The government is failing to provide and maintain safe, secure and decent prisons and its flagship initiatives to address this have not delivered results, according to a National Audit Office report.
More than 40 per cent of inspected prisons were rated as "poor" or "not sufficiently good" for safety in the past five years. Inadequate safety in prisons has reached all-time highs.
Over the past decade, Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) has taken 1,730 cells permanently out of use and it expects to lose 500 places a year because of the poor conditions of the remaining estate. At least 40 per cent of prisons need major repairs or replacements in the next three years. There is currently a backlog of major repairs that will cost £916 million to fix.
There is a surplus of 18,700 places in local prisons for people serving short sentences or on remand awaiting sentencing. However, there is a shortfall of 15,000 training and resettlement places. Local prisons are intended to hold prisoners for a short time. But they are increasingly holding longer-sentenced prisoners because of the lack of places to support prisoners' transition into the community.
Unsuccessful outsourcing initiatives
The government has tried to improve conditions by creating new prison places through its Prison Estate Transformation Programme. In 2014-15, HMPPS decided to outsource FM and expected to save around £80 million by contracting out to Amey and Carillion, but it has not been a success.
HMPPS has had to spend an extra £143 million in the past four years because it had an inaccurate understanding of prison conditions and services needed, underestimating the need for reactive maintenance due to vandalism and breakdowns.
In 2016, HMPPS committed to build 10,000 new prison places but only 206 have been built, with 3,360 under construction.
Delays in agreeing and receiving funding to build new prisons is cited as the main reason for the failures as construction work began later than planned. In addition, HMPPS was unable to close old prisons and replace them with new ones because of high demand so it received less money from sales income.
HMPPS has been focused on sorting out the immediate needs of the prison estate, investing its resources to address prison population pressures and deteriorating prison conditions. The report recommends that HMPPS should develop a long-term strategy to set out what conditions prisoners should be held in and minimum levels of investment needed to guarantee a safe and decent environment.
MoJ, Treasury and HMPPS need to work together
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: "Prisons remain in a poor condition, poor safety has reached record levels, and there are huge maintenance backlogs. The government has recently committed to creating 10,000 new prison places and needs to learn lessons from its recent experiences. Crucially, HMPPS must work with the Ministry of Justice and Treasury to develop a long-term, deliverable strategy that will provide prisons that are fit for purpose."
A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesman said: "We will always have enough prison places to keep offenders behind bars and the government's £2.5 billion investment will create 10,000 modern places, on top of the two new jails already being built."
He said the government will spend an additional £256 million on maintenance and safety to "further reduce violence and focus on rehabilitation". The MoJ has also said it is developing a long-term estate strategy.