Blog - SPA Vice Chair celebrates ICVS volunteers
Anticipating National Volunteers' Week (1 to 7 June), I was privileged to attend the annual conference of our Independent Custody Visitors in Dundee on 21st May 2022.
The ICVS Scheme is an important independent assurance to the SPA - and so to the public - that the human rights and dignity of those in custody are respected. As the name suggests, the volunteers visit police custody suites throughout Scotland, speaking to detainees and to police and report on what they find. During visits they can raise individual issues as various and as basic as ensuring detainees have access to washing facilities, to interpreters, or cultural or religious requirements. And in reporting back on all of their visits, the SPA receives assurance that individual issues are resolved and – critically - that overall detainees human rights are protected, that they are treated fairly, with integrity and dignity.
Volunteering in Challenging Circumstances
The conference in Dundee was the first since 2019, and a welcome and important opportunity to thank the visitors and the support team at the SPA for their exceptional commitment, resilience, determination and flexibility. Over the last two years the visitors and staff have adapted to remote, telephone based visits until able to resume face to face visits in August 2021. The 102 visitors made over 1000 virtual visits in 2020/21 and over 1000 face to face visits in the year to March 2022 supplemented by telephone calls.
It was a pleasure not only to meet the visitors in person but to present individual recognition awards at the event.
Likewise, I publicly thanked our volunteers at the SPA Board meeting on 26 May, looking forward to the upcoming publication of the ICVS Annual Report, which will outline the work of our volunteers over the past year, and to seeing implementation of the internal review undertaken this year. There will a presentation and discussion at the next Police Performance Committee on 7th June.
Protecting the Most Vulnerable
Meanwhile I want to highlight two areas that are of critical importance, and where the volunteer visitor scheme has an invaluable role to play, namely: children in custody and mental health and wellbeing.
It is of critical importance in considering detention to prioritise the most vulnerable people in custody. That will always be the case, but as part of the Authority’s oversight of policing COP26, children in custody – or indeed children of those detained in custody – were identified as a key priority. As a principle, Police Scotland and the SPA want to ensure that measures are in place to ensure that children continue to only ever be detained as a very last resort. In the event that they arrive in custody as that last resort, we will always seek to ensure that custody suites are suitable for accommodating those children.
At the conference, and again here, I therefore want to specifically thank those volunteer custody visitors who completed daily visits to designated custody centres during COP26. The experience of thoughtful planning and adaptations for COP26, including the focus on the child experience, will be important in the context of thinking and adaptations for the future
Secondly I want to highlight the volunteers’ work in ensuring the humane and respectful treatment of those with mental health, drug or alcohol abuse issues. If there is a positive to come from the pandemic, it is a much greater awareness of mental health issues and their prevalence, as well as the need to address these at an early stage, including appropriate action taken on arrival at custody suites. More than ever before, it is recognised that detainees presenting issues in these areas are assessed and provided with healthcare and early preventative interventions.
Our independent volunteer visitors are absolutely critical here. In looking at and reporting on these areas of acute vulnerability, our volunteers are not only providing assurance in relation to individual cases, but can support and assist how policing, and indeed society at large, deals with these most critical of social issues.
Celebrating and extending the scheme
Volunteers' Week celebrates, champions and thanks volunteers across the UK who give selflessly of themselves and their time. On behalf of the SPA, I want to thank our independent volunteers as an outstanding example of the dedication and impact of volunteers, often unsung but always impactful. Over the coming year we will be looking to recruit new volunteers – further detail can be found on our website. Meanwhile, I hope this brief insight will acknowledge and encourage greater awareness and appreciation of the invaluable work of the independent custody visitors.
Jane Ryder, OBE
Vice Chair, Scottish Police Authority