An Unsung Service to the Community

Did Monday’s volunteering post make you think about volunteering? I spoke to several organizations at the volunteering fair in November, and John Askew from Independent Custody Visitors has very kindly sent some information about available volunteering opportunities. If you are interested, the contact information is at the bottom of the post.

ICVA

Young people aged between 20 and 30 are those most likely to be arrested and detained in police custody. Being locked up can be a frightening and confusing experience. For the past thirty years, people from all ages and all walks of life have volunteered to become Independent Custody Visitors. They visit every police station where detainees are being held, every week, at all hours of the day and night, to check on the well-being and welfare of people in detention and to ensure that their rights are maintained.

Cumbria has four panels of Custody Visitors, based in Barrow, Kendal, North Cumbria and West Cumbria. There are often vacancies for new volunteers and young people are particularly welcome to apply. Scheme Administrator John Askew says: “It is important that the membership of each panel is representative of the community it serves; but it is also important that Custody Visitors are able to relate to the people they meet in the custody suite. We particularly welcome applications from students, especially those who are studying subjects related to the criminal justice system”.

Being a Custody Visitor requires a calm and understanding disposition, excellent verbal and written communication skills and empathy with people who may be in distress. No particular qualifications are required other than common sense and a desire to make a difference.

Full training is provided and travelling and out of pocket expenses are paid. Visitors are appointed for a three-year term following on from initial training and a six months’ probationary period. All applicants are required to undergo security and vetting clearance. The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner provides insurance arrangements for Visitors whilst they are carrying out their role.

“This is an ideal volunteer opportunity for busy people,” says John Askew. “The time commitment isn’t great and you can choose when you go to do your visit with your partner, as visits are always done in pairs.” Most Visitors make around 8 or 9 visits in a year and in addition attend three training and de-briefing meetings, held in the evening, in February, June and October. There is also the opportunity to attend two annual training events, one for all Cumbria ICVs in April and one for all ICVs throughout the North West and North Wales, in September.

“Custody visiting is a great way to get first-hand experience within the Criminal Justice system”, says John Askew. “Anyone who would like more information can visit www.cumbria-pcc.gov.uk/working-for-you or www.icva.org.uk or call 01768 217734 for details of the Cumbria ICV Scheme.”

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