Prisons: planning and policies - Justice Contents

2  Modernising the prison estate

13. Shortly after he took office as Secretary of State for Justice in 2012, Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP outlined to us his desire to develop a penal system that was cheaper, not smaller. Pointing to the huge variation in cost of keeping people in different prisons, he said he wished quickly to bring down the costs of the prison estate in two ways: a new-for-old programme and the development of lower cost regimes.[15] In this chapter we consider the first element of his cost reduction policy.

The costs and benefits of the new-for-old policy

Replacing old, structurally inefficient prisons

14. The prison estate consists of a hotchpotch of establishments to cater for a range of types of prisoner, including under 18s, young adults, females and males, requiring different levels of security related to their risk. The extent to which prisons are suitable for modern purposes also varies widely. For example, HMP Dartmoor is a 200 year old listed building, whereas HMP Oakwood opened in 2013. The aim of the new-for-old programme is for old and inefficient facilities to be closed whilst maintaining sufficient places to meet demand. Under the programme 16 prisons have been closed, two have opened, and four have been extended.[16] The NAO calculated that both new houseblocks and new build prisons deliver lower running costs than existing establishments, and noted that the latter now have much longer lifespans than they did ten years ago.[17]

15. The new-for-old policy provides the opportunity to improve the physical infrastructure of the estate, remove structural inefficiencies, and employ new technologies. The benefits of modern prison design include reduced costs on heating, lighting, maintenance, safety, and security. Savings also result from the need for fewer staff: for every prison custody officer[18] saved through better design, an estimated £750,000 is saved over the lifetime of a 25 year contract.[19] Serco noted that in newer prisons, which include in-cell showers, self-service and learning facilities, efficiencies can be realised when prisoners are in their cells. For example, ordering meals, arranging visits, and making healthcare appointments can be done electronically. Intelligent design of newly commissioned prison buildings can help minimise the potential for negative impacts of necessary savings.[20] Mr Andrew Selous MP, Minister for Prisons, Probation and Rehabilitation, acknowledged there was a higher degree of capital investment in the private sector than was possible in the public sector.[21] The use of in-cell technology was being trialled in the public sector, but the level of capital investment required to implement it across the estate was unlikely to be found at present.[22]

16. The Government anticipates a gross cost reduction of nearly £125 million from prison closures between 2013/14 and 2015/16.[23] Closing prisons is itself challenging. For example, when we visited HMP Dartmoor during our inquiry into older prisoners it was clear to us that the facilities were unsuitable for current purposes, and modernisation was not feasible, not least because it is a listed building. The Government has now announced that it has commenced negotiations with the Duchy of Cornwall, which owns the prison, about its closure. However, given that there is a notice period of 10 years it is likely to continue to operate for some years to come. We are concerned that this should be the case and we are concerned that during that time investment to improve conditions is unlikely. Savings have also been generated through the merger of prisons, for example, HMYOI Castington and HMP Acklington merged to become HMP Northumberland.

17. Re-configuring the estate also potentially provides the opportunity to ensure that the location of prison places corresponds with the areas that prisoners come from. In relation to this, Kevin Lockyer, a former regional manager for NOMS, observed that "broadly speaking, prisons are not in the right places".[24] This affects both the costs of running the estate, and efforts to rehabilitate prisoners, with many prisons being in rural areas, for example. He explained:

    That sort of dislocation of people does not help resettlement in the community or to reduce reoffending. It leads to massive structural costs in shipping people around the system and is not how you would design it. What works well is that some prisons are fantastically well run, with engaged staff doing their best in difficult circumstances. The human element of a lot of what the Prison Service does is really good, but hampered by the structural problems inherent in an estate that has grown like Topsy over the last 150 years. [25]

This can undermine another objective of ensuring that prisoners are held close to home to optimise the maintenance of family links, which can be valuable in supporting resettlement.[26]


18. There are long-standing challenges inherent in improving the prison estate by building new prisons. Phil Wheatley CB, former Director General of NOMS, explained that decisions about where and when to build new prisons were constrained by several factors, including the imprecise nature of forecasting, the time taken to build new places, securing the necessary finance from the Treasury, and getting planning permission. The Prison Officers' Association characterised NOMS' approach as building where it was cheapest and moving the prisoners accordingly. The new prison that is being built at Wrexham to provide 2,100 places was cited as an example of this. The Ministry estimates that this prison will cost around £250m to construct and have a lifespan of a minimum of 60 years. Our colleagues on the Welsh Affairs Committee have conducted an inquiry which includes more detailed consideration of this issue.

