, the police can now access a wider range of options at the time they make an arrest, and, accordingly, the custodial capacity required across Sussex remains under review.
Indeed, the centre in Chichester was closed in November 2018 as its capacity was not being fully utilised. But, following a 21-month period of closure and upgrading, it is now acting as the main IDHC for the coastal West Sussex area while a similar programme of works is completed in Worthing.
One of the roles of a High Sheriff is to offer active support to all those involved in keeping our communities safe and it was a pleasure to be invited by Claire Taylor, the PCC’s independent custody visiting service manager, to visit this very recently re-opened centre and learn about its design and function from Inspector Jason Wilson of Sussex Police.
Unsurprisingly, in all respects, security is key and this is managed locally from a hub of PC-based control positions on ‘the Bridge’ – the central atrium area of the building where custody assistants and police sergeants are typically based. From here the core security functions for the whole site can be managed via simple touchscreen controls and every point of the journey that a detainee takes through the centre is monitored by CCTV. In the vehicle docking bay, decontamination suite, walkways and cells, these security arrangements allow close monitoring on the wellbeing and safety of detainees at any time.
However, as Inspector Wilson made clear, a custody centre is not a prison – a sentence is not served here – and many people will stay in a cell for only a few hours or overnight. Unfortunately, some detainees can be violent, while others may be inebriated, affected by drugs or just very distressed, particularly if their stay is more prolonged, and the facility is designed both to reduce the risk of self-harm by the detainee and to protect the staff.
Where necessary, detainees will be assessed by a liaison nurse and, in addition, volunteer visitors have the right to attend the facility at any time, to speak to a detainee and to make suggestions regarding the welfare of those in custody to the staff.
This visit has demonstrated to me that the role of the custody centres in our judicial system is essential but it is often overlooked. However, we should all be very grateful for the skill, commitment and, at times, courage of the team who ensure that each detainee held in their IDHC is kept both secure and safe while the process of justice is carried out.
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