Detainees at risk of self-harm: better information-sharing needed on escort records
Police, courts, escorts and prisons need to work together to improve the quality and flow of information shared between them about detainees at risk of self-harm, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons.
The report, The use of the person escort record with detainees at risk of self-harm, was completed at the request of the Independent Advisory Panel of the Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody. It describes the processes by which information about a person’s risk of self-harm is transferred and used as they move between police custody, court and prison and on other external journeys.
The main vehicle for conveying this information is the person escort record (PER). It is, therefore, a crucial part of how the state fullfils its duty of care for vulnerable people in custody.
Inspectors found that often PERs contained vague statements like ‘may try to kill himself in prison’. For the prison to be able to manage the risk, its staff would need to know why the custody officer wrote that – for example, had the detainee tried to kill himself before, or had he told custody staff he would try to do that.
Inspectors recommended that:
the training of staff involved in recording self-harm information needed to be improved, as many staff, despite their best intentions, had little knowledge of how it would be used at its destination and how important it could be in helping to safeguard vulnerable people;
improved quality assurance by police forces could mean that more first-hand information is picked up and included on PERs to give a fuller and more helpful picture; and
changes in the design of the PER and its accompanying documentation and improvements in how information is stored and disseminated in establishments could ensure better use of that information.
Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said:
This report explores two key issues in detail – maintaining quality in large-scale processes where risks might be infrequent but serious for the individuals concerned, and ensuring communication between the operational staff involved is effective. It makes recommendations that we hope will be helpful in achieving improvement.
The research that underpins the report also inevitably touched on wider issues concerning the care of people at risk of self-harm in custody and suggests some further work that might help improve that care overall.
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