Conclusions and recommendations |
1. The Agency, part
of the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for the prison system
in England and Wales which holds around 84,000 prisoners. The
prison estate consists of some 130 prisons of varying layout,
geographical location, age and state of repair. Prisons also vary
in the type of prisoner they hold and the activities they offer.
The prison population has stabilised since the late 2000s, allowing
the Agency to take a more strategic approach to the prison estate.
The main factor behind the Agency's estate strategy, of closing
small costly prisons and building new accommodation which is cheaper
to run, is the need to make recurring savings. Under the strategy,the
Agency had by the end of 2013, closed 13 prisons and built two
new prisons and a new prison block in an existing prison. The
Agency has little control over the prison population, except through
its role in rehabilitating prisoners to prepare them for release
at the earliest opportunity and in assisting in the removal of
foreign national prisoners.
2. The Agency has achieved significant savings
in running costs and made considerable progress towards meeting
its other objectives for the prison estate.
The estate strategy's objectives are to reduce resource costs;
create durable, good standard accommodation and provide an estate
that better meets offenders' needs, allowing more of them to work
and be kept closer to their homes. Against these objectives, the
Agency has built new, goodquality, accommodation to time and within
budget; is on track to achieve cost reductions of £70 million
a year; and is starting to match better the geographical spread
of prisons to the prison population. Key factors behind this good
performance are the sector knowledge of the senior staff in the
Agency, coupled with a supporting management team that has the
necessary commercial, contract management, and estates management
Ministry of Justice should use the Agency's management of the
prison estate to develop a best practice case example in achieving
cost reductions, which HM Treasury should ensure is disseminated
widely across Government.
3. The two new large contracted-out prisons
have performed poorly since they opened, and they do not appear
to give sufficient priority to meeting offenders' rehabilitation
needs.The new prisons, HMP Oakwood and
HMP Thameside, were two of only three prisons to receive the lowest
performance rating of 1 out of 4in the Agency's performance ratings
for 2012-13. Neither prison provides sufficient levels of quality
purposeful activity for prisoners. HMP Oakwood does not provide
sufficient education time and it relies too much on lowquality
activities, such as cleaning. HMP Thameside does not have any
workshops. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons noted in his Annual Report
for 2012-13, that the quality and quantity of purposeful activity
across the prison system had 'plummeted' over the year.
Recommendation: The Agency should:
· Identify the reasons for the poor
performance of the large prisons and address these as a matter
of urgency, including operating the prisons as though they were
small prisons located on the same site, with shared services.
· Work with the contractors at HMP
Oakwood and HMP Thameside, to achieve a performance rating of
4 for 2014-15. If either prison fails to achieve this target,
the Agency should write to the Committee to set out the reasons
for the lower rating and the steps it is taking to improve performance.
· Ensure the factors that resulted
in the poor performance at these prisons, particularly HMP Oakwood,
are not replicated at the new prison being built in Wrexham.
· Monitor the level of good-quality
purposeful activity provided by each prison, and use this information
to increase the quality and quantity of purposeful activities
to reach a level deemed acceptable by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.
As a first step, the Agency should satisfy the Chief Inspector
that the quantity and quality of purposeful activity across the
prison system has increased by the end of 2014-15.
4. The Agency has closed relatively expensive
and old prisons, even when they were performing well.The
Agency took a range of criteria into account in selecting prisons
to close under the estate strategy, including relative running
costs; maintenance costs; potential income from selling sites;
special features or facilities; and geographical location. However,
it did not take prison performance into account and closed some
high performing prisons, including three that the Agency had awarded
the top rating of 4 in their most recent performance rating.
Recommendation: When selecting prisons for
closure, the Agency should consider prisons' performance, and
the likely impact on overall performance across the prison estate,
in addition to the factors it already considers.
5. More could be done to reduce the prison
population by ensuring prisoners are prepared for release at the
earliest opportunity.In June 2013, the
prison population included over 6,000 prisoners with indeterminate
sentences who had served the minimum period required by their
sentence. They could be released if the Parole Board believed
it was safe to do so. The Parole Board views offender behaviour
programmes as very important to demonstrate progress, but the
number of courses completed by prisoners has fallen from 8,739
in 2010-11,to 8,431 in 2012-13.
Recommendation: The Agency should provide
more programmes to help prisoners on indeterminate sentences become
safe to release.
6. Little progress has been made in reducing
the number of foreign national prisoners. The
Home Office aims to remove as many foreign national prisoners
as possible, but while over 1,000 foreign national offenders are
removed each quarter, a similar number are convicted. As a result
the stock of foreign national offenders in prisons in England
and Wales has remained fairly constant at around 11,000 (13% of
the prison population) which costs the Agency around £300
million a year.
Recommendation: The Agency should work with
the Home Office to analyse the reasons for delays in removing
foreign national offenders, remove barriers to removal, and prepare
to make the most of changes such as the ratification of prisoner
transfer arrangements across Europe.