Criticism of court custody suites
Women and children detainees awaiting trial were found to be held too closely to men during an initial wave of inspections of custody suites in courts, a report has said.
There was "widespread confusion" about the separation of men, women and juveniles, while some were not always kept "appropriately separate", said HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP).
And 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 report covered four Crown Courts and 12 magistrates' courts in Cleveland, Durham and Northumbria under a new programme of inspections of court custody. Custody operations are contracted out.
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."
It said court managers were "insufficiently engaged" with the custody suite although there were good working relationships between court staff and the contractor. Staff were generally uncertain about when they should close the custody transfer vehicle's partition, which is intended to aid the separation of men and women, or of adults and children.
Confidential information was displayed on transfer forms, including in one instance a detainee's Hepatitis C status, while no detainees were asked about religious needs or dietary requirements.
Detainees were not given clear information about their rights or how to make a complaint at most sites, while searching and handcuffing procedures were a matter of routine rather than related to risk.
Cell conditions were "deplorable" at Newcastle Magistrates' Court, HMIP said, and deemed "poor" at four other sites: Newton Aycliffe, Teesside Magistrates, Newcastle Crown Court and Sunderland.
However, the Inspectorate found that information coming in with detainees was generally good, there was little use of force and mental health services to the custody suites were good.