Sunderland prisoners held in ‘disrespectful’ conditions, claims report

Cell door at Sunderland Magistrates' Court
Cell door at Sunderland Magistrates' Court
Have your say

PRISONERS are not always being given the respect they deserve, according to a report out today.

The study by the Chief Inspector of Prisons follows inspections of court custody suites in the region, including at Durham crown and Sunderland and Peterlee magistrates’ courts.

The cells at Sunderland were said to be “dark, covered in graffiti, and in one cell there were lumps of brown substance stuck to the ceiling.”

One detainee complained of being cold, despite it being August.

Under the heading “respect,” the report said that one of the vehicles taking prisoners to court “smelt of tobacco smoke,” and that the dock area was overlooked by an office block.

It was stated that routine handcuffing was “especially dangerous” on the steep and narrow staircases defendants had to climb into courtrooms.

At Durham Crown Court, one cell for women was labelled “claustrophobic, with no natural light,” and there were complaints that people were detained for several hours after they could legally be released, while staff waited for confirmation.

There was praise for Peterlee Magistrates’ Court, where staff offered detainees crossword and word search puzzles to keep them entertained, as well as biscuits.

The report, based on inspections carried out between August 6 and August 15 last year, is the first of a new programme of inspections of court custody.

However, the importance of the issues raised has been questioned.

“Most members of the public would regard these grievances as very petty and unimportant,” said North East MEP Martin Callanan.

“They should be putting the victims before the prisoners. They need to understand this.”

The study made a raft of recommendations.

Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “This first full inspection of custody suites in a court area revealed custody staff who did their best to take care of detainees, in conditions which were in many cases poor, and with underdeveloped approaches to assessing and managing risk and to meeting legitimate needs.”

“Improvements to buildings will require capital spends, but there is much that can be done to improve matters in the short term, especially if Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service managers focus on the custody suites as an integral part of their role in running the courts.”

Twitter: @Monica_Turnbull