Public and prisoner safety is being put at risk by the Government's inhumane, expensive and overstretched use of temporary prison accommodation in England and Wales, the BMA said today.
The number of prisoners being held after sentencing in police and court cells has more than trebled in the last three weeks from 65 to 408. Government ministers have confirmed that holding a prisoner in a police cell costs the taxpayer an estimated £385 per night while detaining them in a court cell results in a bill of £300 per night. The total cost of housing prisoners in police cells after their sentencing in 2007 was £28, 003, 264.
The overall prison population has also continued to increase and on Friday, 15th February reached a record high of 81, 918.
Dr George Fernie, Chairman of the BMA's Forensic Medicine Committee, said:
"Recent increases in the number of prisoners entering the flimsy and makeshift system of temporary prison accommodation have left doctors struggling to cope.
"Forensic physicians who staff police stations and courts often do not have enough resources and equipment required to cope with emergency incidents, such as suicide attempts.
"It is also impossible to begin any form of long term treatment for mental health and drug addiction. This is a crucial requirement as an estimated two thirds of prisoners who enter custody are drug dependent and seven out of ten have one or more mental health problems.
"These individuals need immediate intensive attention so that the potential cause of their criminal behaviour can be addressed. Placing prisoners in cramped police and court cells without full health care will simply contribute to the appalling re-offending rates in the UK. Currently two thirds of prisoners commit a crime within two years of release.
"It is simply ridiculous that the Government has been spending millions of pounds on keeping prisoners in these completely inappropriate conditions. The failure to address re-offending is also adding an unknown but additional cost through the impact of crime.
"The Government must commit itself to phasing out this wasteful and damaging system."