'Their world comes crashing down’ – The reality of Christmas behind bars
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“Sometimes you look at them and you see their world has come crashing down,” says Inspector Karen Cooke as she reflects on the stark reality suspects face at finding themselves in custody.
It’s common during the Christmas period for Staffordshire Police’s custody facilities to play host to people brought in for ‘traditional’ seasonal offences around drink driving and for domestic-related incidents.
But for those who find themselves waking up on Christmas Day in a cell – they can expect little seasonal fare as investigations and enforcement continues as normal despite the date in the calendar.
Inspector Cooke, who has been an officer with the force for almost 24 years, is responsible for the Northern Area Custody Facility – the Stoke-on-Trent-based 50 cell-strong suite. “You see different reactions from people when they are brought into custody,” she said; “You will have those who are familiar with the process but others who have not been in trouble before – and they can look like a rabbit in the headlights.”
The detainee is played by a member of police staff
It’s a similar story in the south of the county where Inspector Tim Heap is responsible for the 15-cell custody facility off Watling Street in Gailey. He said: “At Christmas time you do tend to see people who have never been here before and they come in for things like drink driving, a domestic incident, or they have been out drinking and ended up getting into a fight.
“The reaction of people when they come in to custody can depend on how drunk they are. Some are angry and blame us for what’s happening, whereas others realise what they have done will have a lasting impact on their lives. We have others who only realise they have been arrested when they wake up in a cell.”
While homes and workplaces across the country are adorned with seasonal decorations the inside of a custody cell will be looking the same on Christmas Day as it does for the rest of the year. Both facilities will be serving up little seasonal cheer to those who find themselves in a cell over Christmas.
Insp Cooke said: “Whether it is Christmas Day or not it won’t change how they are dealt with. We have a job to do and to process the offence they are been arrested on suspicion of – we won’t just let them out early because it’s Christmas. We have an investigation to do. Our officers and staff are working on Christmas Day and they will be going about their jobs as they always do.”
Those in the cells shouldn’t be expecting a turkey or a mince pie either. Insp Cooke said: “The meals don’t change at Christmas. There will be the all-day breakfast and we now have cereal too. Later on, there is sausage and mash, and curry and vegetarian choices.”
She added: “We have an ongoing duty of care for all detainees and we have staff from partner agencies in the custody facility to provide medical and mental health support
“These services are vital to support the health and wellbeing of those in detention.
Insp Heap, who has previously worked as a response inspector, said: “When people realise just where they are and what the impact will be on their lives, you will see that some are absolutely devastated. They know they have jeopardised their livelihoods.”
Staffordshire Police is currently running campaigns around both domestic violence and drink drinking to coincide with the Christmas period. The #YouAreNotAlone campaign began on December 7 and runs until the early New Year in an effort to not only highlight different forms of abuse but to reassure victims they are not alone with help always available from police and local support agencies. Meanwhile the force is working to keep the roads safe during the festive season with heightened enforcement and awareness activity over drink and drug driving. This year’s campaign recognises the Covid-19 restrictions with the anticipation more people will be drinking at home.
Insp Cooke said: “As a force we are being proactive in encouraging people to be mindful, safe, and ultimately enjoy the festive season. How to stay out of custody during this festive season is simple – don’t break the law.”