Police Federation

PFEW response to announcement of police cells to be used as prison cells

The Ministry of Justice and National Police Chief's Council have designated the use of 400 police cells to combat overcrowding in prisons.

1 December 2022


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.

Police officers lack the training to act as custodian prison officers. This is another example of police officers being taken for granted and expected to fill the gap for other public and emergency services. We are expecting police officers to be social workers, mental health specialists, ambulance drivers and now prison officers.

There are instances where prisoners may have specific mental health related illnesses that deserve the attention of a suitably and fully trained professional. Our officers are not trained for this and as such, using the police service in this way poses an element of risk to both prisoners and to our officers. It is also imperative that the different needs of neurodiverse prisoners are recognised and support is given, again, from fully trained professionals, not police officers.

There are further concerns to raise here over use of force. What powers will the Ministry of Justice rely on if police officers are acting as prison officers in volatile situations? This exposes our members to unnecessary risks, all while they are doing a job they are not trained for and should not be relied upon to do.  

Further, the foreseeable danger is that police officers will be required to transport prisoners in custody from one station to another if local stations lack the capacity or existing capacity is reduced – this will remove them from the streets and local communities for longer periods, at a time when the police service is already over-stretched and under resourced, putting the public at risk. It should be noted too, that this proposal reduces the capacity of a station to fully serve its local community.

This ill-conceived workaround puts our members and the public in danger, reduces the capacity of our police officers to protect the public and represents a short-term fix to a long-term problem. This serves as a timely reminder of the underfunding in the system as a whole and demonstrates police officers repeatedly being taken for granted. 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.

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