'Good' police custody: Influencing police custody policy and practice

Project start date: May 2024
Project end date: April 2025
Principal Researcher: Professor Layla Skinns

LAW - Custody 0806


This project pilots and evaluates the impacts of an accessible digital police custody information guide for adult detainees, in order to improve detainees’ understanding and autonomous decision making and police custody practices in Norfolk and Suffolk Police.

Project partners:

Norfolk PoliceSuffolk PoliceAV StudiosCreased Puddle


The main aim of this research is to develop an accessible digital information guide for adult detainees in police custody and implement this in Norfolk/Suffolk Police, making use of their pioneering in-cell video technology. This digital information guide contains critical information about detainees’ rights and entitlements and the treatment they should expect from staff. It will help them to better understand their rights and will support more effective autonomous decision making by detainees. It will be shared with detainees via a tablet-sized screen, which is part of the intercom panel in the cells.

This digital information guide will also be piloted in two police custody facilities and evaluated in terms of its effects on detainees and staff, in order to establish a proof of concept. Once established, the digital information guide will be shared on this project page for other police forces to use and may also be rolled out more widely across England and Wales as other police forces begin to adopt digital in-cell video technology of the kind used by Norfolk/Suffolk Police.


This project draws on Phase 5 of the ‘good’ police custody study, entitled ‘Influencing policy custody policy and practice’. In this project, we piloted recommendations from a major ESRC-funded project, the ‘good’ police custody study (GPCS), in three police force areas. One of the measures piloted was a paper-based custody information guide for adult detainees, which proved to be one of the most popular measures implemented.

This measure was introduced because a key finding in the underpinning research undertaken in the GPCS is the importance of detainee dignity rooted in autonomy (Skinns, 2019; Skinns et al., 2021). By providing detainees with information about the police custody process, this enables detainees to make informed and autonomous choices about their stay in police custody and about their key rights and entitlements. This information guide was also introduced because, though detainees are permitted to read about their rights and entitlements in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Code of Practice C, the information contained there is dense and inaccessible for some detainees (e.g. due to learning disabilities, neurodivergent conditions such as ADHD and autism, or mental ill-health).

Building on the underpinning research generated by the GPCS and this previous IAA-funded project, the present project pilots a digital version of the paper information sheet used in 2019-21. The digital version will be developed to be more accessible for a range of detainees and will be accompanied by a revised paper-based version. Both will be developed in conjunction with accessibility consultants, Creased Puddle, as well as with Norfolk/Suffolk Police, those with lived experience of police custody and a creative team from AV Studios.

Evaluation methods:

The evaluation involves a mixed-methods design, exploring both the process of implementing the digital information guide and its effects on detainees and staff. For detainees, we will examine its impact on their knowledge about their rights and entitlements and their decision-making, and for staff we will examine their attitudes towards and perceptions of the digital information guide.

In each of the two police custody facilities in the research (one in Norfolk and one in Suffolk Police), the research team will observe over a 4-week period and conduct interviews with 15 participants (a mixture of detainees and staff). Staff will also invite all detainees who access the digital information guide to complete a brief online survey on a tablet to secure feedback on what they understood from it and how/if they used this information.

Publications (freely available online)

