The National Offender Management Service Agency (the Agency) is an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice (the Department). The Agency directly manages 117 public prisons, manages the contracts of 14 private prisons, and is responsible for a prisoner population of around 86,000. It commissions and funds services from 35 probation trusts, which oversee approximately 165,000 offenders serving community sentences. For 2012-13, the Agency's budget is £3,401 million.
The Committee was pleased to note that the Agency achieved its savings targets of £230 million in 2011-12 and maintained its overall performance, despite an increase in the prison population. However, the Agency's savings targets of £246 million in 2012-13, £262 million in 2013-14 and £145 million in 2014-15 are challenging. The Agency believes it has scope to make the prison estate more efficient by closing older, more expensive prisons and investing in new ones. The savings plans assume the prison population will stay at its current level and not increase and that no progress is made on reducing overcrowding. Furthermore, the Agency has not yet secured the up-front funding for the voluntary redundancies needed to bring down prison staffing costs.
Unless overcrowding is addressed and staff continue to carry out offender management work it is increasingly likely that rehabilitation work needed to reduce the risk of prisoners reoffending will not be provided and that prisoners will not be ready for transfer to open conditions or release. We were not reassured that the Agency has done enough to address the risks to safety, decency and standards in prisons and in community services arising from staffing cuts implemented to meet financial targets.
The Agency plans to increase the role of private firms and the third sector in probation. We are not convinced that probation trusts have the infrastructure and skills they need to commission probation services from these providers effectively.
On the basis of a Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from HM Inspectorate of Prisons, HM Inspectorate of Probation and the National Offender Management Service Agency on the Agency's restructure and performance against Spending Review savings targets.