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MoJ’s “naïve” approach to outsourcing has failed the taxpayer and prisoners

11 September 2020

Just 206 new prison places have been delivered out of 10,000 promised by 2020, with many prisons crowded, unsafe and with “dangerously high levels of violence and self-harm.”

In a report published today, Friday 11 September 2020, the Commons Public Accounts Committee condemns the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service’s “failure” in attempts to improve the condition and suitability of the prison estate, echoing the “disastrous” probation reforms of 2014 that were finally abandoned and reversed earlier this year.

The Committee says that “the Ministry has once again exposed taxpayers to higher than expected costs as a result of inadequate planning, unrealistic assumptions and poor performance whilst managing facilities within prisons.”

Despite promises to create 10,000 new-for-old prison places by 2020, just 206 new places have been delivered so far, and prisoners continue to be held in unsafe, crowded conditions that do not meet their needs. Though women make up 5% of the prison population, in evidence to the Committee the Ministry was unable to answer basic questions about the female prison estate or demonstrate that conditions in these prisons are adequate for the needs and safety of prisoners.

Rather than delivering even a fraction of the promised places, HMPPS has allowed a staggering backlog of maintenance work to build up that will cost more than £900 million to address and means that 500 prison places are taken permanently out of action each year, due to their poor condition. 

Prison conditions and facilities play a crucial role in supporting prisoners to stay away from crime on their release and reduce the £18.1 billion cost to the economy of reoffending each year. Despite the PAC’s recommendations in May 2019, there is still no sign of a cross-government strategy for reducing reoffending.  

Chair's comments

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“The scale of failure, in our prisons and in the disastrous probation reforms, is really quite staggering. The apparent disregard for the position of women in prisons is just another indictment of a clearly broken system.

“The Ministry is still reeling from the long-term consequences of its unrealistic 2015 Spending Review settlement, but our whole society is bearing the financial and human cost of sustained underinvestment. Even now, we are not convinced MoJ and HMPPS have the ingredients for an effective, sustainable long-term strategy.

“We now expect a set of reports to be made to us over the coming months, assessing the realistic costs of their mistakes to date and how to fix them, and a credible new plan for a working prison estate and system that can reduce re-offending – not just lock people in to this cycle of violence and harm.”

Further information

Image: MoJ