Northern Ireland news

Keeping a prisoner in Northern Ireland jails ‘costs same as night at Savoy Hotel'

The Savoy Hotel in London 
Gareth McKeown

PRISONERS could be "put into the Savoy" for the money it costs keeping them behind bars each year in Northern Ireland, an MLA has claimed.

Figures show that the average annual bill for holding a inmate stands at £57,643 - equivalent to £158 per night, or the price of a stay in a leading hotel.

The total is more than £20,000 higher than the average for Britain.

The annual cost for a prisoner in England and Wales is £35,182 and in Scotland it is £34,399.

Justice Minister Claire Sugden accepted that costs are higher in the north, but noted contributory factors including the "added issue of separated paramilitary prisoners".

"This means that prisoners must be held on separate areas which increases running costs and reduces the operational flexibility of accommodation," she said.

The minister also said background of the Troubles made it difficult to compare like with like.

"During the Troubles staff received higher salaries due to the increased risks associated with working with paramilitary prisoners," she said.

Other factors cited included the "relatively small prison population" and costs of headquarters overheads, prisoner transport and property costs, "some of which are excluded from England and Wales, and Scotland’s calculations of average annual costs".

Justice Minister Claire Sugden. Picture by Michael Cooper 

Ms Sugden also highlighted substantial savings made by the Prison Service over the past five years.

"The Prison Service cost has reduced by £16,119 from £73,762 in 2010-11 to £57,643 in 2015-16.

"This has been due to the completion of the delivery of the voluntary early retirement scheme and construction of new accommodation as part of the Estates Strategy."

DUP MLA Jim Wells said the difference in prisoner costs was "absolutely incredible". Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association

However, DUP South Down MLA Jim Wells said the figures were "shocking".

"It is absolutely incredible the difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, particularly Scotland," he said.

He accused Ms Sugden of 'hiding behind the past'.

"The vast majority of terrorist offenders were released in 2000 as the result of the Belfast agreement.

"Whether you agree with that or not it means the vast majority of our prisoners are no different to those in the rest of the UK yet the cost of keeping them is between 40 and 50 per cent more.

"It is horrendously expensive to keep someone in here. You could put them into the Savoy for that sort of money.

"I think the gap is so high that the department needs to be taking it seriously and aiming towards the UK average."

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