Having been involved specifically with detention and care of prisoners for three years, I am fully aware of the dangers and risks that looking after people whose liberty has been restricted, for whatever reason. One important aspect is to remember that not only do detainees have rights, but those caring for them do as well. Consequently, anything that can reduce the risks to all parties, user and carer alike, is to be encouraged.
The Safer Detention Unit is a unique development in the care of persons whose liberty is lawfully restricted without resort to physical restraint. The unit provides a safe, comfortable environment for the user who can still engage with the ‘outside’ world without the need for additional staff to care for the person, or to be necessary to prevent their escape.
In a retail environment, the SDU will allow quick processing of persons who may be dealt with by other methods than criminal justice process, but can also users them to be safely detained pending the arrival of police should that be the desired disposal outcome.
In a public order or entertainment environment (sports events, concerts etc), the SDU provides a safe means or removing persons to a safe place where they can be monitored without resort to excessive staffing levels whilst decisions are made as to how best to deal with the person.
The SDU would allow a safe environment for health professionals to assess potential patients whose behaviour requires them to be removed from other service users.
It is my opinion that those who use the unit as carers, providing they have sufficient knowledge of risk assessment and legal use, have a unique opportunity to care for others for short periods of time whilst minimising the risks to the user, and providing evidence of the steps they have taken to care for the individual. The SDU has been carefully designed using the knowledge and expertise of the criminal justice system, and its modular use allows a wider application than the criminal justice process.
At a time when the police service is stretched in terms of time and resources, combined with a prosecution system that encourages a course of action other than court appearances, the SDU fills a much needed void in the ability to safely care for persons who need to be detained in a safe, professional and risk managed environment. I see it as a major development in the safe handling of detained and removed persons.
Ken Reeves is Custody Manager Westminster where the Suite processed an average of 12,500 prisoners a year. Responsible for legal compliance and availability of cells in largest custody suite in the MPS. Responsible for cell space availability during spontaneous public disorder. Piloted Safer Custody Project. Piloted Virtual Courts Project.