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Periods in custody: changes announced


“These changes ensure that the needs of female detainees are addressed.”

The Home Office has announced that it is set to ensure all menstruating women, and others with personal health and hygiene needs, are ‘treated with dignity’ while in custody.

Police forces will have to ask female detainees at the earliest opportunity whether they are likely to require sanitary products, and if they needed they will be given free of charge.

The changes will also require police forces to make arrangements for all detainees to speak in private to a member of custody staff of the same sex about personal needs relating to their health, hygiene and welfare.

The Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA) wrote to the Home Office in January 2018 to express its concern about the conditions women under arrest faced when menstruating, saying they were a potential breach of human rights and equality law.

The ICVA said that some female suspects have been left to bleed or forced to change tampons and sanitary towels while being recorded on CCTV. Others have been unable to speak to a female police officer to ask for help or have been unable to wash their hands or shower after changing tampons.

The letter called for Home Secretary at the time, Amber Rudd, to introduce new guidelines for the police.

The Home Office then held a public consultation which saw overwhelming support from the public and the police for the proposals.

The changes will ensure that detainee dignity, health, hygiene and welfare products are considered when:

providing access to toilet and washing facilities;

removal of a detainee’s clothing is necessary for investigation; and

allowing clothing and personal effects to be retained by detainees.

The notice given to detainees informing them of their rights and entitlements in police custody will be updated to reflect the changes to the law.

The intended changes will be brought into effect once the revised Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) Codes of Practice have been through Parliament.

The College of Policing has also strengthened its guidance on ensuring the needs of menstruating detainees are adequately met.

The Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, Nick Hurd, said, when this was announced on 10 May: “I have been clear that everyone who enters custody should be treated with dignity and have their personal needs met.

“Great progress has been made by the police, ICVA and the College of Policing on this issue, and today we are announcing how we will ensure these standards are met across the board.

“The Independent Custody Visiting Association wrote to the Home Office last year concerned that women were being left without basic sanitary protection in police cells.

“Examples included one force not providing tampons to women for safety reasons, female detainees being stripped of all clothing, including underwear, and placed in paper suits with no menstrual products being offered.

“There are also concerns about a lack of access to hand-washing facilities and the use of CCTV in cells.”

Kate Kempen, chief executive of ICVA, said the Independent Custody Visiting Association welcomed the announced changes to legislation: “These changes ensure that the needs of female detainees are addressed, that detainees have basic privacy to use a toilet and access to menstrual products and that dignity is promoted within the police custody environment.

“No detainee should be left to bleed for want of a difficult conversation or a cheap tampon. These changes should ensure that never happens.”

Assistant Chief Constable Nev Kemp, National Police Chiefs Council lead on custody, said: “We have worked closely with the Home Office and consulted widely, with partner organisations, police forces and females in developing new guidance and now a change in the law.

“We welcome this change because we are a service that has some of the very highest standards of care and transparency when it comes to how we treat those in our custody and these changes only help ensure consistency across Forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

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