Staffordshire food bank: 'Criminal' referrals explained
A charity has been explaining a scheme that has been put under urgent review for giving offenders food vouchers.
Adrian Curtis, from the Trussell Trust food bank charity, said police in Staffordshire had been referring people "in severe short-term crisis".
Staffordshire's police and crime commissioner said the scheme sent a "dangerous" and "difficult" message when recipients have committed a crime.
A review of Staffordshire Police referrals was called for on Sunday.
The force has given vouchers to seven "hard pressed individuals" since the project started in March.
The vouchers can be exchanged for three day's worth of supplies from the Trussell Trust's Stoke-on-Trent food bank.
'Not police job'
Mr Curtis said vouchers were given out by health visitors, social workers, police and others who "come across people involved in domestic violence, victims of crime and people stealing essential items of food".
He said police referred a very small minority of people helped in food banks.
Of the 5,833 people processed in Stoke-on-Trent's northern custody facility since March, seven have been given vouchers.
Staffordshire PCC Matthew Ellis said: "I think it's a dangerous and rather a difficult message that, if you get arrested, you get processed and then there is the perception of a reward.
"I've said all along we're going to be tough and uncompromising on crime and this [scheme] dilutes that message."
Mr Ellis cited the example of one man "in a difficult place" who received a voucher.
He said: "He'd used all of his welfare benefit payments on vet's bills for a dog that he had that was very ill, run out of money, at the end of his tether, stole some food from a supermarket, was caught, was cautioned by police and then was given a food voucher as he was leaving the custody suite."
He said supporting people in difficulty "is not the police job in this instance".
Chief Constable Mike Cunningham said: "On the few occasions where these vouchers have been given out my understanding is that people have been arrested for stealing food and they are in very straitened times.
"In order to encourage them not to offend in the future they have been given access to food banks."
A Staffordshire Police spokesperson said: "These were some of the most hard pressed individuals that our officers had seen and they used their professional judgement to give them food vouchers provided by a local charity."