19. Another challenge is that planning for the building of new prisons inevitably takes place several years in advance of those places becoming available. The Ministry's forecasts rely on its prison population projections.[27] Of the three scenarios which are regularly produced—resulting in upper, lower and median projections—NOMS bases its planning for prison places on the central forecast.[28] The latest projections indicate that capacity is going to continue to be an issue for the foreseeable future. By the end of June 2020 the prison population is projected to be 90,200, but could be as low as 81,400 or as high as 98,900.[29] With existing useable capacity at 88,000, and a further 2,160 places (in new houseblocks and re-roled former young offender institutions and women's prisons, all due to be opened by spring 2015), followed by Wrexham's 2,100 places in 2017, there would be sufficient capacity to accommodate the middle range predicted population.[30] On the other hand, the savings to the public purse from Wrexham, estimated at £17 million per year with payback in around 23 years, are dependent on the closure of an equivalent 2,100 inefficient prison places.[31]

20. Capacity in the adult estate has benefited from the fall in the youth custodial population; the Youth Justice Board (YJB) has saved £317 million in this Spending Review period by decommissioning places for young people, some of which are to become adult establishments from spring 2015.[32] The Standing Committee on Youth Justice (SCYJ) believed that the Government had missed the opportunity presented by the declining youth custody population to reconfigure the secure estate to meet the needs of children better. For example, it was concerned that custodial provision for young people had been decommissioned in a haphazard manner, pointing out, for example, that there were no secure children's home places in London and the South East.[33] The YJB did not accept that decisions were haphazard. Lin Hinnigan, Chief Executive of the YJB advised us that she could commission places only from custodial facilities that were already in existence, and there were no secure children's homes in London. She did acknowledge that the needs of the adult estate were one element in the decisions that had been taken about which establishments to decommission. She pointed out that one desirable outcome of reconfiguration had been that it had been able to withdraw from split sites—such as HMP Hindley, where under and over 18s are held separately in the same prison—which it did not favour.[34] The SCYJ observed that occupancy rates of secure children's homes appeared to have fallen relative to those in young offender institutions this year; their Chair, Penelope Gibbs, was concerned that this might be motivated by a desire further to decommission these places, which were the most expensive form of custodial provision for children.[35] The YJB did not agree that placement decisions were driven by resources and believed that annual occupancy figures were a more reliable indicator than the figures quoted by the SCYJ.[36]


21. The NAO concluded that the Ministry's plans represented value for money but suggested that NOMS' decisions about closing smaller prisons related more to their costs than how they had been performing.[37] This is important as levels of performance of new establishments which replace older capacity are characteristically low in their early days of operation. We visited the two most recently built prisons—HMP Oakwood and HMP Thameside—as part of this inquiry; both had received very poor inspection reports during their first year of operation.[38] We heard from witnesses, including HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, private prison providers and senior prison staff, that it can take some time for a new prison to function effectively.[39] For example, whilst some experienced staff can be brought in from other establishments, new staff must be trained and gain on-the-job experience.[40] The impact of this on outcomes for prisoners is unknown. When we visited HMP Oakwood, the newest and largest prison, we were told by the operator G4S Custodial and Detention Services that opening a prison was a complex process. HMP Parc, also run by G4S, is a large high-performing prison, but it grew to its current size over time.[41] Jerry Petherick, Managing Director of this division of G4S, said that despite the early operational difficulties which affect new prisons, the result was more efficient establishments than those which expanded gradually through the building of new houseblocks.[42] Since our visit HM Inspectorate of Prisons has published a further report which indicated some improvement.

