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Risk Manag Healthc Policy. 2016 Sep 15;9:213-226. eCollection 2016.

Police custody health care: a review of health morbidity, models of care and innovations within police custody in the UK, with international comparisons.

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Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Academic Psychiatry, Campus for Ageing and Vitality; Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne, VIC; Legal Intersections Research Centre, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW; Southern Clinical School, Monash University, Clayton, VIC, Australia.
School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada.
Offender Health Research Network, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.


This paper is a scoping review of the available evidence regarding health care issues in police custody. It describes the types and prevalence of health disorders encountered in custody and provides an overview of current practice and recent innovations in police custody health care. In contrast to the health of prisoners, the health of police custody detainees has, until recently, received little academic or clinical attention. Studies on health care in police custody identified for this review are limited to a few geographical jurisdictions, including the UK, continental Europe, North America, and Australia. There are significant health concerns among police detainees including acute injury, chronic physical health problems, mental and cognitive disorders, and the risks associated with drug and alcohol intoxication or withdrawal. There is some evidence that deaths in police custody have reduced where attention has been paid to the latter issue. Police personnel continue to experience difficulties identifying detainees with health issues relevant to their safe detention, but research shows that the use of evidence-based screening tools improves detection of such morbidities. Innovations in police custody health care mainly relate to detainees with mental disorders, including improved identification of illness, timely access to mental health services, the protection of the rights of mentally disordered detainees, and the diversion of mentally disordered persons from the criminal justice system into appropriate health and social care interventions. There is a lack of rigorous research relating to interventions for physical health problems, protecting those at risk of substance withdrawal, and detainees with preexisting or peri-arrest injures. Research to improve the health of police custody detainees requires greater priority, focusing on case identification and service redesign to address high levels of morbidity and to facilitate health promotion and prevention activities.


criminal justice system; deaths in custody; mentally disordered offenders; police; police health care innovations; vulnerable detainees

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