Not Saussure

September 23, 2006

£200 for a night in the cells?

Filed under: civil liberties, UK — notsaussure @ 1:19 pm

The Telegraph reports that

A police force wants to start charging offenders £200 for every night they spend in the cells.John Clarke, the chairman of Nottinghamshire Police Authority, has written to John Reid, the Home Secretary, asking for the power to bring in the charges.

He said yesterday that millions of pounds were being spent each year holding criminals in police custody, pushing up council tax bills, and that it was time to recoup some of the money.

“Every weekend our custody suites are at bursting point with drunken yobs and other offenders,” he said. “Officers have to clear up after them and feed them as if they were in a hotel. In a hotel you are charged and that is exactly what should happen to those who end up in custody who are later convicted by a court or given a police caution.

“Council tax bills are going up and up to cover the cost of policing, yet these criminals pay nothing. The innocent are funding the guilty; it is ridiculous.

“We have projects and initiatives we want to put in place over the next couple of years to help protect people but we can’t afford to. Here is a way of recouping some money and using it to provide more front-line officers and other crime-fighting initiatives.”

Mr Clarke said it cost £135 to hold an offender every night and his idea was that anyone cautioned or later convicted would be ordered to pay £200, which would be ploughed back into policing.

I might have more sympathy with the idea if it were accompanied with a proposal that people who were held overnight and then released without charge received compensation for the inconvenience thus suffered, but I don’t think that’s part of the package.

How on earth, though, does he arrive at the cost price of £135 a night? That’s more than most hotels there charge for what are presumably rather better accommodations, though the hotels, of course, do also make money from over-priced mini-bars in the rooms. What Mr Clarke’s done, I take it, is make a similar mistake to that frequently made by people who complain how much money it costs to keep people in prison; he’s taken the fixed costs of having and staffing custody suites– which is inherent in running police stations, I’d have thought, and which he incurs even if doesn’t have any prisoners on a particular night — and divided them by the number of prisoners he accommodates over a year

The marginal costs of keeping someone in custody overnight — cleaning his cell (divided by the number of people in the cell, of course) and giving him breakfast — aren’t, of course, anywhere near £135 a night; or, if they are, Nottingham should be sending in the auditors and the Fraud Squad.

I’d thought this idea went out in the Eighteenth Century, but it’s apparently alive and well in the USA, and pretty horrendous it sounds in practice, too.

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2 Comments »

  1. To quote “I might have more sympathy with the idea if it were accompanied with a proposal that people who were held overnight and then released without charge received compensation for the inconvenience thus suffered, but I don’t think that’s part of the package.”

    I might have more sympathy with your remarks if, like me, you lived in Nottinghamshire, and had to pay through the nose in Council Tax.

    “divided by the number of people in the cell, of course”

    The Bridewell custody cells only ever have one occupant in each one, so that was just a stupid comment that proves you don’t know what you’re talking about and are just trying to sound clever.

    “The marginal costs of keeping someone in custody overnight — cleaning his cell and giving him breakfast — aren’t, of course, anywhere near £135 a night”

    And you make that claim judged on – what exactly??? Perhaps in your world lawyers and soliciters are generous and charitable people who work for free out of the goodness of their hearts, but in reality, things like this, and all the associated paperwork and procedures with keeping people in the cells do, in actual fact, cost money.

    “he’s taken the fixed costs of having and staffing custody suites– which is inherent in running police stations, I’d have thought, and which he incurs even if doesn’t have any prisoners on a particular night”

    On busy nights some police stations have to call in extra officers on overtime, and strangely enough, they have to pay them for this. If they didn’t have any prisoners, of course, they wouldn’t have to do this, which you seem to have failed to even consider.

    Once again, people like you want to pander to the criminals (and it is only people convicted or cautioned this would apply to) yet care nothing for, as an example, OAP’s beaten to a pulp by drunken thugs.

    Comment by Rob — September 26, 2006 @ 1:58 pm

  2. It’s true I don’t live in Nottinghamshire but we do have council tax in my part of the country, too, and I can’t imagine it costs much more to hold someone overnight in Nottinghamshire than elsewhere. Certainly where I live, though, the legal costs of both the CPS and Legal Aid are met from general national taxation, and I rather doubt it’s any different in Nottingham. If your Chief Constable reckons he’s having to pay the solicitors to turn out when someone’s held overnight, then you do need to call in the auditors. And, of course, if the chap’s convicted the courts can and do order him to repay the legal costs in whole or in part if they think it’s appropriate (and he’s got the money to pay).

    Obviously you’ll need to factor in the overtime costs, but the basic point remains that the marginal cost of holding someone overnight cannot be anywhere near £135; the direct costs incurred to the police do not go up by £135 every time someone’s held in the cells overnight as opposed to being brought in for questioning during the day.

    I think it’s a silly idea, not because I want to ‘pander to criminals’, as you put it, but because it’s an attempt, in effect, to put sentencing in the hands of the police rather than the courts and that’s wrong in principle; proportionality wouldn’t would allow the courts to impose any penalty additional to the £200 in many cases, which would render a lot of their work redundant. It would also mean a lot more work, to no point, for the courts, because there’d certainly be no incentive to accept a caution in many cases. And, of course, it would doubtless be no easier to collect than are fines anyway — less so, if it’s a civil debt to the police, since there wouldn’t be the threat of imprisonment for non-payment.

    Comment by notsaussure — September 26, 2006 @ 3:59 pm


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