22. HMP Thameside is also a good example of the challenges facing prison planners. The prison opened in March 2012, and when we visited in November 2014 it was holding 300 prisoners more than it was built for and was subject already to plans for a £120 million expansion to hold a further 332 prisoners. In addition, the prison had initially anticipated that 75 per cent of prisoners held there would be on remand, with less requirement for provision of education, work, assessment and sentence planning than sentenced prisoners; in fact between 55 and 60 per cent were sentenced prisoners, and the expansion scheme would make available more workshops and industries.[43]

23. As the prison estate has evolved, the roles of establishments have changed and prisons are being used for populations for which they were not originally designed. Some young offender institutions have become adult establishments. In addition, the dispersal of prisoners when prisons have closed or changed purpose has resulted in some disruption.[44] For example, following a decision to reduce the use of HMP Feltham for remand prisoners, the experiences of prison governors and others from HMPs Belmarsh, Thameside, Pentonville, and Isis indicate that in some cases the integration of younger prisoners into other parts of the prison estate has had a destabilising impact on the prisons concerned, including through increased violence.[45] At HMP Belmarsh this had subsequently settled down but this did not appear to be the case at HMP Isis.[46] HMP Northumberland and HMP Birmingham which were taken over by private sector providers, also experienced some initial de-stabilisation as contractual changes bedded in.[47]

24. The Secretary of State told us that he wished to see the costs of prison places fall, citing the variation between the cost per place at Oakwood of £14,000, and the comparable figure of £40,000 at some older prisons.[48] The cost per prison place fell by 18 per cent between 2009-10 and 2013-14; there was a 17 per cent fall per prisoner. Nevertheless, there is still an average cost of £36,000 per prison place, £34,000 per prisoner, and costs continue to vary considerably across the estate.[49]


25. An important principle of prisons policy is maintaining decency in the standard of residential accommodation provided. Measures of decency in terms of the capacity of the prison estate are explained in the box below:
Measures of prison estate capacity

There are two measures of prison estate capacity: certified normal accommodation (CNA) is uncrowded capacity; and operational capacity is the maximum capacity based on published accommodation standards, as well as the provision and operation of appropriate regime facilities and the needs of order and control.

Operational capacity is set by senior operational prison managers, taking all of the above into account. Those prisons whose operational capacity is higher than certified normal accommodation are operating with crowded conditions.

Useable operational capacity of the estate is the sum of all establishments' operational capacity less 2,000 places. This is known as the operating margin and reflects the constraints imposed by the need to provide separate accommodation for different classes of prisoner i.e. by sex, age, security category, conviction status, single cell risk assessment and also due to geographical distribution.

The extent to which the population has exceeded certified normal accommodation has fluctuated between about 10 and 12 per cent over the four years to October 2014, with a peak of 12.8 percent in March 2013.[50] A growing number and proportion of prisons are operating well over their baseline capacity. At the end of March 2014, 77 of the 119 prisons in England and Wales were classified as overcrowded; by December 2014 this had risen to 83 of 117 prisons.[51] On the other hand, by the Government's assessment there has been a small fall in the proportion of prisoners held in crowded conditions: in 2013-14, this decreased to 22.9 per cent compared to 23.3% in 2012-13.[52] This proportion is at the lowest level since 2001-02 and has come down from a high of 25.3 per cent in 2007-08.

