One general theme that many police forces across England and Wales have been dealing with over the past few years is the role that custody plays within the Criminal Justice service. Faced with reducing number of arrests and tight budgets, many forces have looked towards their custody facilities with the view to rationalising their estate.
This document set out some of the key considerations that should be applied when looking at the decision to rationalise custody estate to ensure that effective decisions are made.
Figures published by the Home Office show that number of arrest has almost halved in a decade. In the year to end of March 2017, 779,660 individuals were held, compared with nearly 1.5 million in 2006/7. With the number of detentions being made dropping, this has meant that cell utilisation and resource utilisation in many custody suites have dropped dramatically leading to questions around the future sustainability of these facilities.
It is important to also realise that that although custody may seem to be a relatively small part of the Criminal Justice Service the implications that changes to custody provision can have may be far reaching across the system. For example, there is evidence to suggest that closures of some custody suites within a force can lead to changes in policing behaviour in that area. In cases where a potentially minor infraction is committed, officers may choose to seek other means of dealing with the incident rather than commit to a long double crewed journey to a custody suite that could be 25-miles plus away. In some respects, this can lead to a ‘post-code lottery’ environment in the way in which arrests take place. The seemingly secondary consideration that we know is at the forefront of officers’ minds is the impact that making the arrest will have to the ability to police the beat or area that they are currently in. With resourcing number being stretched quite low and the tendency for officers to be single crewed, at least during daylight hours, there is certainly a concern about leaving their colleagues in the lurch while dealing with the arrest. For example, one officer cited the fact that on a busy Thursday night he may witness an incident that he’d normally arrest for however was unwilling to take the risk and leave only one officer responsible for the rest of the town for a period of 2 ½ hours.
Historically custody suites or facilities have been part of a forces larger stations, with some smaller estates depending on the geographic location. This typically allowed Response officers to return to their station, process the detainee and then get back onto the beat.