  • Skinns, L. (2024) Setting a new agenda for the future: ‘Appreciating’ and improving Garda custody in Ireland, in Y. Daly(ed.) Police Custody in Ireland. Abindgon, Routledge.
  • Skinns, L., Wooff, A. and Rice, L. (2023) “Come on mate, let’s make you a cup of tea”: An examination of sociomateriality and its impacts on detainee dignity inside police detention,Theoretical Criminology28(2), 175-194.
  • Skinns, L., Wooff, A. and Sprawson, A. (2021) “My best day will be my last day!”: Appreciating Appreciative Inquiry in police research’, Policing and Societyhttps://doi.org/10.1080/10439463.2021.1984471
  • Skinns, L. (2021) Phase 5 of the ‘Good’ Police Custody Study  - Putting recommendations into practice in one police force area: An evaluation study.
  • Skinns, L., Sorsby, A. and Rice, L.  (2020) “Treat them as a human being”: dignity in police detention and its implications for ‘good’ police custody, The British Journal of Criminology, 60(6), 1667–1688.
  • Skinns, L. and Wooff, A. (2020) Pain in police detention: A critical point in the ‘penal painscape’? Policing and Society, 31(3), 245-262.
  • Greene, A. and Skinns, L. (2018) Different ways of acting and different ways of knowing? The cultures of police-academic partnerships in a multi-site and multi-force study, European Journal of Policing Studies, 5(3), 55-75.
  • Skinns, L. and Sorsby, A. (2019) Good police custody: Dignity, equal worth, autonomy, decency and legality. Recommendations for Practice (see here).
  • Wooff, A. and Skinns, L. (2017) The role of emotion, space and place in police custody in England: Towards a geography of police custody, Punishment and Society. 20 (5), 562-579.
  • Skinns, L. Rice, L., Sprawson, A. and Wooff, A.  (2017) Police legitimacy in context: An exploration of ‘soft power’ in police custody in England, Policing: An international Journal of Police Strategies and Management, 40 (3), 601-613. 
  • Skinns, L., Sprawson, A., Sorsby, A., Smith, R. and Wooff, A. (2017) Police custody delivery in the twenty-first century in England and Wales: Current arrangements and their implications for patterns of policing, European Journal of Policing Studies, 4 (3), 325-349.
  • Skinns, L., Wooff, A. and Sprawson, A. (2015) ‘Preliminary findings on police custody delivery in the 21st century: Is it “good” enough?’ Policing and Society, 27(4), 358-371.

Research Team (2013-present)

  • Principal investigator: Dr Layla Skinns (2013-present)
  • Statistician: Dr Angela Sorsby (2015-present)
  • Research Assistant: Rivka Smith (June to December 2021; April to August 2016)
  • Research Assistant: Dr Rebecca Banwell-Moore (Feb 2020 – September 2020)
  • Research Assistant: Dr Lindsey Rice (2016-2017)
  • Research Assistant: Amy Sprawson (Feb 2014- March 2016)
  • Research Associate: Dr Andrew Wooff (Feb 2014 – July 2015)
  • Fieldworkers in 2016 and 2017: Claire Kershaw, Dr Dermott Barr, Dr Amal Ali

Research funding (2013-present)

  • September 2013 – August 2018: “’Good’ Police Custody: Theorizing the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’”, ESRC research grant ES/JO23434/1 (£518,508).
  • May 2024-April 2025: ‘Encouraging detainee dignity: A pilot and evaluation of a digital information guide to police custody for adult detainees in two police force areas’, ESRC Impact Acceleration Funding/Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Sheffield (£39,042).
  • September 2019-December 2021: ‘Good’ police custody: influencing policy and practice, ESRC Impact Acceleration Funding/Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Sheffield (£38,071). (View more details here
  • January 2018 – July 2019: The ‘good’ police custody study, ESRC Impact Acceleration Funding/Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Sheffield (£24, 168).
  • February – July 2020: Theatre production and animation costs, ad hoc funding from the School of Law, University of Sheffield, Public Engagement Team and Impact Team (£17,949).

Phase 5 of the ‘good’ police custody study: Influencing policy and practice

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Research Context

Between 2013 and 2018, a research team collected a range of data, as part of an ESRC-funded “'Good' police custody? Theorizing the 'is' and the 'ought'”, hereafter referred to as the GPCS. The primary aim of the research was to robustly examine what is meant by ‘good’ police custody. These data have been used to explore preliminary ideas about good police custody (Skinns et al., 2015) and the importance of detainee dignity (Skinns et al., 2020), the delivery of police custody (Skinns et al., 2017a), staff-detainee interactions and the use of ‘soft’ power (Skinns et al., 2017b), detainees’ emotional reactions to police custody (Wooff and Skinns, 2017), the pains of police detention (Skinns and Wooff, 2020), as well as police-academic partnerships during research on police custody (Greene and Skinns, 2017) and the use of appreciative inquiry in police custody research (Skinns et al, forthcoming). Please see our dignity in justice page and publications which are freely available online. This research was the basis for an impact case study for REF 2021.

