'Good' police custody: Influencing policy custody policy and practice

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Sheffield

Principal Researcher

Dr Layla Skinns

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

August 2019

Research Context

Between 2014 and 2015, a research team collected a range of data, as part of an ESRC-funded “'Good' police custody? Theorizing the 'is' and the 'ought'”. The primary aim of the research was to robustly examine what is meant by ‘good’ police custody. These data have been used to explore preliminary ideas about good police custody (Skinns et al., 2015), the delivery of police custody (Skinns et al., 2017a), staff-detainee interactions and the use of ‘soft’ power (Skinns et al., 2017b), detainees’ emotional reactions to police custody (Wooff and Skinns, 2017), the pains of police detention (Skinns and Wooff, forthcoming), as well as police-academic partnerships during research on police custody (Greene and Skinns, 2017).

Most recently, in 2016-17, we surveyed nearly 800 staff and detainees in 27 custody facilities in 13 police forces. These data have been used to formulate good practice recommendations (see here: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/law/research/projects/police).
It is recommended that dignity - linked to equality, autonomy and decency - should be priorities that police custody practitioners, managers, national leads and policy makers should take account of in relation to the operation and strategic direction of police custody, alongside existing priorities such as safety, security, risk, cost effectiveness and the demands of the law and the criminal justice process. This will yield benefits for detainees and for staff, through increased detainee cooperation, for example. In pursuit of these goals, it is recommended that changes be made to police attitudes and behaviours; policies, training and line management procedures; detainee expectations; and the material conditions of police custody.

From September 2019 until January 2021, further funding has been provided by the University of Sheffield/the ESRC to facilitate the implementation of these recommendations in a small number of police forces, who have volunteered to take part. The two main aims of the current project are:

  1. Facilitate the implementation of the good practice recommendations derived from the good police custody in six police force areas;
  2. 2. Evaluate the impact of the uptake of these recommendations on police officers’ experiences, and on their attitudes and behaviours towards detainees, as well as on the experiences of detainees.

This part of the research is therefore about making changes to police custody practices and to the experiences of detainees, and to measure the extent of this impact. These changes will be based on good practice recommendations from the good police custody study. The final version of these recommendations will be published by September 2019.

In order to broaden the reach of the research findings to as diverse an audience as possible, a third aim of the project is continue to disseminate findings from the research to the general public, for example, through events taking place as part of the annual ESRC Festival of Social Sciences.

A fourth aim is to continue to disseminate findings to key stakeholders, for example, via the National Custody Forum (NCF) and through presentations, if requested, to organisations such as the Home Office, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies, Fire and Rescue, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the Ministry of Justice, the Independent Advisory Panel on deaths in police custody, the College of Policing etc.

Research Methodology

Six police forces have volunteered to take part in the project. These forces will be contacted again in early August/September 2019. The PI will then convene an implementation group from Autumn of 2019, which will consider how to implement the recommendations from the research. Led by the PI, the group will develop a force by force implementation and evaluation strategy. This group will meet in person in Sheffield, if possible, or virtually if necessary. It will be comprised of representatives from each of the participating forces, as well as representatives from other relevant organisations.

Once the implementation and evaluation strategies are developed a research assistant will be appointed and will carry out pre-implementation data collection from staff and detainees. The implementation of the good practice recommendations will begin in early 2020, with the researcher also carrying out a process evaluation during the implementation phase, which will then be followed by post-implementation data collection.

Preliminary findings from the piloting of the good practice recommendations will be available by July 2020. Final results are likely to be produced in early 2021.

Interim reports and publications

Publications (freely available online):

Greene, A. and Skinns, L. (2018) Different ways of acting and different ways of knowing? The cultures of police-academic partnerships in a multi-site and multi-force study, European Journal of Policing Studies, 5(3), 55-75.

Skinns, L. Rice, L., Sprawson, A. and Wooff, A. (2017b) Police legitimacy in context: An exploration of ‘soft power’ in police custody in England, Policing: An international Journal of Police Strategies and Management, 40 (3), 601-613.

Skinns, L., Sprawson, A., Sorsby, A., Smith, R. and Wooff, A. (2017a) Police custody delivery in the twenty-first century in England and Wales: Current arrangements and their implications for patterns of policing, European Journal of Policing Studies, 4 (3), 325-349.

Skinns, L., Wooff, A. and Sprawson, A. (2015) ‘Preliminary findings on police custody delivery in the 21st century: Is it “good” enough?’ Policing and Society, 27(4), 358-371.

Wooff, A. and Skinns, L. (2017) The role of emotion, space and place in police custody in England: Towards a geography of police custody, Punishment and Society. DOI: 10.1177/1462474517722176

Date due for completion

January 2021
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