The Daily Express: Jails crisis: 60,000 put in police cells

Wednesday, 9 January, 2008

Police officers have become more jailers than crime fighters after figures yesterday revealed the number of prisoners held in police cells soared 13-fold in a year.

Police stations had to be used to hold inmates on more than 60,000 occasions last year.

The Tories said it was due to Labour's appalling handling of the prison overcrowding crisis.

The equivalent of 167 prisoners in police cells every night of the year costs taxpayers more than £23million, with the average £385-a-night bill per head more than some rooms at the Ritz hotel in London.

The alarming rise comes as the row between Justice Secretary Jack Straw and prison officers deepened with fresh calls for strikes over his moves to ban industrial action.

And the rising workload on police will reignite their bitter pay row with Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

David Ruffley , Tory police reform spokesman, who obtained the figures, said: "A record number of prisoners who should be in prison are now being housed in police cells. This means police stations are being clogged up and police time wasted.

"Government incompetence means police are spending more time as prison jailers and less time as crime fighters with police budgets being hit by incredible ministerial incompetence." The chairman of the Police Federation, Jan Berry, said: "We have concerns over the suitability of police cells in housing prisoners long-term.

"They are not fit for the purpose and being a full-time jailer requires a completely different set of skills and training to that of a police officer." Operation Safeguard, which allows prisoners to be temporarily held in police cells, was reintroduced in 2006 at the height of the overcrowding crisis. That year inmates were held on just 4,617 occasions.

In 2007, prisoners were held in such cells on 60,953 occasions, with police officers having to look after them each time.