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Dyfed-Powys anti-rip clothing pilot has developed a 'new culture'

Though anti-rip clothing is used in many custody suites across the UK, concerns have previously been raised about how and when the measure is used.

Dyfed-Powys has significantly improved its use of anti-harm suits in custody following a pilot scheme, an interim report has found. 

The clothing, which is designed to prevent detainees from being able to rip the material and make ligatures, is used across the UK. However, concerns have previously been raised in Inspectorate reports nationally. 

Issues that cropped up across the country included the use of anti-rip clothing with an absence of risk information, dignity issues when using the clothing, as well as poor justification and review of its use. 

The Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA) reviewed inspectorate reports between 2017 and July 2022. A total of 39 reports were reviewed, of which 27 mentioned the use of anti-rip suits.

There were only three where no issues were noted with regards to the use of the measure.  

In March 2022, Dyfed-Powys' Independent Custody Visiting Scheme began a pilot alongside the Independent Custody Visiting Association. 

The pilot had three central aims:

- Closely monitor the use of anti-rip suits in Dyfed-Powys custody suites force-wide

- Remove the use of anti-rip clothing by force, in the absence of risk information 

- Increase the quality of justification and consideration of proportionality

As part of the pilot, independent custody visitors reviewed its use monthly. 

The force initially implemented a way of recording the use of the suits - something that had not already been in place.

The Head of Custody additionally established a system that sees Inspectors review the clothing as part of custody reviews, featuring an assessment of whether it's necessary for it to remain. 

Now, an interim report published this month has pointed to improved detainee dignity and overall better outcomes. 

The report said: “There are several areas who do not use the clothing, indicating that it is entirely possible to manage risk effectively, in busy suites, without needing to use anti-rip garments; the use of which often involves force.

“There is currently a paucity of specific recording of the use of anti-rip clothing across custody suites. This leads to poor recording and focus in terms of the proportionality and justification for the use of the clothing which should be remedied as a priority.”

It concluded that effective reporting and monitoring of the measure has an impact on when it is used without risk information. 

Moreover, use of the clothing in Dyfed-Powys is now “increasingly well justified”. 

The report made further recommendations, including that the NPCC ensure all forces implement a reportable function for the use of the measure.

It also recommended that the NPCC work towards the removal of anti-rip clothing in custody (to be replaced with effective observations, de-escalation and risk management), and that the Home Office includes a provision within PACE that clothing is not to be removed due to perceived risk only. 

Chief Inspector Steve Thomas of Dyfed-Powys Police, who is Dyfed-Powys Custody Services’ Lead, said: “The anti-rip pilot has assisted Dyfed-Powys Police though partnership working to develop policy, practice and a new culture that recognises and supports the detainee’s dignity.

“This has been a journey of reflection and development all round and is now embedded as common practice. The work will continue beyond the evaluation as we continue to improve standards and performance to ensure custody is a safe and ethical environment.”

Sherry Ralph, Chief Operating Officer from ICVA said: ‘The removal of a person’s clothing is an extreme measure to ensure their safety whilst in custody, which can have a serious impact for detainees and staff.

“I am delighted that Dyfed Powys Police and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) have been working with ICVA to ensure that where this measure is used, it is done so proportionately, with full justifications and only in circumstances where all other options have been exhausted.” 

Dyfed-Powys are continuing the pilot until March 2023. 

Other forces are also doing work in this area, including Norfolk and Suffolk who use ICVs in their force-led scrutiny panels.

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