Should drunks pay for night in the cells?

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

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A backbench MHK has called for drunks who end up in police cells to pay for their night behind bars.

In Tynwald this month, members were told the average cost of a stay in a police cell is £383 – and last year 643 intoxicated people were detained overnight.

Middle MHK Howard Quayle suggested: ‘Given the quite alarming cost of providing a bed-and-breakfast service for a small number who choose to make themselves so drunk or high they need to be placed in a prison cell – and I have just worked out that for last year alone it will have cost the police force circa £250,000 – would the Minister agree that, with the exception of members of the public undergoing treatment to help with their addiction problems, now is the time to introduce a charge for a stay in a police cell as a result of alcohol or drug excesses?’

Home Affairs Minister Juan Watterson (Rushen) replied: ‘It is something we are looking into. We do of course have the fundamental problem of potentially charging somebody for a night in the cells where they are not actually guilty of an offence, so it is not quite as simple and straightforward.

‘I have been down to the police station, to police custody, on a Friday night. For those who are provided with a meal, it is a £1 microwave ready meal, so the illusion that the member conjures up in terms of a quaint bed-and-breakfast service is quite far from reality.’

Mr Watterson pointed out there were fixed costs to be paid even if the cells lay empty.

Mr Quayle said: ‘I appreciate it is not exactly a stay in the Ritz that we are providing but we are having to give valuable police time to inspect people every 15 minutes when they are in a cell, when they could be out on the streets looking after members of the public.

‘I just feel that if we send a message out to the very small minority of people who are costing the taxpayer a considerable amount of money, that if you go out and you binge drink you are going to have to cover the costs of your behaviour.’

The Minister said: ‘The member’s point is well made. It is a point that resonates, I am sure, and it is something that we may be able to look to further down the line in terms of being able to recover costs, but maybe through the courts system at that point.’

Mr Watterson said data is not available to calculate the total number of overnight stays or the percentage of cell usage relating specifically to alcohol or drug excesses.

But he said the percentage of all arrests where intoxication was noted was 54 per cent in 2008-09, 52 per cent in 2009-10 and 2010-11, 51 per cent in 2011-12 and 50 per cent in 2012-13. He said the percentage of all arrests with both intoxication and overnight stay in the cells was 39 per cent in 2008-09 and 2009-10, 41 per cent in 2010-11 and 37 per cent in 2011-12 and 2012-13.

The Minister said actual number of arrests with both intoxication and overnight stay in the cells was 943 in 2008-09, 968 in 2009-10, 985 in 2010-11, 769 in 2011-12 and 643 in 2012-13.

He said police had no reliable method of collating and presenting data on drug intoxication alone as arrests for drug offences do not signify intoxication as the reason for an overnight detention.

Mr Watterson confirmed the average cost of a stay in a police cell is £383 but he didn’t have figures for fixed and variable costs of that amount.

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