UK Armed Forces Service Custody Facilities – a Coherent and Professional Approach to Detainee Care

The UK’s Armed Forces Service Custody Facilities (SCFs) continue to provide
“extremely good” treatment of the detainees they hold, according to an inspection
carried out by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in December 2021. The Inspectorate has
been invited, since 2013, to inspect these short-term custodial facilities where
service personnel are detained for up to 96 hours pending charge or conviction for
service offences, or for up to 14 days if convicted of a service offence. As with its
inspections of other areas of detention, the Inspectorate focused on the outcomes for
detainees, as measured against independent Expectations criteri

The main findings were:

  • all the detainees spoken to felt safe and treated respectfully
  • the 14 hours a day they spent unlocked was among the best seen in any
    custodial environment inspected
  • detainees under sentence received a full programme of activities, including
    military training, personal coaching and physical exercise
  • the physical conditions were generally adequate to good, but the cramped and
    outdated facilities at SCF North (Catterick) lacked privacy and were
    unsuitable, and the cells everywhere were “unnecessarily austere”, with a light
    left on at night
  • staff were sometimes overly cautious, with excessive observation at night and
    repeated searching of detainees.

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that the rationalisation of the
facilities to be Army-based and operated solely by specialist custody trained staff
from the Military Provost Staff (MPS) Regiment: “…had addressed the operational,
procedural and cultural differences between the SCFs that we were critical of at our
last inspection. We found a more coherent approach in both policy and practice, and
the benefits from clear leadership that was linked to the Military Corrective Training

He added: “We were impressed by the care, professionalism and commitment of
custody staff we met during the inspection”.

The inspection report addressed some other concerns, including the need to
reinstate regular independent service custody visitors and to update the joint service
policy and practice on detention matters, as well as to improve the quality of records
on detainees.

Mr Taylor concluded that: “The clear management oversight that is now in place and
the commitment to the professionalisation of dedicated custody staff gave us
confidence for the future”.

Read the report: Her Majesty’s Armed Forces Service Custody Facilities.