26. The prison population has skirted very close to the useable operational capacity of the estate as a whole over the last year or so. For example, it was operating at 98 per cent of its total capacity (of 88,500) on 7 November 2014.[53] Operational capacity has fluctuated over the last two years. In December 2012 it was 91,574 but by December 2013 it had fallen to 87,111, despite the size of the prison population at these times being broadly similar. Prisons have been under pressure to accommodate the recent rise in the prison population: 40 public sector prisons reportedly were asked to accommodate between them 440 additional prisoners over the summer of 2014.[54] Mr Spurr described the situation as "tight but manageable", pointing out that overall operational capacity was actually 90,000 places.[55] The NAO estimated that to end overcrowding without reducing the prison population would cost over £900 million, which was unlikely to be found given the constraints on public expenditure.[56]


27. The Secretary of State himself was relatively untroubled by prison overcrowding. He said "It means prisoners sharing a cell. It remains my view that, if prisoners have to share a cell in order to make sure they can go to prison, this is not a great problem."[57] On the other hand, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons saw it as a "real problem". He said there were two areas where overcrowding had negative effects: the physical conditions in which prisoners were held, and the availability of sufficient training, activity and rehabilitation programmes. In relation to the former he observed: "In some places, two men are in what is essentially a large toilet designed for one, and often in very squalid conditions."[58] In relation to the latter, there are more prisoners to move around to activities and healthcare appointments, for example, with implications for staffing levels, and strain can be placed on the capacity of workshops and programmes.

28. Both the Prison Officers' Association and the Prison Governors' Association expressed concerns that the Government had no plans to decrease levels of crowding;[59] the latter, and HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, characterised the situation as "institutional overcrowding".[60] Mr Spurr distinguished between planned cell sharing and overcrowding in inappropriate conditions, such as those described by the Chief Inspector, and emphasised that in new accommodation some cells were designed to be shared; this will be the case at HMP Wrexham, for example.[61] Nevertheless, data for the financial year 2013 to 2014 show that, on a typical day, almost 19,000 prisoners were doubled up in cells designed for one, and about 800 were trebled up in cells designed for two.[62] The practice of holding more prisoners in cells than they were designed for continues even in newly built prisons. For example, the NAO found that NOMS had planned for HMP Thameside to house more prisoners than it was built for, due to the shortage of prison places in London.[63]

29. Lower category prisons, in particular category D open prisons, tend to be less overcrowded and hence have greater spare capacity than local prisons. The Prison Officers' Association suggested that capacity problems in some parts of the estate could result in a situation where prisoners could be held in prison accommodation of a category that was not appropriate to their risk.[64] Thomas Bailey, HMP Isis's POA representative, argued that on occasions prisoners were allocated to a certain security category depending on the vacant spaces available in each category.[65] Mr Spurr believed that the security categorisation policy was very clear and operating well.[66] The Secretary of State recognised that there had been a change in the risk profile of offenders going into open prisons, including some offenders on indeterminate sentences for public protection.[67]

30. Accommodating the recent rise in the prison population has been achieved without increasing crowding to a great extent. But it is worrying that despite the Government's efforts to supply sufficient prison places to meet demand, the proportion of prisons that are overcrowded is growing, and the proportion of prisoners held in crowded conditions remains at almost a quarter. It deeply concerns us that as a result of a shortage of prison places in London, NOMS is building prisons fully intending to hold more prisoners in them than they have capacity for, as the National Audit Office reported happened at HMP Thameside.

31. Overcrowding is a more significant issue than the way it was described to us by the Secretary of State, who characterised it simply as people sharing a cell designed to hold fewer people. When a prison holds many more people than it was designed for this impacts more broadly on regimes and the capacity of prisons to rehabilitate through the provision of purposeful activity. If greater overcrowding is accepted as de facto policy then it is important that NOMS is clear about the wider capability of the prison estate to absorb more prisoners when they are building new facilities, expanding existing ones, and determining an individual prison's decent and safe level of capacity. Current measures of overcrowding do not facilitate this, so we recommend that NOMS should design a broader measure which better reflects the reality of prison conditions.

