Page last updated at 16:23 GMT, Sunday, 15 March 2009

Police cells 'pricier than Ritz'

The Ritz and a UK prison
Housing prisoners in police cells 'costs Ritz prices' say the Lib Dems

The cost of housing prison inmates in police cells is double the amount previously thought, the Lib Dems claim.

The Ministry of Justice says it costs 385 a night to detain an inmate in a police station when prisons are full.

But the Lib Dems say the true cost of 'Operation Safeguard' is 853 a night - a figure disputed by the government.

Paul Holmes MP, Lib Dem justice spokesman said: "For this amount of money, you could stay in the Ritz."

A superior suite at the Ritz hotel in London costs 700 a night on average.

The government has put us in this hopeless position by failing to plan for the future
Paul Holmes
Lib Dem Justice spokesman
Mr Holmes continued: "The government's incompetence in managing our prison system is staggering and has left the taxpayer picking up a huge bill.

"Ministers have severely and consistently underestimated the knock-on costs of prison overcrowding."

He added: "The government has put us in this hopeless position by failing to plan for the future while putting record numbers behind bars in an effort to appear tough on crime."

Emergency measure

Prisoners are held in police cells as an emergency measure when prisons are at maximum capacity. This happened between October and December 2006 and again from January 2007 to October 2008.

The Lib Dem figures, revealed in an answer to a Parliamentary question, put the cost of using police cells over the two periods at 76 million.

But the Ministry of Justice disputed the statistics. A spokesman said: "The estimated average cost of a place under Operation Safeguard is currently 385 per night. In real terms this is a drop from 1995 when the average cost to the taxpayer was around 300 per night.

"Operation Safeguard is a tried and tested pragmatic solution to short term prison population pressures."

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