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Inside Practice – Designing Efficient Custodial Buildings

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By Suzanne Ross – 10th December 2020

When I talk about custodial buildings in the Bluelight sector, it tends to conjure images of dark and dingy cells. However, this simply is not true.

We have been working with many UK police forces over the years to dramatically change the way custodial facilities are designed and built – so that they do not just look better, but they function significantly better too.

A custody building is a machine for delivering a service. The overall process within its walls looks at how you deal with people – whether they are staff working in the building or those in custody. Creating a building that functions efficiently throughout the process is imperative to enhancing the working environment, improving mental health, conducting more effective interviews – even better conviction rates.

Until recently, the police sector had been following an old rulebook, with buildings often being constructed in the same way they had been built for decades. And with poor decisions being made in the construction of custodial buildings, the knock-on effect was palpable.

When we initially started working for some of the UK’s police forces, we took them on a journey of discovery, evidencing through visits to our commercial office buildings that there were different ways of doing things. This evolved into a new way of designing police buildings based around operational requirements and flows.

We began making process improvements that no-one had really considered or implemented before. At the time the improvements felt enormous, and rather new and innovative. We found that if there is a shortage of facilities in one part of the custodial process, it can cause bottlenecks elsewhere. We traced these back to the source and remedied the issue in the new design. For example, Forces might have thought they had an issue with cell capacity – when actually, the lack of interview rooms was resulting in a slower process and the available cells were simply being occupied for longer than was necessary. Our understanding and approach was unique. Subsequently we were asked to work on more and more facilities of a similar type.

Through developing CODE II, our model custody solution in collaboration with Willmott Dixon, we have been able to open doors for several police forces across the UK – saving them both time and money by planning efficient builds that work well and importantly will stand the test of time. The idea behind the development of CODE II was to provide a compliant solution for custodial facilities that was ‘ready to go’, almost at a ‘buy it now’ price. This has helped us have conversations with many Forces, detailing what the most suitable approach would be and could achieve.

When we apply our working knowledge to custody facilities, we are seeing that the results achieved improve in a real, demonstrable way with clear comparative statistics. We know that buildings we’ve been involved in are significantly optimised, providing detainees with a calmer environment, enabling more responsive interviews for both parties and ultimately gaining better conviction rates.

Designing the flow of the building around the process, rather than cramming the process into a pre-determined space, has given officers in these facilities newer and better ways of working. We are extremely proud to have been able to play our part in helping provide the Forces we work for with an environment and services to do their vital role to the highest standard.

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