Catering for different populations

Prison sizes

32. As a result of the Government's plans for building new large-scale prisons, opening new houseblocks within the perimeters of existing prisons, and closing smaller ones, there has been a significant drift towards larger penal institutions. The number of such prisons has nearly trebled in the past decade. The existing strategy for estate modernisation will result in almost half of people in prison in England and Wales being held in prisons holding over 1,000.[68]

33. There was some disagreement among our witnesses on the relationship between the size of prisons and their effectiveness. Kevin Lockyer, formerly of NOMS, believed that the key determinant of the decency, safety and effectiveness of a prison was not its size, but its age, and pointed to the effectiveness of large multi-purpose prisons.[69] On the other hand, Professor Jewkes of the University of Leicester, the Howard League for Penal Reform (the Howard League) and the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) argued that there was a growing body of academic research that found that 'old' did not necessarily mean 'bad', and that prisons worked more effectively to rehabilitate prisoners when small in size, located within close proximity to prisoners' home communities, and built with principles of normality and humanisation in mind.[70] This is the philosophy adopted in Denmark, which we observed when we were there. Dr Kimmett Edgar of PRT gave us his reading of the evidence:

    I appreciate that there is a position from the Treasury and a position from a prison management point of view. I did a little digging prior to coming here, looking at inspection reports and prisoner surveys. If we take five large, new prisons and five small prisons, in almost everything that matters it is very obvious that prisoners are worse off in large prisons. On safety, something like 22%—I can give you the exact figures—felt unsafe compared with 15% in smaller prisons. In terms of knowing who to approach for help with accommodation and employment, again smaller prisons were clearly providing a better experience for prisoners.[71]

Andrew Neilson, the Howard League's Director of Campaigns, outlined why it might be difficult to find reliable evidence about the effects of prison size:

    …we have not built any small prisons recently in this country; therefore any comparison you are making is not just about large versus small but large and brand spanking new versus small, old and deteriorating Victorian estate. That is not a fair comparison.[72]

    The Howard League believed that there might be a false economy from lower costs per prisoner in larger establishments as a result of losses incurred in the medium to long-term due to poorer outcomes for prisoners.[73]


34. Professor Jewkes, among others, believed that the growth in the size of prison establishments was reducing the extent to which the prison system recognised and catered for the diverse needs of the prison population.[74] The apparent trend towards less diverse prison provision may have been influenced by recent Government policies which have included the replacement of young offender institutions, secure training centres and secure children's homes with secure colleges, the planned closure of open prisons and reduction in mother and baby units for women, and the proposed abolition of specialist institutions for young adults.[75] A number of smaller specialised prisons have closed, for example, HMP Shepton Mallet, which held sex offenders, and HMP Canterbury, which held foreign national prisoners.[76]

Young offenders under 18

35. The question of the ability of large scale establishments to cater for a range of prisoners has been a particular feature of the debate about the Government's proposals to build secure colleges for 320 12-to-17 year old boys and girls. In the existing youth custodial estate, in which fewer than 1,000 children are held, young offender institutions are for 15-to-17 year olds and secure training centres for under 15s. The Standing Committee on Youth Justice (SCYJ) did not believe that the Government's proposition to build secure colleges began with an assessment of what constituted the best outcomes for children who have to be kept in a secure place; they, along with the Secure Accommodation Network and Children's Rights Alliance, believed that the quality of care was of utmost importance and warned that economies of scale should not apply to ensuring children's best interests.[77] In our 2013 Youth Justice Report we recommended that young offenders should be sentenced to small custodial units that are close to home, have a high staff to offender ratio, and are safer and more humane than other forms of custodial provision for young people.[78] Legislative provision enabling the Government to pilot a secure college is contained in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, which received Royal Assent on 12 February 2015. We stand by the view expressed in our report on Youth Justice that small custodial units are safer and more humane for children and young people. Notwithstanding the potential educational benefits of secure colleges, we question why the Ministry of Justice sees it necessary to dedicate scarce funding to develop such a large-scale establishment, when the number of children requiring secure accommodation is shrinking rapidly.

