CONCERNS have been raised following an inspection of prison custody facilities in Cleveland, County Durham and Northumberland – but detainees were treated with respect, a report has found.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMI Prisons) visited the courts – with a total of 118 cells and an annual throughput to January 2021 of 8,457 detainees – in March and April 2021.

The physical condition of cells across the region ranged from "very good" at Teesside Crown Court to "unacceptably poor" at South Tyneside Magistrates', inspectors said.

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief of Prisons, said that despite some serious concerns it was a "reasonably good inspection".

He said: “Detainees were consistently treated with respect and spoke positively about their experience in court custody. The health care provision had improved considerably, was responsive and was appreciated both by detainees and staff.”

The report noted: “Staff were calm and patient, and skilfully defused tense situations. Force was used relatively infrequently against detainees and we were confident that it was used only as a last resort.”

Arrangements for dealing with the relatively few children held in court custody delivered good care. Mr Taylor said: “We were also pleased that the previously routine handcuffing and excessive searching were now not commonplace and only happened when supported by an individual risk assessment.”

Following the substantial curtailment of court business at the start of the pandemic, activity in court custody had broadly returned to pre-pandemic levels by the time of the inspection. Inspectors found that the three main agencies responsible for the provision of court custody had worked well together to amend working practices aimed at minimising the transmission of the virus.

However, multi-agency relationships and communication was not always effective, while collation and analysis of data on key areas affecting detainees was poor and not used to drive necessary improvements.

Mr Taylor added: “It was disappointing that women, and some children, often shared transportation with men and were not always adequately protected from verbal abuse.”

One woman told inspectors she had been verbally abused by male detainees during a number of journeys.

Inspectors were concerned about the upkeep of some of the cells. Conditions across the region varied greatly, and many offered a poor environment for detainees.

The report said: "Too many cells were shabby and grubby, and some had ingrained dirt, splash marks and extensive graffiti. Routine cleaning was not good enough to make sure that dirt did not build up to unacceptable levels over time. In most facilities, staff struggled to recall the last time that cells had been deep cleaned."

Mr Taylor added: “We have made 18 recommendations that we hope will help…to improve the treatment of, and conditions for, detainees.”

A HMCTS spokesperson said: “This report rightly praises the hard work of staff managing the restrictions during the pandemic, we acknowledge that facilities vary across this area and are acting on recommendations to improve conditions.”