I've recently come across information about this forthcoming BBC documentary on police custody (see the link below). From the information on the BBC website, it seems that some of the insights contained in the programme may well be accurate. For instance, the idea that police custody is comparable with prison is something I explore in my book (Skinns, 2011: 200-202). In many respects, police custody does resemble prison in that, like prisoners, suspects experience a loss of control and limitations on their freedom. Police custody is also like prison in that they are both volatile and fraught places where staff-suspect relationships are paramount. The main exception to the idea that police custody is like prison can be found in the fact that police custody is not formally a place of punishment. Those in police custody are only suspects after all.
Another idea contained in the information in the programme also seemed to ring true. In this blurb, they say that police officers have to act with humanity yet with authority. My argument on this issue is that police officers found it more difficult to juggle this conflicting role compared to civilian detention officers. Being caring and compassionate has not been found to be a key feature of the occupational culture of rank and file police officers, whilst the use of authority has (see Skinns, 2011: 158).
However, the idea in the programme that custody officers are independent is simply not borne out by the evidence, which shows that custody officers tend to agree with their colleagues, for example, when it comes to authorizing a suspects' detention. Few custody officers reverse the decision of their colleague when a suspect arrives at the police station (Skinns, 2011: 4). This finding it not altogether surprising when one places it in the context of an understanding of the police occupational culture, a key aspect of which is solidarity.
Nonetheless, I remain open-minded about what other insights this programme might yield. Police custody as the key gateway to the criminal justice process deserves to be recognised as such by the wider public.
Welcome to my blog
I thought this would be a great way to tell everyone about the many interesting things that I do in my professional life as a researcher, writer and educator. At the moment, my interest is mainly focused on policing and more specifically on police custody i.e. where people are taken on arrest whilst a decision is reached about charge. Watch this space for updates on my whirlwind academic life.
- Dr Layla Skinns
- Layla Skinns is a Senior Lecturer in criminology in the Centre for Criminological Research at the School of Law, University of Sheffield. Before joining the Centre for Criminological Research, Layla worked at the University of Cambridge, where she was the Adrian Socio-Legal Research Fellow at Darwin College and a Teaching Associate on the MSt. in Applied Criminology for senior police, prison and probation staff. Whilst working as a Research Fellow at Darwin College, she co-organised the prestigious Darwin College Lecture Series on the theme of risk. Her qualifications are: MA (Hons) Sociology and Psychology, University of Edinburgh, 2000; MPhil Criminological Research, University of Cambridge, 2001 and PhD Criminology, University of Cambridge, 2005