Custody concerns being addressed, say court officials

Police were called to Suffolk Magistrates' Court on Tuesday morning Picture: ARCHANT

Police were called to Suffolk Magistrates' Court on Tuesday morning Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: ARCHANT

Concerns raised by inspectors about custody conditions at the region's court buildings are being addressed, according to officials.

A recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons highlighted varying conditions across the estate of custody facilities at courts in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex.

During a series of visits between November 26 and December 10, inspectors found all custody suites lacked natural light and contained potential ligature points, particularly around door frames and in ventilation grilles.

Inspectors visited 12 sites altogether, including crown and magistrates' courts in Ipswich, Norwich and Chelmsford.

A report also highlighted concerns around leadership and arrangements between the prisoner escort and custody services arm of HM Prison and Probation Service, contractor Serco, and HM Courts and Tribunals Service. 

It said: "Formal structures and meetings between the three main agencies often lacked an appropriate focus on improving the detainee experience of custody, and data on key areas affecting detainees were either not collated or not used effectively to identify and drive forward necessary improvements."

However, inspectors found that detainees were consistently treated with humanity and respect, and that release arrangements were also very good.

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The report made a total of 22 recommendations, including that cells should be safe, clean and in a good state of repair. 

It added: "The conditions across the court custody estate varied greatly and some were inadequate. 

"All custody suites lacked natural light. We found potential ligature points across the estate, particularly around door frames, in ventilation grilles and where sealant had failed, about which staff were unaware.

"Some cells contained extensive, and sometimes offensive, graffiti.

"We were also aware of ongoing issues with heating and cooling systems in most custody environments.

"Cleaning and maintenance were not always carried out well enough to ensure that conditions were appropriate for detainees."

The report found that Covid-19 risk assessments were comprehensive and that most measures to reduce the transmission of the virus, such as the use of hand sanitiser and face masks, were reasonably well established.

It also found that there were sufficient, properly vetted and adequately trained court custody staff.

A HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokesperson said: “This report rightly recognises the good work of staff throughout the pandemic.

“We have taken action following this inspection, making necessary repairs to cells.”