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Student support for vulnerable people in police custody

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Published on 12 December 2017

Students' scheme to support vulnerable people in police custody
Students' scheme to support vulnerable people in police custody

Thirty Sunderland students are taking part in a pioneering scheme that supports vulnerable people in police custody.

The scheme, the first of its kind in England, is in partnership with Dame Vera Baird QC, and allows students to volunteer as ‘appropriate adults.’ 

In a bid to address a shortage of ‘appropriate adults’ in the region, the students are being trained under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) to provide a 24-hour volunteer service across the Northumbria force area.

The volunteers provide a whole host of support, from providing explanations of the custody process to helping them to understand their rights and entitlements.  They can offer assistance, advice and emotional support throughout a person’s time in police custody.

Following a trial earlier this year, the scheme has received high praise from Northumbria Police and the Police & Crime Commissioner. Dame Vera Baird QC, who funds the scheme said: “From initial findings there has been a huge reduction in the average waiting time for an appropriate adult to arrive at one of our stations, meaning swifter support for the most vulnerable in custody thanks to this cost-effective solution.”

The University’s Dr Donna Peacock and Dr Faye Cosgrove developed the project for undergraduate students studying Sociology, Criminology, and Health and Social Care and Masters level degree in Practice Development.

Dr Peacock, a Senior Lecturer in Social Studies, explained: “It is often difficult to find an appropriate adult, as is required under PACE, and this scheme has been received very positively by Northumbria Police, it’s highly valued and perceived to meet a need which was previously unmet.

“Based upon the available evidence so far there have been significant benefits for the service users who can access support, for the custody officers, who can meet the codes of practice and for the volunteers who enhance their skills and employability. The students also tell me that they gain a deep sense of personal satisfaction from being able to help.”

Dr Cosgrove added: “Our student Volunteers have reported positive and clear benefits of the scheme.  They feel that they have gained valuable experience, skills and knowledge which has enhanced their employability.”

Similar schemes are now being considered for other UK police force areas, where shortages of appropriate adults have been identified.

Dr Donna Peacock is a Senior Lecturer in Social Studies and is Programme Leader for BSc Sociology; she teaches Criminology Theory, and Social Research Methods.  Her research interests relate to cyber-crime, cyber-security, the impacts of technology on society, and vulnerability.  Donna is the scheme manager for NLAAS

Dr Faye Cosgrove is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology. Her research interest and expertise lies primarily within policing, specifically the occupational experiences, identities and culture(s) of individuals working across the extended police family, neighbourhood policing and community engagement, and enhancing legitimacy in police work.

The academics will be discussing their work and research as part of The Centre for Applied Social Sciences. Their talk - Northumbria Local Volunteer Appropriate Adult Scheme: Supporting 'vulnerable' detainees through student volunteering - takes place tomorrow (Wednesday,December 13), at 3pm in Room 007, Prospect Building, Sir Tom Cowie Campus. The talk is free and open to all.