Vera Baird

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Dame Vera Baird calls for Government to take action

4th January 2018

Dame Vera Baird, Police & Crime Commissioner for Northumbria has urged the Government to change Code C of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which provides a statutory code of practice on the treatment of detainees – as it provides no specific information on the treatment of women.  The College of Policing guidance requires that women detainees be offered a hygiene pack without asking – but this is clearly not happening in cells up and down the country.

There have been reported examples of women in custody experiencing their period in cells, whilst wearing a paper suit and no underwear and not being given sanitary protection.

Commissioner Baird has today welcomed the actions of the Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA) who revealed these findings and wrote to the Home Secretary urging her to take urgent action to protect the dignity of women and girls having their period in police custody.

Dame Vera said “Failure by police to give good quality sanitary protection packages automatically to all female detainees is lamentable. ICVA have stories from a number of women about being left without adequate protection, simply to bleed. Apparently, one inspection found tampons on a police store beyond their expiry date, when they can cause toxic shock, capable of being fatal.

This must immediately stop and police must revise their process. Women must not be required to ask male custody officers for sanitary protection but must be given automatically and at repeat intervals throughout detention. There should be automatic access to a female officer too”.

Dame Vera also congratulated ICVA on their work in this area, as it is Independent Custody Visitors who discovered this problem.  Dame Vera added “The fresh eyes of members of the public, as independent custody visitors on custody practice have unearthed a primitive procedure that needs addressing now. ICVA volunteers do their work extremely well and we should all be grateful that this mediaeval situation, being continued in our name, has been disclosed and can be ended.  The Home Secretary and Prime Minister need to ensure action is taken”.

Dame Vera supports ICVA’s recommendations to review existing practice and to amend PACE Code C to include clear guidance on the treatment of women having their period.  The guidance should cover the booking in process at custody and the treatment of women throughout their time in custody.  There needs to be express guidelines on the treatment of menstruating women during strip search and the removal of clothing. Officers should be adequately trained and supported to implement full and clear guidance on period management in the cells.

Dame Vera is ready to work with Parliamentarians and fellow PCCs to deliver legislative changes to address this problem.


UPDATE:

Following the release of ICVA’s findings I have called upon Northumbria Police to look at their own processes around sanitary issues for women in custody. I’m pleased to share that Northumbria are following ICVA’s guidance and have the following in place as a matter of routine:

  • We have designed our custody suites to allow detainees to speak to the custody sergeant in private about their needs.
  • Women can use the toilet or change their sanitary protection in the confidence that they will not be observed by officers and are made aware of this from the outset. To do so we obscure the view of toilet areas within cells with CCTV monitoring or make alternative arrangements for women to change in private.
  • On entering custody, women are given the opportunity to speak privately to a female officer, who can be available as a point of contact at any time. We have twelve custody teams in total across Northumbria, with an average of three female officers per team.
  • We provide all female detainees with a hygiene pack to ensure their time in custody is dignified and respectful.
  • Hand-washing facilities are also provided for every detainee.
  • When we conduct a strip search (or in any circumstances where a detainee’s clothes are removed), we ensure our officers work with sensitivity and respect when working with women who are on their period.  
  • It will very rarely be justified to leave a woman who is on her period in custody without access to sanitary protection. Instead, we look at other ways of managing risks that relate to the use of sanitary protection in custody, whether that’s close or constant observation.
  • In circumstances where we must remove a woman’s clothes during her time in custody to mitigate risk of harm, we will also assess on a case by case basis whether it is also necessary in that instance whether to remove sanitary protection. This would be extremely rare, nevertheless we have updated our guidelines to reflect the nature of individual assessment.