They are the epitome of the ‘unsung hero’. For while shop workers and NHS staff are perhaps the most talked-about key workers in the UK, a group of volunteers working in Gloucestershire Constabulary’s custody facility remain dedicated to checking the welfare of detainees during lockdown.
Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) are volunteers who ensure the welfare, rights and entitlements of detainees. Their work is a vital part of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s role to ensure the police service is open and accountable to the people it serves. The Home Office confirmed that ICVs are key workers in March 2020.
In Gloucestershire, six ICVs who do not fall under the ‘vulnerable’ category have agreed to continue with their visits to custody on a fortnightly basis, using a rota. Their safety is paramount, so extra measures are now in place to adhere to social distancing guidelines during visits.
ICVs also have access to soap and water before and after their inspections, alongside facemasks and latex gloves to wear during visits. Visits, which are usually unannounced, are now arranged in advance, to ensure social distancing can be maintained.
Martin Surl, Gloucestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner said: “Independent Custody Visitors are crucial to the welfare of detainees and while I’m always grateful to ICVs for giving up their time, their dedication to this voluntary role is even more notable during these unusual times.
“ICVs are pivotal to my role of holding the Constabulary to account, and while we’re putting appropriate measures in place to ensure they can carry out their duties safely, it’s only right that they are acknowledged for their contribution to the criminal justice system in Gloucestershire.”
During the current Covid-19 crisis, ICVs continue to provide oversight and scrutiny of the Constabulary, which allows Gloucestershire’s custody unit to continue to operate in an ethical manner.
It is the responsibility of the OPCC to recruit, train, manage and support all volunteers appointed to Gloucestershire’s Independent Custody Visiting Scheme.
Katie Kempen is Chief Executive of the Independent Custody visiting Association and said: “The police are dealing with an unprecedented challenge in responding to Coronavirus. During these difficult times, independent monitoring of police custody is even more important. It will help to identify challenges and to strengthen custody as the visitors report back on custody and the OPCC can follow up on their feedback.
“Moreover, it provides the public with reassurance that custody is both safe and dignified. I commend and thank the independent custody visitors for their commitment to the role.”