Prison overcrowding costs Suffolk �1m

OVERCROWDING in jails cost Suffolk Constabulary more than �1million in board and lodgings for criminals last year, it has emerged.

Colin Adwent

OVERCROWDING in jails cost taxpayers more than �1million in board and lodgings for criminals in Suffolk last year, it has emerged.

Renting out cell space for prisoners with nowhere to go left Suffolk Constabulary footing a bill for �1,048,096, according to Ministry of Justice figures.

However, over a two-year period the cost is likely to be substantially more than that figure, although the precise amount has not been revealed.

In 2006, chronic overcrowding of prisons led to Operation Safeguard and police stations across the country - including Halesworth - were designated to take in prisoners for whom room could not be found in jails.

The prison population in England and Wales had hit a record of 81,086, forcing the then Home Secretary John Reid to act.

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Operation Safeguard originally began over a two-month period between October 12 and December 22, 2006, but it was re-activated from January 16, 2007, to October 31 last year.

Last night John Gummer, MP for Suffolk Coastal, said the policy was a “sticking plaster” covering the cracks of a failing system.

“The government has not produced the number of prison places we need if we are to follow their policy on prisons,” he said. “Our present system just isn't working properly - we have more people who come out of prison and re-offend than anywhere in Europe.

“The whole system needs an overhaul focused on rehabilitation. I know from my own experiences with Hollesley Bay that they are making a real effort - but they are hampered by over crowding and lack of resources.

“Operation Safeguard was merely a sticking plaster - a short term measure - trying to hold together a failing system.

“There needs to be a much more sensible policy of rehabilitation so when prisoners are released they can get back in to work and re-engage with the community.”

At one stage in June 2007 it emerged that police in Halesworth were spending as much as �700 a week after regularly sending out for fish and chips in order to feed the prisoners it took in.

Suffolk, along with other constabularies, invoiced the Government on a monthly basis for the cost of overtime worked by officers, as well as their travelling costs.

The bills also included charges for food, blankets, bedding, medical attention, soap, towels and other toiletries, along with administrative costs.

A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said: “Operation Safeguard was an agreement between the police and Prison Service allowing prisoners to be held in police cells.

“In Suffolk, only Halesworth police station was used for Operation Safeguard, housing a maximum of eight prisoners a night.”

Although the actual number of remand and sentenced prisoners has not been revealed, prisoners spent 1,623 nights in Halesworth's police cells during Operation Safeguard. In the first nine months of last year it was 369 nights.

Elsewhere, Essex Police put in a bill for �1,803,616 for 2008, while Norfolk did not send in any invoices indicating no overflow prisoners were housed in its police stations last year.

A total of �14,373,500 was paid to constabularies around the country in the financial year 2006-07, while rebates worth �50,687,200 were given back in the following twelve months.

From April to December last year �10,790,000 was repaid to police forces.

The Ministry of Justice were unavailable for comment at the time of going to print.