21 December 2022
The Federation is warning the Government of dire consequences for policing if plans to use 400 police cells to house prisoners go ahead.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) have designated the use of custody suites as a short-term remedy for the current overcrowding in prisons.
Derbyshire Police Federation chair Tony Wetton responded: “Police cells are not a replacement for prison cells. They are short-term holding places for when people come into police custody and should only be used for that purpose.
“Not only will this reduce the capacity in our custody suites, having a knock-on effect on our members’ ability to deal with criminals; it also ties up police resources – such as if officers are required to move prisoners between stations.”
Tony pointed out that prisoners could have specific mental illnesses that police officers are not trained to deal with, putting prisoners and officers in danger.
He concluded: “This is yet another ill-conceived workaround foisted on policing to cover up underfunding in the system. If more prison cells are needed, they should be built, rather than relying on the police service to pick up more within their already overwhelmed workloads.
“My understanding is that it will involve a small number of police cells, but that is capacity that is needed for day-to-day business. Officers will be required to work yet more overtime and on precious rest days to facilitate this. It is all very well the prisons minister blaming barristers, but we have seen a criminal justice system under intolerable pressure for too long – it needs properly funding, now.”
It is the first time since 2007 that Operation Safeguard – a protocol that sees the Government write to the NPCC to request the temporary use of police cells – has been enacted.
Prisons minister Damian Hinds has blamed the crisis on strike action by the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) which has led to more people on remand. The CBA has refuted this and said the prison population was already at ‘a decade high’ of over 13,000 before the strike action.
Deputy Chief Constable Nev Kemp, the NPCC lead for custody, has sought to dampen the row. He claimed police officers will “still be able to arrest criminals and place them in custody” as normal – or use neighbouring custody suites if the need should arise.
An MoJ spokesperson admitted: "We are experiencing an unprecedented increase in the number of offenders coming into prisons in the north of England, partly as a result of the impact of the pandemic and the barrister strike action over the summer months.
"The public would rightly expect us to take the action necessary to create the extra spaces we need, and so we are working with the police to use a small number of cells in the short term so we can continue to put offenders behind bars.”