Ministry of Justice and National Offender Management Service: Managing the prison estate - Public Accounts Committee Contents

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 skills.

Recommendation: The 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.

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Prepared 25 April 2014