Young adults

36. The Government proposes to bring into force provisions in the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 to repeal the sentence of detention in a young offender institution, which currently ensures that young adults are held in specialist provision. This change has been postponed pending the independent review of deaths of young adults in custody led by Lord Harris of Haringey due to report in spring 2015.[79] The proposal reflects concerns that when large numbers of people in this age group are held together, they can become so volatile it becomes difficult for staff to manage them. On the other hand, the Youth Justice Board and the Transition to Adulthood Alliance believed a distinct approach was required for young adults because of their particular needs, the transition from contact with social services, children's services and the youth justice system, and their especially high risk of self-harm and suicide.[80] The Transition to Adulthood Alliance wished to see more research on the implications of this well-recognised problem.[81] Mr Spurr acknowledged that young adults as a group were particularly challenging, but argued that the matter was complex; ending the sentence of detention in a young offender institution for young adults did not necessarily imply that there would no longer be dedicated provision.[82] NOMS is developing a tool to assess maturity and is evaluating which of the existing mixture of arrangements is the best approach; this will be considered alongside the recommendations of Lord Harris' review.[83] Joyce Moseley OBE, Chair of the Transition to Adulthood Alliance, believed that it was necessary to look more broadly at policy for this group, for example by applying the practices that have been used by the Youth Justice Board with under 18s.[84] There is some evidence about the difficulty the prison system has had in providing appropriately for young adult prisoners, and there is no definitive answer about the best forms of establishment to meet their particular needs. It is clear to us that there is a need for NOMS to ensure that there is dedicated responsibility for this group both at an institutional and national level. This is an issue that could be further explored by the Justice Select Committee in the next Parliament.


37. We considered in detail the suitability of the custodial estate for women in our report on Women Offenders, and concluded that Baroness Corston's recommendation for the creation of small custodial units for women, which has never been implemented, remained valid. Following a review, the Government elected instead to create strategic hubs to provide better geographically distributed prison places, and to pilot small open units—the first two of which have recently opened—pending the decision to close existing capacity for females in open prisons.

38. The estate modernisation policy of closing of old inefficient prisons and replacing them with new more cost-effective ones is a good one in principle. We recognise in particular that some prisons have been operating, and some continue to operate, with decrepit buildings that hinder effective rehabilitation; and we note that redesign and re-configuration provide the opportunity for new technologies and their resulting efficiencies to be embedded in the infrastructure of the prison estate. It is unfortunate that to date the resources for capital investment in new technologies in public sector prisons have not been found while private sector prisons have given priority to investment in new technology. We recommend that the Ministry carry out a cost-benefit analysis of implementation of in-cell technology across the public sector prison estate.

39. A policy of replacing older establishments with newer ones is resulting in the creation of large, multi-purpose prisons, while questions arising from available evidence on the relationship between the size and effectiveness of institutions do not appear to have been addressed by the Government. The success of the Government's policy also depends crucially on the ability of NOMS to predict demand for places with sufficient accuracy, and to provide places accordingly. The time taken to build new prisons, and their associated costs, means that it can take several decades to yield savings. In addition, these savings are dependent on the consequent closure of older and more expensive places, which might not be possible if future demand tends towards the upper end of what are inevitably imperfect projections. We welcome the fact that the cost to the public purse of a prison place has fallen to some extent, but it remains high and it is unlikely to fall significantly while the population continues to rise.

40. A key question is whether making savings in the prison estate inevitably results in a one-size-fits-all approach to prisons policy. Our evidence suggests there is a definite risk of this following recent decisions on custodial provision for children, young adults and women in prison. We consider that the custodial estate needs to be designed so that it meets the different needs of different sectors of the prison population. Reconfiguring the estate could provide an important opportunity to reconsider the best forms of custodial provision for key cohorts of prisoners, for example, through smaller, more geographically dispersed, units for both females and children. Instead, decisions have been taken to retain the recent emphasis on a smaller number of large establishments.

41. It also appears to us that there are some consequences of modernisation that have not been planned for properly. When prisons are going through transition, whether that takes the form of opening, changing purpose, merging, or becoming managed by another sector, levels of performance are typically affected, at least in the short-term. There may well be unanticipated and unquantified costs of reconfiguring the prison estate in this manner. If the pressure to expand capacity continues, so too will the need for ongoing adaptations of the estate, with the risk that some establishments may be in a constant state of flux.

