Police cells used for prison overspill

SUFFOLK and Essex police last night confirmed they had been asked to house inmates as part of a Government bid to ease the prison population crisis.Home Secretary John Reid announced yesterday that forces across the country were being required to provide up 500 places by Thursday.

SUFFOLK and Essex police last night confirmed they had been asked to house inmates as part of a Government bid to ease the prison population crisis.

Home Secretary John Reid announced yesterday that forces across the country were being required to provide up 500 places by Thursday.

Space for around 8-10 prisoners will be established in Suffolk, while 16 can be accommodated in Essex at Rayleigh Police Station.

Mike Holdsworth, a Suffolk police chief inspector, said contingency plans had been in place for such an eventuality for a number of years.

He said: “It's not going to affect our day-to-day running. We're not going to take frontline officers away from their duties and we won't do anything that affects our operational capacity.”

Mr Holdsworth said the prisoners, expected to low-level, would be housed a police station in Suffolk where custody space is not currently used. He said the exact location would remain confidential for security reasons.

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It is the first time Suffolk police has been required to provide cells for inmates since the late 1980s.

Rayleigh Police Station in Essex has made its 16 cells available which will be managed by officers and police staff working on overtime.

A police spokesman said: “We will do everything we possibly can to help our partners in the criminal justice service without it impinging upon or affecting the quality of service we provide for the people of Essex.

“Rayleigh has been identified as being suitable as it is not in current operational use and therefore this request will not impact on day-to-day policing in Essex or our capacity to deal with people arrested by our officers.”

The Home Secretary yesterday unveiled several new initiatives, including an "incentive scheme" to persuade foreign criminals to return voluntarily to their own countries.

He also announced the Government will no longer attempt to fight appeals against deportation by criminals from the European Economic Area.

Mr Reid said the introduction of Operation Safeguard, using police cells to hold remand and convicted prisoners, would begin with a facility for "several hundred' places, rising to 500 if necessary.

He also refused to rule out the possibility of introducing some kind of early release scheme for prisoners at a later date.

“I regard that as a last resort,” he said.

“People have in the past released prisoners early, sometimes by mistake. There are various tagging options which have been used in the past.”

The Home Office was unable to provide further details of the new plan to offer incentives to foreign criminals.

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