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“Besieged” prisons, probation & courts can’t provide justice for “victims, offenders, taxpayers or society”

24 March 2021

In its report published today the Public Accounts Committee says the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) "faces significant risks across the full range of its services, without a clear sense of prioritisation" and  huge backlogs that have built up are causing "unacceptably long waiting times for people to access justice".

MoJ does not have a clear sense of priorities as it attempts to manage significant change in every part of the system - court reform, building new prisons and introducing, again, a new model for delivering probation services – currently all at critical stages, alongside an expected increase in demand as government implements its plans for 20,000 new police officers and sentencing reforms start taking effect.

A major programme of building new prisons is underway but threatened by an "eye-watering maintenance backlog of around £1 billion" which "poses a real threat to achieving a safe and secure prison estate".

The significant funding uplift for MoJ in the 2020 Spending Review, which included £4 billion for new prison places and £119 million to support the justice system’s recovery from the pandemic, is welcome but comes against a backdrop of deep funding cuts over many years.   

Restrictive regimes in prisons during the pandemic have significantly impacted the wellbeing and life chances of prisoners, making it critical that the MoJ and HMPPS accelerate their work to improve the mental health of prisoners. 

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

"Victims and witnesses waiting in limbo because of the long waits for a day in Court mean justice is too often being delayed to the point of being denied. The prison estate is creaking and the new prison building programme is still years off completion. The promised extra 20,000 police will create more work for courts and prisons and put more pressure on an already severely overstretched system.

A prison system operating with a dangerous maintenance backlog continues to swallow billions of taxpayers money but fails to deliver the key benefit society expects from that investment. The probation system is still reeling from 2014's massive and catastrophic experiment in reform and its juddering reversal.

Our justice system is besieged on all sides and it is not clear the MoJ has a firm grip on this challenge even with a desperately needed funding boost. This isn’t justice for victims, offenders, taxpayers or society."

Further information

Image: MoJ