Cost of housing prisoners in police cells is the same as a night at The Savoy

Police cells
Police cells

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 hotel, 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, one of London’s premier hotels, costs £800 a day.

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 northwest of England and the Midlands to request the use of police cells for sentenced prisoners due to a lack of jail space.

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

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

MoJ: Operation Safeguard formalises ad hoc arrangements

The MoJ argues that Operation Safeguard, which has been activated for the first time in 15 years, is simply formalising ad hoc arrangements where offenders are kept in police cells with the forces given two weeks’ notice to prepare.

However, Simon Foster, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, complained it would take officers away from crime-fighting duties.

“The public want their police officers out in communities preventing and tackling crime, not having to double up as prison officers because this chaotic Government has failed to get the basics right and has failed to plan,” 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 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 it had in 2010 and this will further compound the issue.”

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

An MoJ spokesman said Operation Safeguard would “help ensure we have enough spaces to manage the short-term pressure on prison places – driven in part by the impact of the barristers’ strike and Covid pandemic. We are building 20,000 extra prison places and our newest prison is set to open in the spring.”