In London alone, roughly 161,000 people passed through the city’s custody suites in 2018.

If TV is to be believed, you might think they’re all violent criminals, brooding gangsters and manipulative serial killers.

However, the reality is far, far different. In fact, many of the people who find themselves in police custody are vulnerable, often at rock bottom, and sometimes simply too ill to function properly in society at that point.

And whilst the hero of a TV cop show may be the hardened officer who gets the confession, the vulnerable people who find themselves in real-life police custody need the help of an altogether different kind of hero… the custody nurse.

Children in custody

Although a custody suite is not an appropriate place to detain someone under the age of 18 for any length of time, the unfortunate reality is this situation can happen. For example, through a lack of available accommodation, an inability to trace a parent or guardian who can provide a bail address, or a delay in finding an appropriate adult or legal advisor.

To any child or young adult, the idea of spending a night (or even the weekend) in a custody suite is a frightening and intensely lonely experience. Having a custody nurse there to provide moral support and practical medical care can make all the difference during this time.

It’s not just about assessing their mental wellbeing and physical condition, but finding ways to help them discover a better future, through access to further care, counselling and support.

And sometimes it’s just about sitting down and listening to what’s on their mind.

Mental health in custody

Some of the people who make up the custody population have experienced homelessness, suffer from self-neglect, and may not have seen a GP for years. They could have any number of diagnosed or undiagnosed physical and mental illnesses. They may find people in uniform threatening, and this can lead to them feeling anxious and afraid around police and security officers.

However, a custody nurse is often the uniform who can break through their defensive barriers. Something as simple as a blood test to check for Hep C, alongside a non-judgemental listening ear, can be the first step in bringing someone back into the healthcare system, for example with a referral to address an untreated condition.

It’s as much about stitching a head wound as it is getting inside their head, and showing that you see the person, not the crimes they may or may not have committed. And that could be the start of their journey out of the custody suite and into a more secure, productive and content way of life.

Addressing addiction

One of the most important parts of a custody nursing role is identifying, treating and detoxing people with addictions to drugs or alcohol. You’ll find yourself rushing to help people suffering from overdoses and seizures, but you’ll also be there to support them safely through the withdrawal process. They may be hitting rock bottom, but the custody nurse is the person who can point them towards long-term sobriety with access to outpatient support, an available bed in a rehab centre, or by simply letting them talk through their troubles. It’s all about giving them help to move away from committing the crimes that often fund their addictions.

Make a real difference to vulnerable people, society

If you’re looking for an opportunity to make real, positive, life-changing differences to vulnerable people who are at their lowest ebb, then custody healthcare is the perfect career for you.

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