Police custody bill tops £400k

SUFFOLK police has shelled out almost £400 a night to put up 1,000 inmates in cells due to prison overcrowding, The Evening Star can reveal.Government figures show that it costs around £385 to house, feed and transport one prisoner for one night to ease pressure on prison spaces ­- more than the price of staying at a swanky London hotel.

SUFFOLK police has shelled out almost £400 a night more than 1,000 times to put inmates in cells due to prison overcrowding, The Evening Star can reveal.

Government figures show that it costs on average around £385 to house, feed and transport one prisoner for one night to ease pressure on prison spaces ­- more than the price of staying at a swanky London hotel.

The money was paid out as part of Operation Safeguard - the name given when police cells hold prisoners when prisons have reached their full capacity.

Suffolk police has to pay upfront before claiming the money back from central government.

New figures show that last year, prisoners were kept in Suffolk police custody cells on 1,085 occasions, at a total cost of £417,725.

The previous year inmates were accommodated just 83 times, at a cost of £31,955.

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A spokesman for Suffolk police said the force was asked by the Home office to provide a number of cells for the operation.

He added that police operations have not been affected as eight previously unused cells at Halesworth in the east of the county are used for the operation.

However it is unclear how much of the cost of putting the extra prisoners up has been claimed back so far.

The spokesman said: “All forces were asked to provide a certain number of cells. The cells at the police station we are using have not been used for mainline custody for some time.”

Prison overcrowding is a major political issue.

Emergency measures introduced in June allowed thousands of criminals to be released up to 18 days early to ease pressure on places.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has announced that following a review of the crisis a building programme will take place to increase prison place numbers from 81,000 to 96,000 by 2014.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said Operation Safeguard was initially put in place between October 12, 2006, and December 22 2006.

It was reintroduced on January 16, 2007.

She said: The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) had done everything reasonably possible to avoid the resumption of Operation Safeguard but with the continuing rise in the prison population, we had to implement the formal use of police cells.

"Negotiations took place with each police force and ACPO prior to the activation of safeguard to identify the number of cells offered and this varied by police force according to the operational pressures on them.

“The police forces involved in Operation Safeguard charge NOMS for the cost of making police cells available to accommodate prisoners.”

WHERE YOU COULD STAY IN SUFFOLK

Hintlesham Hall - King size room £240 pp - no breakfast

Grange Hall, Thurston - superior double room £120 per room - breakfast included

Ravenwood Hall - Up to £130 pp - breakfast included

Ickworth House - 2 bedroom apartment - £265 pp plus breakfast

Or for £315 a night you can book a room at The Ritz in London.

Stay at a prison:

A bijoux cell

Three meals a day at no additional cost

Spending time in jail is often referred to as “doing porridge”, a reference to the poor quality of food in the establishments.

A 2006 report found expenditure on food is determined by each prison governor who sets the budget in terms of a daily food allowance per prisoner. The average daily food allowance for prisoners is £1.87, but there are wide variations ranging from £1.20 at an open prison to £3.41 at a young offenders' institution.