Home secretary urged to improve treatment of detainees after inspections showed sanitary products were often not available. Failures to provide adequate sanitary protection to woman and girls in police custody breaches their human rights, the home secretary has been warned by an independent watchdog.
The Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA) has written to Amber Rudd and Justine Greening, the women and equalities minister, calling on them to improve conditions for female suspects held in police cells.
Successive inspections of police stations by visitors, the letter alleges, has found that the needs of menstruating women in police detention are routinely ignored.
“Women are frequently left without the assistance of female officers, without access to adequate and hygienic sanitary protection, or facilities for washing and changing,” the letter released on Thursday states. “Inadequate consideration is given to menstruation by officers in the exercise of detainees’ risk management. At its most stark, this can mean women left in paper suits without their underwear and without sanitary protection.”
A legal opinion by Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Angela Patrick of Doughty Street Chambers that was attached to the letter argues the conditions are likely to breach article 8 of the European convention on human rights, the right to private and family life.
Katie Kempen, the chief executive of the ICVA, said: “Dignity in the cells must mean dignity for all. No woman or girl should be left bleeding in a cell in indignity simply for want of a difficult conversation or an inexpensive box of tampons.”
Martyn Underhill, the Dorset police and crime commissioner and chair of the ICVA, said: “Forces must be given clear guidance and adequate support to ensure that the rights of women and girls in custody are met both on paper and in practice.”
The ICVA is funded by the Home Office and police and crime commissioners (PCC). It coordinates unannounced visits to police custody suites by volunteers to monitor the rights and wellbeing of detainees.
The association is calling for female detainees to be provided with access to a female officer, a hygiene pack and regular sanitary product replacements, hand-washing facilities, privacy when using the toilet and extra sensitivity when menstruating women are subject to strip searches.
“No woman or girl should be left in indignity by police officers for want of a difficult conversation or an inexpensive box of tampons,” the letter to the home secretary maintains.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are working closely with the Independent Custody Visiting Association and the National Police Chiefs’ Council to understand where improvements can be made on this issue.”