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Understanding the Experiences of Female Detainees in Police Custody

COPR researchers Professors Jackie Hodgson and Vanessa Munro in Warwick Law School are investigating the experiences of female detainees in police custody.

Working with academic colleagues (Dr Layla Skinns, Sheffield and Dr Roxanna Dehaghani, Cardiff) and Sherry Ralph (Interim Chief Executive Officer, Independent Custody Visiting Association), they have carried out a pilot study to investigate the needs and experiences of female detainees and the different ways in which these are met. This involved speaking with detainees, as well as those managing Independent Custody Visiting schemes in five different areas of England and Wales.

The findings of this preliminary study suggested that officers were reluctant to recognise gender as a significant feature of detainees' experience. Gender did pose a challenge for police, however, when dealing with female detainees who may also be victims of male violence or exploitation, some of whom prefer to be dealt with by female staff. This was often not possible as custody blocks tend to be male-dominated spaces, with very few female officers available in many instances.

The findings from this pilot study were presented at the National Police Custody Forum in May 2019, hosted by COPR at the University of Warwick. This provided a valuable opportunity to gain feedback and suggestions from a range of practitioners and policymakers, including the police themselves, with a view to conducting a larger scale study in collaboration with several police forces. A funding application will be submitted in 2021, looking at the gendered nature of police custody and the impact of ethnicity on the experiences of female detainees.