Prisoners must be held in police cells at a cost of up to £800 a night to the taxpayer, the same as a room at The Savoy hotel, as prisons in England and Wales are overcrowded.
West Midlands Police have revealed that it will receive £600 from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for a prisoner’s stay in police cells during the week and £800 per day for weekends. A superior queen room at The Savoy, one of London’s top hotels, costs £800 per day.
West Midlands is the first force to be publicly identified as having been asked by the MoJ to take prisoners into its cells under emergency measures known as Operation Safeguard.
The MoJ wrote to police forces in the North West of England and the Midlands on Monday to request the use of police cells for convicted prisoners over a lack of prison space.
The number of prisoners has risen to 82,700 due to the record number of suspects held on remand after the lawyers’ strike halted hundreds of court cases.
West Midlands Police have been put on standby to take in 44 prisoners over the next two weeks, costing between £26,400 (weekly 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 prison.
MoJ: Operation Safeguard formalizes ad hoc agreements
The Justice Department argues that Operation Safeguard, activated for the first time in 15 years, is nothing more than formalizing ad hoc arrangements whereby offenders are held in police cells and police are given two weeks’ notice to prepare .
However, Simon Foster, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, complained that it would relieve officers of crime-fighting duties.
“The public wants their police officers to be active in communities to prevent and deal with crime, not to act as prison officers because this chaotic government has failed to get the basics right and has not made any plans,” he said .
“Police cells have been built for people who have just been arrested. The facilities are not intended to treat detainees.
“The fact that police officers will be asked to care for these detainees will put an additional strain on the force at a time when the focus should be on keeping our region safe. There are already 1,000 fewer police officers than in 2010 and this will exacerbate the problem.”
Steve Reed, shadow secretary of justice, said: “It is frightening that the police are pulling the strings for the short-sighted failure of the government. Police time will now be spent housing criminals, rather than being on the streets keeping the public safe.
A Justice Department spokesman said Operation Safeguard “would help ensure we have enough room to manage short-term pressures on prisons – caused in part by the impact of the lawyers’ strike and the Covid pandemic. We are building 20,000 extra prison places and our newest prison will open in the spring.”