Future-proofing and the risk of over-securitisation

42. Mr Selous gave us several examples of prisons that were changing their purpose, or being "re-roled", as the Ministry has implemented its reconfiguration of the estate.[85] In order to maintain maximum flexibility in the use to which prisons subsequently can be put, the Ministry has adopted a policy of "future-proofing" prisons when they are built. Professor Yvonne Jewkes, who has conducted research on prison architecture and design, described this as follows:

    Prisons are built to a one-size-fits-all model, which is category B standard—in layperson's terms, high security. Part of the reason for that, officially, is future-proofing, so that, if at some point in the future an institution has to take higher security prisoners than currently, it avoids the need for expensive retrofitting of security paraphernalia. Part of it, apparently, is familiarity, so that prisoners and prison staff moving across the system are familiar with any prison they go to.[86]

She believed that this practice was "dangerous", explaining that "[a]ccommodating medium security prisoners in high security conditions reinforces negative labels and notions of criminality, and very often elicits the very behaviour that it is seeking to avoid. Over-securitising prisoners is not conducive to rehabilitation."[87] The Ministry noted that it had been building its perimeter fences to standardised security levels, but acknowledged that security must be proportionate to risk:

    Applying unnecessary security is costly, a disproportionate use of staff time and can inhibit, rather than enable, prisoner access to rehabilitative interventions and activities. Similarly, failure to properly apply appropriate security measures risks prisoner escape, harm to others and erodes public confidence in the ability of NOMS to keep prisoners in safe and secure custody.[88]

43. We asked other witnesses for evidence on the extent of "over-securitisation" and any impacts it had. Simon Cartwright, the Governor of HMP Belmarsh, which has the infrastructure of a high security prison and accommodates both Category A and lower category prisoners, was of the view that a regime and culture could be instilled in such prisons to meet the resettlement needs of a mix of prisoners.[89] On the other hand, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons said that strict security measures, such as strip searching when entering a prison, could be counter-productive if applied in a blanket way.[90] The configuration of the women's estate in particular—which has limited scope for holding women of different security categories in different conditions—means that most are subject to unnecessarily stringent security.[91] We heard also that measures to improve security that were implemented almost fifty years ago in response to a series of high profile escapes remained in place and had not recently been reviewed.[92]


44. John Podmore, a criminal justice consultant, made the case for greater use to be made of open prisons, a policy which we observed in operation in Denmark.[93] There, any restriction placed on prisoners must be defensible, with the result that there is the largest possible degree of openness in terms of the security of prison establishments. We saw open prisons with closed units within them, rather than vice versa. The Government plans to replace open prisons for women in England and Wales with open units in closed prisons, for example. Danish prisons also operate on a 'normalisation' principle—which entails regimes approximating as much as possible life outside the prison—with an expectation that prisoners spend time with their families at weekends.

45. It may be prudent to build prisons to standard specifications to minimise the need for rebuilding them should they change purpose, but this can lead to prisoners being held in accommodation or conditions that are disproportionate to the risk that they pose, which is not conducive to rehabilitation. The approach to security in prisons which we saw in Denmark assumes that the use of open prisons should be the default, with restrictions minimised as much as possible. This is essentially the opposite of the approach taken in England and Wales, and we believe there is merit in the Danish approach. The profile of the prison population is changing, including becoming older, and in some respects more challenging. In this context, we recommend that the Government review the way prisoners of different security categorisations are accommodated to ensure that it remains appropriate and proportionate to the risks presented by 21st century prisoners.

