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More resources must be used in prevention of deaths in custody

Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen urges the National Police Board to improve its statistical policies on deaths in custody. 
 
The Ombudsman investigated deaths in custody on his own initiative. It was discovered that the National Police Board kept no precise statistics on the numbers of deaths in custody. According to the data obtained, the annual number of cases in the 2000s varies between 6 and 27.  
 
Analysing deaths in custody is crucial
 
In addition to statistical data, it is also essential to analyse the information gathered for investigations and possible criminal procedures following the deaths. This would provide valuable knowledge that could help prevent deaths in custody and be used in the training of police officers and guards.
 
Regulatory development needed 
 
Since the beginning of 2014, it has been the law to report all deaths in custody to prosecution services. In the ombudsman’s view, the role of the prosecutor in this process is somewhat unclear. 
 
The Ombudsman also drew attention to the lack of separate detoxification centres even in some of the largest cities, although it is widely agreed that it is not appropriate use of resources for the police to care for intoxicated persons. According to the ombudsman, the act on treating intoxicated persons, which dates back to the 1970s, needs to be reviewed. 
The Ombudsman also identified needs for amendment in the acts on the treatment of persons in police custody, criminal investigation, and the investigation of the cause of death. The ombudsman presented his findings and views regarding the above acts to the ministries responsible for the respective legislation. 
 
The Ombudsman also urged the National Police Board to pay closer attention to deaths in custody that take place during transport and to the prevention of suicides committed by persons deprived of their liberty. As the ombudsman discussed the training of police officers and guards in his decision, it was also submitted to the attention of the Police University College.  
 
The Ombudsman has asked the National Police Board, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Office of the Prosecutor General to report on the measures they have taken to remedy the matter by 31 December 2019. 
 
Decision EOAK/4103/2016 by Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen is available in full in Finnish on the ombudsman’s website www.oikeusasiamies.fi 
 
For further details on the matter, please contact Juha Haapamäki, Principal Legal Adviser, on +358 (0)9 432 3334.