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MoJ set to trigger Op Safeguard again

Operation Safeguard involves the use of police cells to hold prisoners.

Police cells could once more be used to house prisoners as the prison population continues to increase.

Justice Minister Damian Hinds has today said that the MoJ has written to the NPCC to request the temporary use of up to 400 police cells. It’s part of an established protocol known as Operation Safeguard.

Operation Safeguard has previously been used between October and December 2006 and January 2007 to October 2008.

Cells will be jointly managed by police and the MoJ.

Since the barrister strike action earlier in the year, the prison population has increased from 79,800 to 82,700 and the remand population increased by 1,700.

Damien Hinds has called the increase “acute and sudden”.

The government has a number of ongoing contracts to increase the size of the prison estate including the opening of HMP Fosse Way next spring (1,700 new spaces) and a £500m contract to deliver 2,400 new places across six existing sites.

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Custody, Deputy Chief Constable Nev Kemp, said: "Police custody plays a pivotal role in keeping the public safe and supporting the criminal justice process. Policing has operational contingency plans in place for the activation of Operation Safeguard.

“This is a temporary measure in which policing will work closely with the His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and key partners to support them in ensuring places are provided for prisoners when required in a safe and secure way.

“Policing will continue to conduct its operational business, arrest criminals, and secure them in custody, with well-established plans in place for prisoners to be placed in neighbouring force custody suites should the need arise."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Keeping the public safe and cutting crime by taking dangerous criminals off the streets remains our number one priority.

“We are experiencing an unprecedented increase in the number of offenders coming into prisons in the north of England, partly as a result of the impact of the pandemic and the barrister strike action over the summer months.

“The public would rightly expect us to take the action necessary to create the extra spaces we need, and so we are working with the police to use a small number of cells in the short term so we can continue to put offenders behind bars.”

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