Police are given £12 a day for each inmate held at a police station, the Ministry of Justice has admitted. This is six times more than is given to primary schools to feed each child and more than the sum of £8.49 for a hospital patient and £2.69 for a soldier in Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Justice said that more than £600,000 is being spent each year on feeding inmates held in police stations due to a lack of prison places.
In 2006-07, convicted prisoners spent a total of 61,000 days in police cells under 'Operation Safeguard', the scheme brought in by John Reid, the former Home Secretary when the prisons system reached maximum capacity in 2006. It costs a total of £385 to keep a prisoner in a police cell for a night.
The situation was described as "a disgrace" by the Conservatives.
The Shadow Police Reform Minister, David Ruffley, said: "Once again money that should be spent fighting and reducing crime is being wasted. Taxpayers will be appalled at this profligacy.
"This problem has only arisen because of complete mismanagement of our prison system resulting in severe overcrowding.
"The Government's incompetence means our police are spending more time as prison jailers and less time as crime fighters."
In a written answer to the House of Commons, Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, said: "The difference arises because food in prison can be planned with much greater certainty and prison establishments are able to make use of bulk purchasing."
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