By Amanda Segelov, ICV Scheme Manager
Amanda Segelov is Criminal Justice Policy Officer for the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. As well as this, she co-ordinates this scheme in line with Home Office guidance and good practice. This includes managing the recruitment, training, development and support of volunteers; providing appropriate management reports and developing the scheme in consultation with the Chief Inspector for Custody, ICV Coordinators, and the PCC’s Chief Executive.
As ICV scheme manager, I get to spend quite a bit of time in custody. Although I am by no means an expert, I am familiar with what happens and have seen up close the experiences of detainees.
A few weeks ago, I took a colleague over to Gloucestershire Constabulary’s custody suite to have a look around, see the booking in process, and get a better idea of the running of a custody suite, and what my role entails.
Without getting in the way, we had a look around the ‘bridge’ and discretely observed a detainee being booked in. Whilst talking with one of the Custody Detention Officers (CDOs), my colleague asked about food - what is offered, the different options and what it tastes like? Jokingly she said we should do a taste test in the office. As she said it, we both realised what a brilliant idea it was and the CDO kindly gave us one of each meal to try.
Everyone’s taste palate is different, so to get a fairer and more-varied opinion on the food on offer, we gathered together some of our colleagues from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner to try the meals together. Having a larger group of taste-testers would give us a better idea whether what the Constabulary is providing detainees really is palatable, or just serves a basic purpose.
All meals provided in custody are ready meals. The theory behind providing meals like this is that it provides calorie-controlled content in a variety of choices whilst reducing the need for custody staff to have extra food hygiene training. Plus there is very little food waste as the expiry dates are longer than fresh food. All meals take the same time to microwave (2.5 minutes) and have a calorie content of between 200 and 230kcal.
The options provided cover lots of dietary requirements such as halal and vegetarian, and food intolerance like gluten/coeliac. All are in boxes that are designed to make it easy to see what the meal is, what is in it, and which diet requirement they’re suitable for.
Beans and wedges – generally tasted ok. It received very mixed responses with some thinking it was bland, while others thought it to be rather tasty. However, the general consensus is that it was nicer than the all-day breakfast.
All day breakfast – This seemed to be the one that most looked forward to. Colleagues thought it was not bad overall, although they didn’t think much of the sausages.
Lamb hotpot – this looked much, much worse than it tasted. A couple of us really liked it, though it needed seasoning.
Cottage pie – tasted nice, although there was divided opinion as to whether the mashed potato was palatable or not.
Chicken korma – Quite flavoursome, came with rice and was nice and creamy. Better than some supermarket ready meals!
Tuna and pasta Italiene – was very strong tasting, which some colleagues liked, others not so much. Most of us were pleasantly surprised that it was quite nice.
Veggie chilli – this was by a country mile, the most delectable of them all. It wasn’t served with rice and we all agreed it should be, but thought it was quite spicy and had good flavour.
In discussion afterwards, we gave our overall impressions with many surprised as to how most of the food was not only palatable, but really quite good. One colleague stated that “it tasted better than 90's aeroplane food”.
None of it would be out of place on a supermarket shelf and it was good to know that the taste test had been passed.
Following on from that we spoke about the practicalities of fresh produce in custody and whether there are better, local and/or more sustainable options.
Another concern we all had is that one meal wouldn’t really be enough to fill anyone up. Having since discussed this with Constabulary staff, I’ve been reassured that a detainee would be offered more than one, and reasonable requests for more would also be considered, which is reassuring.
All in all, we were pleasantly surprised by just how pleasant most of them were and agreed that we needed to consider some of the options that other areas are looking at, such as providing porridge pots or whether it is possible to provide some fresh fruit to help balance the needs to detainees.
There are no easy answers to some of these questions, but quality of meals for detainees is something to raise with the Constabulary and see what consideration has been given and where improvements can be made.