The Daily Telegraph

Holding prisoners in police stations costs the same as a night at the Savoy

- By Charles Hymas Home Affairs editor

PRISONERS are to be held in police cells at a cost to taxpayers of up to £800 a night, the same as a room at the Savoy, because jails in England and Wales are full.

West Midlands Police has revealed it will receive £600 from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) for a prisoner’s weekday stay in its police cells and £800 per day for the weekend. A Superior Queen room at the Savoy costs £800 a night.

West Midlands is the first force to be publicly identified as having been asked by the MOJ to take prisoners in its cells under emergency measures known as Operation Safeguard.

The MOJ wrote on Monday to police forces in the north-west of England and the Midlands to request the use of police cells for sentenced prisoners owing to a lack of jail spaces.

The prison population has risen to 82,700 because of record numbers of suspects held on remand in jails after the barristers’ strike halted trials.

West Midlands Police has been put on standby to take 44 prisoners in the next fortnight, which works out at between £26,400 (weekday rate) and £35,200 (weekend rate). It would be at least £219,000 over 365 days, seven times the average annual £30,000 cost of housing an offender in a prison.

The MOJ argues that Operation Safeguard is formalisin­g ad hoc arrangemen­ts where offenders are kept in police cells with the forces given two weeks’ notice to prepare.

However, Simon Foster, the West Midlands police and crime commission­er, complained it would take officers away from crime-fighting duties. “The public want police officers out in communitie­s preventing and tackling crime, not having to double up as prison officers,” he said.

“Police custody units were built for people who have just been arrested. The facilities are not meant to handle prison inmates.

“The fact that police officers will be asked to look after these prisoners will put an extra strain on the force at a time when its focus should be on keeping our region safe. It is already down 1,000 police officers on the number in 2010.”

Steve Reed, the shadow justice secretary, said: “It’s terrifying that the police have been left to pick up the pieces for the Government’s failure. Police time will now be spent housing criminals rather than on the streets keeping the public safe.”

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