Inmates may be put in police cells

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The Independent Online
Britain's jails will begin overflowing next month, causing the Prison Service to resort to costly police cells unless controversial plans for a floating jail get the go-ahead, Richard Tilt, the director-general, warned yesterday.

Speaking at the service's annual conference in Manchester, Mr Tilt said the population of the 135 establishments in England and Wales was likely to reach about 60,000 by next month, exceeding their total capacity. But Weymouth and Portland borough councils voted last week to oppose plans to moor the prison ship Resolution in Portland Harbour, Dorset. Without the ship, Mr Tilt warned: "We will probably go into police cells around the middle of March."

Police cells cost up to pounds 300 a night, six or seven times the cost of keeping a prisoner in a jail. Mr Tilt warned a meeting of prison governors earlier that the prison population would hit 62,000 later this year. If the current rate of increase was maintained it would reach at least 66,000 by 2000.

Lancaster City Council yesterday deferred discussions of plans to use a former Pontin's holiday camp at Heysham, near Morecambe. The site is close to two nuclear power plants, Heysham 1 and 2, and the Prison Service must draw up plans to safely and speedily evacuate the site in the event of an accident.

However, the councillors decided to defer the matter until the service had concluded discussions with HM Nuclear Installations Inspectorate.

Prison officials had intended to ship over their newly acquired jail from its current home on the Hudson River in New York and berth it in Portland Harbour next month until the local councils refused to give it planning permission. It was estimated that the floating prison will cost more than pounds 4m of taxpayers' money.