Given the government’s approach to sentencing, and its prison building programme, it appears that it is effectively Conservative policy to significantly increase the numbers of those incarcerated in England and Wales – despite no credible evidence of the link between such policies and reducing crime or harms. In this context, the planned use of police cells to act as overspill sites of detention for prisoners – under the name Operation Safeguard – is a crass, ad hoc and dangerous turn (MoJ requests urgent use of 400 police cells for male prisoners, 30 November).
The prison estate has long been in crisis – prisons are sites of violence, despair and systemic harm. That said, prisons are, in theory, designed – even if they consistently fail – to provide humane conditions in which, at least, the health, safety and welfare of prisoners and prison officers can be secured. Police cells, by contrast, are designed for short stays of days rather than months and weeks.
The Ministry of Justice’s announcement smacks of desperation. It ignores the mass of evidence from inspection, monitoring bodies, inquests and reviews about how to deal with a broken prison system. It will exacerbate harm. Manston has recently provided stark warning of such expediency, resulting in loss of life. Operation Safeguard could not be more cynically titled.
A radical change in sentencing policy, a drastic reduction in the prison population and a radical programme of well-funded community alternatives is the way forward. Anything less will be a profound mistake with potentially catastrophic results.
Deborah Coles Director, Inquest
Joe Sim Emeritus professor, Liverpool John Moores University
Steve Tombs Emeritus professor, The Open University
Martha Spurrier Director, Liberty