Kent court custody cells 'among worst seen'

Prisoner Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption One detainee with mental illness was called "nutter" by custody staff

Custody suites in Kent courts are "among the worst" seen by the prison watchdog, a report has said.

Inspectors also found the treatments handed out by custody staff were "unreasonable" and included the handcuffing of women and children.

Cells were found to be daubed with pornographic and racist graffiti.

The care of detainees, including those with ill health or who had been self-harming, was given "very little importance", inspectors found.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons' report said: "The condition of the court custody suites in Kent was among the worst we have seen.

"In many cells, there was scarcely an inch of wall or door that was not covered in graffiti. Much of it was obscene or racist, and some contained allegations against named individuals."

In one cell at Folkestone Magistrates' Court, there was a swastika and graffiti with the phrase "Muslim scum", the report said.

The Inspectors reported they were concerned to hear a custody officer refer to a transgender detainee as "it".

Another officer was found to have called a detainee with a mental illness "nutter".

The inspectors looked at two crown and eight magistrates' courts in Kent.

Low staff morale

The report said the introduction of virtual courts, where detainees appear via a video-link, had the potential to reduce long journeys and cut waiting times at court.

Low staff morale stopped many workers from trying to improve the poor conditions for the detainees, the inspectors found.

Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the various agencies involved in providing court custody facilities in Kent rarely worked together and none had overall responsibility.

He said: "This report contains recommendations that we hope will encourage the various agencies involved in the provision of court custody to work together more effectively.

"Those detained at Kent courts should be held in a safer and more decent environment than is currently in place."

An HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokesman said inter-agency relationships had been strengthened since the inspection "to ensure that operations are run effectively and in accordance with the contract".

He said it would be working closely with the prisoner escort and custody services provider, GeoAmey, and the National Offender Management Service to deliver a joint action plan addressing the inspectorate's recommendations.

"A programme of deep cleaning is already in place and is carried out twice yearly for courts in Kent," he added.

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