What is the situation?
It is the first time in over five years that we have had less than one thousand spaces in the entirety of our 141 prisons we have in the UK. It’s leading to prisoners having to be held in police cells for the first time in 14 years, as Prison’s Minister Damian Hinds told MP’s as he spoke in the Commons; regarding ongoing prison overcrowding.
He said “I’m announcing today that we’ve written to the Police Chief’s Council to request the temporary use of up to four hundred police cells through an established protocol called “operation safeguard” which will provide the immediate additional capacity we need.
This comes after an acute and sudden increase in the prison population.
Why has this happened now?
The government have claimed the main reason is following the summer strikes among barristers, has lead to an overwhelming amount of people entering the criminal justice system as prisoners. Backlogs in Court cases have been built up due to the pandemic and now these strikes occurring.
Labour have accused what they see as the incompetence of the Conservative government’s abolishment of 10,000 prison cells since 2010 despite crime increasing over this time period. Police forces have also been cut by the government since 2010 and many have accused the Police forces being underfunded despite serious crime rates plummeting over the last decade.
Reactions have taken place on social media as it comes at a time of striking in the UK’s major industries and in the mist of a cost of living crisis, something predicted after the pandemic but also critique from some on the Tory government’s leadership.
'Is there any part of our public service that's running well at the moment?'
— LBC (@LBC) November 30, 2022
Further reaction to operation safeguard on Twitter:
Cuts have consequences. 18 prisons closed, half of magistrates courts closed, cuts to the whole criminal Justice system. Govt reaps what it sows. Operation safeguard now in operation what a fiasco. Steve Gillan Gen Sec.
— POA (@POAUnion) November 30, 2022
Why could ‘operation safeguard’ propose an added danger?
Operation safeguard has already been criticised for putting prisoners at immediate risk, The Prison Trust Reform disagreed with Damian Hinds saying this would ensure the safe running of prisons during the times of overcrowding, they argued “The protocol is problematic and would risk prisoners’ safety. The initial remand into custody, commonly known to have the highest risk of self-harm and suicide, is breached in this protocol.”
This means less supervision for prisoners which massively can increase the risk especially for those prisoners with mental health concerns.
Twitter discussions of potential implications of operation safeguard:
Operation Safeguard, which will use 400 police cells to hold inmates, raises concerns over prisoners' safety https://t.co/Ph8EJJU7yq
— Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (@IAPDC_UK) December 9, 2022
The fact that prisons should also hold ‘humane conditions’ as living standard adds another issue with operation safeguard. Prisoners being held in detention cells, designed for a number of days being used for months, making some argue that this isn’t following protocol. It’s seen as a desperation move by some commentators who argue it ignores evidence and could eventually leave the already broken prison system with catastrophic results.