Detainees in North East held in 'inadequate' cells

Newcastle Crown Court Cell conditions at Newcastle Crown Court were found to be "poor"

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Detainees awaiting court appearances in north-east England are being held in "deplorable" or "poor" cells.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) also found women and children were being held too closely to men and religious needs were not being met.

Inspections were carried out at four crown and 12 magistrates courts in Teesside, Durham and the Northumbria force area.

HM Courts and Tribunals Service said improvement work was being carried out.

Inspectors found that court mental health services for detainees was often good.

Cell conditions were said to be deplorable at Newcastle Magistrates' Court and were ranked poor at Newton Aycliffe and Teesside Magistrates' Courts as well as Newcastle and Sunderland crown courts.

In their report, inspectors said there was widespread confusion about the separation of men, women and juveniles, while some were not always kept "appropriately separate."

In some courts pregnant women had to sit on hard benches for several hours, while there was limited provision for those with disabilities or faith-related needs, the HMIP team found.

'Meals out-of-date'

Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said: "Improvements to buildings will require capital spends.

"But there is much that can be done to improve matters in the short term, especially if court managers focus on the custody suites as an integral part of their role in running the courts."

The team found that court managers were "insufficiently engaged" with the custody staff and confidential information was displayed on transfer forms, including in one case a detainee's hepatitis C status.

Detainees were not generally asked about religious or dietary requirements and their only reading material was often old newspapers and copies of a free newspaper.

All courts held stocks of sandwiches and microwave meals for detainees - at North Tyneside the use-by date of some meals had expired.

'Deep cleaning'

Most courts had an inadequate supply of clothing or blankets to offer detainees in cold conditions during winter.

However, the inspectorate found that information coming in with detainees was "generally good".

A spokeswoman for HM Courts and Tribunals Service said: "We try hard to be fully compliant with the latest standards.

"However, that is not always possible for a number of reasons, including physical constraints, which can be a particular problem in the case of the oldest courts.

"Since this inspection, a survey of all cells on the Cleveland, Durham and Northumbria estate has taken place, and a programme of remedial works identified, which will be completed by the end of the financial year.

"A programme of deep cleaning has also been commissioned for all courts in the North East."

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