Independent Custody Visitors
What is an Independent Custody Visitor?
Custody visitors are members of the local community who volunteer to make unannounced visits to police custody suites in the Thames Valley area. They check on the welfare of detainees in police custody by speaking to those detained and monitoring the conditions of the cells. Any problems highlighted during the spot check are brought to the attention of custody staff and the ICVS Manager for the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner to be dealt with.
The visits provide an independent check on the way in which detainees are held, and also to help foster better public understanding and confidence in the way prisoners are treated.
What happens on a visit?
The aim of a custody visit is to ensure that detainees in cells are being held in accordance with strict guidelines laid down by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
Custody Visitors observe the conditions in which people are being held, and speak to those detainees who are willing to be questioned.
They check and make sure that:
- detainees have been offered food and drink
- detainees are warm enough
- cells are in a reasonable condition
- religious and cultural needs of the detainee have been considered
- detainees have been informed of their rights.
When and where are visits made?
Visits are regularly made to eight designated police custody suites in Thames Valley:
- High Wycombe
- Loddon Valley
- Milton Keynes
- Independent Custody Visitor Scheme Annual Report 2020/21
- Independent Custody Visitor Scheme Annual Report 2019/20
- Independent Custody Visitor Scheme Annual Report 2018/19
- Independent Custody Visitor Scheme Annual Report 2017/18
- Independent Custody Visitor Scheme Annual Report 2016/17
- Thames Valley Police Report - Use of Force in Custody 2016
Where can I find more information?
For more information on Custody Visiting visit the Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA) website.
Please note that the Thames Valley ICV Scheme abides by the Home Office Code of Practice on Independent Custody Visiting, which can be found on the following link:
Case study - Paul (Volunteer Independent Custody Visitor)
Paul volunteers as an Independent Custody Visitor at Aylesbury Police Station. He feels that this is an important role and says that, as with his many other volunteering roles, he gets far more out of the experience than he feels he puts in.
What is your role? I’m part of a team of independent custody volunteers who make unannounced visits to people held in police custody to check on their rights, entitlements, wellbeing and dignity. The independent custody visiting scheme is run by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. My custody visits are all to Aylesbury Police Station.
What attracted you to this role? I have been volunteering for years in various roles, including those that the VMS matched me to. They have always tended to be practical roles, very worthwhile and rewarding but the Independent Custody Visiting role offered more of an intellectual challenge than some other roles. I had worked for the Police Service many years ago and that also played a part in piquing my interest.
What difference do you think your role makes? It is an opportunity to be an independent voice commenting on the running of the custody process. It is important to both the person being detained and to the Police who have placed that person in custody, providing an independent perspective to both sides.
Was there a long induction process before you could get started? It did take a while – I was matched to the role in July but did not do my first custody visit until December. I remember that, for a while, visits were difficult to do because of Covid-19. Both the interview stage and the induction process were positive experiences and so didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the role.
What has the experience been like so far? It is living up to my expectations, and the induction process prepared me very well, so there have been no real surprises. The most interesting bit is meeting people in very unusual circumstances and working out how to have a conversation with them that reassures them of my independence and can establish whether they are being properly treated without prying into how they came to be detained. Some detainees definitely welcome the human element that the custody visits provide.
Would you recommend this role to others? Yes, I am enjoying it and would be happy to talk to anyone about the role. Anyone who has an independent perspective, and an open mind could volunteer as a custody visitor.
Would you recommend volunteering generally? Yes. It seems to me that in every role I have, I get more from the experience than I feel I have given. I have met such a variety of people that I would not otherwise have done. Most importantly, I feel I am part of something that is delivering for the common good.
How to get involved?
Custody visitors should be independent of the police; serving police officers, members of police, or Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner staff will not be considered. This also applies to special constables and justices of the peace.
The process involves the completion of an application form followed by an interview and a short induction programme. Appointments cannot be confirmed until a six-month probationary period has been satisfactorily completed.
You must be at least 18 years old to become a custody visitor. There is no upper age limit.
Completed forms should be returned to:Custody Visiting Scheme AdministratorOffice of the Police and Crime CommissionerThames Valley Police HeadquartersOxford RoadKidlingtonOX5 2NX Forms can also be returned by email to Custody Visiting