In a surprise U-turn on prison policy the Home Office has announced a scheme to increase prison places. A press release from Demos, the Marxist leaning think tank that has been advising the Home Office, said that the shortfall in prison places could easily be met by a strategy of 'incarceration of the people, by the people, for the people'. The existing 'Rent a Room' scheme, a scheme that lets you receive a certain amount of tax-free 'gross' income (receipts before expenses) from renting furnished accommodation in your only or main home, would be expanded to 'Rent a Cell'. Grants would be provided so that accomodation could be modified to meet Home Office requirements for the various categories of prisoner. The scheme would not be confined to Homeowners; Housing Associations had also expressed considerable interest in the scheme.
A Home Office official said that they expected Homeowners and Housing Associations to meet about 45% of the current shortfall in prison places, across all categories of prisoner. She said that it was inevitable that some criminals who in the past would have served a prison sentence would end up doing Community Service but that plans were in place to expand the Rent a Cell scheme beyond Private Homes and Housing Associations in order to make up the shortfall. Approaches were being made to English Heritage and Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments who manage numerous historic buildings. Many well preserved castles, such as Carlisle Castle (pictured above), have purpose built facilities for incarceration that could readily be brought back into service.
Approaches were also being made to the the Hotel and Bed & Breakfast (B&B) sector. Some prisons, such as Oxford Gaol, have been converted into hotels but could still provide suitable accomodation. The B&B sector, which is mainly seasonal, could be utilised in the off-season for 'short sharp shock sentences'. B&B establishments would be screened for suitability by searching the bulletin boards of B&B Directory Websites for such phrases as "prison would be more comfortable than this".
A statement from the Shadow Home Office minister said 'I thought that nothing this Government does could surprise me, but I think sentencing someone to a stay of 6 months in a dilapidated B&B in the off season is, just,......nasty'.