May 6, 2022 10.45 am This story is over 24 months old

Life in the cells – have you ever wondered what it’s like?

Have you ever wondered what it is really like to be put in a cell?

For most people, custody is probably not a place that you’re familiar with, other than maybe what you see on TV or read about in books.

Which is why we wanted to ‘Lift The Police Tape’ and give you a bit of an insight into what it is like behind the cell doors.

Often referred to as “the bin”, “the dungeons”, “the pokey” or on rare occasions “Hotel Birchin/Clough”, our custody suites are complex and high-tech buildings specially designed to safely house those suspected of crime.

With cameras, alarms and equipment all carefully considered and planned to ensure the safety of detainees and staff alike, Birchin Way is one of the newest custody facilities in the country.

A team of highly trained Police Officers and Detention Officers from the facility have taken some time to speak about what it is really like to work in custody, in an interesting, eye-opening and at times a little disgusting interview.

They are responsible for ensuring the safety of those suspected of crime, whilst our investigative teams are busy carrying out the necessary investigations in the cases.

The interview took place on an average day on shift for the team, answering questions between processing and caring for detainees arrested on suspicion of a whole range of offences: from domestic abuse related incidents, to assault to money laundering and drugs offences.

| Photo: Humberside Police

Can you describe what is it is really like to work in police custody?

“Without wanting to sound cliché, you really do have to expect the unexpected. It doesn’t matter what a person may have been brought in for, they may seem completely fine one minute but in a split-second chaos can unfold.

“It is definitely eye opening and challenging, that is for sure. We deal with members of the public from all walks of life, some who we see periodically, as well as those who are first time offenders, you never know who’s coming in.”

What do you find most challenging about working in custody?

“We are a small and tight knit team, which helps when working under a lot of pressure as is often the case here at Birchin Way, as we manage up to 36 detainees at any one time within the suite.

“We have to deal with a whole range of bizarre, and sometimes disgusting, incidents. For example, on one occasion, after being processed, a detainee made numerous attempts to assault us and, in preparation to confront us, used his own faecal matter as war paint smearing it onto his face whilst in his cell.

“We also have many people who try to conceal items about their person, whether that be a phone, weapon, drugs and on occasion alcohol. I’ll let you use your imagination as to their hiding spots, but we have to make sure that these are retrieved to prevent them harming themselves or us.

“We’ve also had several individuals use their time in our custody to, how shall I put it, inappropriately touch themselves – yes you heard that right!

“But it’s not just this sort of stuff that we deal with. As detention officers, we have to ensure the health and safety of all our detainees, including providing them with food and drink.  Over the course of a year, we serve around 8,000 all day breakfast microwave meals and make around 40,000 hot drinks, which isn’t something most people probably think of as being part of the job for a police officer.”

| Photo: Humberside Police

How would you describe a typical day at Birchin Way?

“Every one of our detainees goes through the same processing procedure. Once they are brought into custody they are checked in, assessed, searched and, if required, strip searched for their own personal safety.

“Once they have been checked in, they are escorted to the ID suite where they have their custody picture taken followed by fingerprints and DNA swabs, in some circumstances we also take a breath sample from them.

“Depending on that individual person’s needs and the offence that they have been arrested on suspicion of, they are then escorted to one of our various different types of cell.

“When needed, to ensure no DNA evidence is lost when offences such as rape and sexual assault are alleged, the detainee will be taken to a “dry cell”. This means that they do not have access to the toilet or running water in their cell. If they do require the toilet, one of our officers will escort them to the facility ensure that they are unable to tamper with any potential evidence.

“We also have cells specially built for people that have medical conditions or other issues. For example, we have cells with wider windows which can be used for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia, as well as a separate corridor for vulnerable detainees.”

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

“This might be a little bit cheesy, but the support and teamwork on shift is second to none.

“We can often be faced with very challenging circumstances, juggling the needs of various detainees whilst also ensuring our own safety and making sure that all the necessary checks and processes are being completed.

“It just makes your day that little easier knowing your colleague is there when you need that bit of extra support.”