In Phase 3 of the research, in 2016-17, the research team surveyed nearly 800 staff and detainees in 27 custody facilities in 13 police forces. These data were used in Phase 4 of the research to formulate good practice recommendations, which were launched in October 2019. It was recommended that dignity - linked to equal worth, autonomy and decency - should be priorities that police custody practitioners, managers, national leads and policy makers should take account of in relation to the operation and strategic direction of police custody, alongside existing priorities such as safety, security, risk, cost effectiveness and the demands of the law and the criminal justice process. It was also recognised that such changes may yield benefits for detainees and for staff, through increased detainee cooperation, for example. In pursuit of these goals, it was recommended that changes be made to police attitudes and behaviours; policies, training and line management procedures; detainee expectations; and the material conditions of police custody.

From September 2019-July 2022, work was undertaken on Phase 5 of the GPCS, in which the research team facilitated the implementation of these recommendations in three police forces, who volunteered to take part. The two main aims of this project were to:

1. Facilitate the implementation of the good practice recommendations derived from the good police custody in up to six police force areas (though this aim had to be scaled back to a smaller number of forces due to the effects of Covid-19);

2. Evaluate the impact of the uptake of these recommendations on police officers’ experiences, and on their attitudes and behaviours towards detainees, as well as on the experiences of detainees.

This phase of research was therefore concerned with making changes to police custody practices and to the experiences of detainees, and to measure the extent of this impact and the process by which this impact came about. These changes were based on good practice recommendations from the GPCS.

This Phase 5 implementation and evaluation work was divided in two parts, with Force A taking part in Phase 5a and Forces B and C taking part in Phase 5b.

The report for Force A and Phase 5a can be found here

The report for Forces B/C and Phase 5b can be found here

Research Methodology 

In Phase 5 of the GPCS, the custody suite in which the measures were being implemented was compared before and after implementing the recommendations from the research with a comparator site, where no measures were implemented. The research was conducted in four stages to fit around the implementation work, as follows: 

Stage 1: Pre-implementation quantitative survey of staff and detainees in the test and comparator sites;  Stage 2: Brief staff survey using open and closed questions in test site and comparator site in response to ‘I am Human’ animation, which was used to create a good practice examples sheet; Implementation work in test site; Stage 3: Process evaluation in the test site, involving semi-structured interviews with staff and detainees and participant observation;

Enable routine access to various material goods (e.g. reading and writing materials, other distraction box items, blankets, food and drinks, range of clothing)

During the implementation stage, staff were asked to give greater overall emphasis to detainee dignity in all that they did, recognising that every interaction matters. In particular, staff were asked to:

Adopt a new handover sheet with dignity as a standing item. Offer custody information sheets to all detainees, and to display custody information posters in the custody suite in places where detainees were likely to spend time looking at them e.g. in the holding area, consultation rooms, fingerprint rooms. Make use of a good practice examples sheet to guide their day-to-day practices and their discussions during handover. This sheet was developed from the Stage 2 survey, in order to give staff a sense of ownership over the project. Give greater consideration to dignity in decisions about the keeping of personal effects, risk assessments permitting (Staff were to discuss these decisions with managers if they were unsure)
  • Stage 4: Post-implementation quantitative survey of staff and detainees in the test and comparator sites.

Page last updated in July 2024.

Further information

For further information about this project please email Dr Layla Skinns (L.Skinns@sheffield.ac.uk).

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