Police detention – where those arrested by the police are taken whilst an investigation is mounted and a decision reached about what to do next with their case - presents a number of possible indignities. For example, concerns have been raised about the over-use of rip-proof paper suits, particularly when force is also used to remove suspects’ clothing and when suspects are also left naked or partially clothed in their cells sometimes for hours at a time. Dignity is therefore hard to maintain in these circumstances. In this paper, I examine findings from a five-year ESRC-funded mixed-methods study of ‘good’ police custody which showed that detainee experiences of different types of dignity – linked to feelings of equal worth, autonomy and public decency - were significantly informed by their experiences of the material conditions of police custody, such as by whether it felt light and bright and well maintained. I also examine why this is so, arguing for example that the material conditions of police custody have ‘representational’ qualities. They convey to detainees something about how they are perceived by police authorities, by the state and by wider society, meaning that if a custody facility appears well looked after it suggests to detainees that their treatment is likely to follow suit.
Layla Skinns is a Reader in the Centre for Criminological Research, University of Sheffield, having formerly worked and studied at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge and the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, King’s College London. She has a longstanding interest in police and policing, in particular in how policing agents use their authority. A key focus of her research has been on police detention, in England and Wales, but also in other parts of the Anglophone world. In this setting, she is interested in police powers and their relationship with the law, police cultures and police discretion, and furthermore, how this impacts on equality and on state-citizen relations. She is also interested in how the public – particularly detainees – perceive the police, which links her research to discussions about police legitimacy and ‘good’ policing.