Working prisons, resettlement prisons and the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms

Working prisons

46. Under its working prisons policy the Government's stated aim is to get prisoners working up to 40 hours a week in a daily routine focused around work and linking work activity with qualifications and employment opportunities. NOMS has established One3One Solutions to promote the services of prisoners and generate work. We heard evidence that it can work very effectively.[94] James Timpson OBE, chief executive of shoe repair business Timpsons, told us of his success in developing training academies and recruiting prisoners to the extent that 10% of his staff are now known ex-offenders.[95] Mr Timpson also chairs the Employers Forum for Reducing Reoffending (EFRR), another part of NOMS' effort to engage with employers to recruit offenders, and to do so more frequently. We also saw examples for ourselves: at HMP Belmarsh, we saw a printer cartridge refurbishment workshop which had recently opened and was being extended, and at HMP Oakwood we were shown a busy call centre in operation.[96] Employers on the EFRR have employed over 1500 people in the last three years[97]; this initiative relies on supportive governors as much as willing employers.[98]

47. The majority of our witnesses were of the view that the working prisons initiative had stalled, if not failed.[99] We encountered a very mixed picture of provision, which remains available only to a relatively small number of prisoners. Carole Homan, Chair of HMP Belmarsh's Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), questioned whether much of the work could be classed as productive.[100] The Prison Reform Trust calculated that if the Ministry was successful in doubling the number of prisoners working in industrial workshops, this would still mean fewer than 25 percent of prisoners would be employed in this way.[101]

48. The observations of our witnesses could be attributed in part to difficulties in developing regimes that allow prison work to be commercially viable. The regime which was put into operation at HMP Isis following staff shortages almost "immediately halved" the time of purposeful activity available to offenders, with 40 per cent of them locked up in their house blocks each working day.[102] In some cases where capital investment had been made to improve infrastructure, industrial workshops lay idle. For example, at HMP Wormwood Scrubs a £1.3 million laundry was unable to operate due to staff shortages.[103] Governors we took evidence from, including the Prison Governors' Association's representative Stephen O'Connell, generally interpreted the working prisons initiative narrowly, applying it to those establishments that are dedicated working prisons.[104] Even in these prisons the situation appears to have deteriorated: there are insufficient staff in two out of the three of them to operate to the level required to facilitate a working week.[105] Other limiting factors include the transient nature of the prison population in local prisons and the physical capacity to house large workshops.[106] In the prison at Tegel, near Berlin, we saw that it was possible for prisoners to work in a wide range of professions in a large-scale institution, housing predominantly long-term prisoners. This was similar to the approach we observed at HMP Featherstone, though there it was on a smaller scale.

49. Between 2010-11 and 2013-14, there was a 15 per cent increase in the number of prisoners working in industrial activity; and a 33 per cent increase in the total number of hours worked.[107] Nevertheless, 14.2 million hours equates to only a few hours per week per prisoner. Mr Selous confirmed that he remained committed to increasing work in prisons.[108] Mr Spurr acknowledged that there had been a shortage of work available for prisoners, but explained that NOMS had sought to develop regimes which maximised the number of people in activity, despite staff shortages, as this helped to maintain stability.[109]


50. One of the Government's objectives is for prison work to be better integrated with education and training. Offender Learning and Skills Services (OLASS) are co-commissioned by the Skills Funding Agency (which is sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) and NOMS. Research carried out by the Prisoner Learning Alliance during summer 2013—including three expert roundtable events with over 50 practitioners, governors, prison officers, voluntary sector organisations and learners—indicated that this is not always being achieved and that opportunities to embed functional skills or industry-recognised qualifications within prison workshops were being missed.[110] To some extent this is unavoidable. For example, if work is low-skilled there is little room for educational engagement.[111] On the other hand, Rod Clark of the Prisoners' Education Trust, representing the Alliance, believed a broader approach to embedded learning could be adopted across a range of purposeful activities, including the use of gyms.[112] In addition, other policies, including the level of prisoners' pay, which incentivises prisoners to undertake work as opposed to education and training, the Victim Surcharge, and the introduction of Advanced Learning Loans for higher level training could all act to discourage prisoners from undertaking learning.[113]

51. The Government's working prisons policy is a worthy aim and prison industries are becoming more common. Nevertheless, it remains the case that most prisons do not have the facilities for workshops on a scale that would enable the majority of prisoners to do work which will equip them for employment on release. Where there are such facilities, the aims of involving employers on a commercial basis and normalising a working week for prisoners are not achievable without sufficient staff to enable prisoners to be unlocked for a full working day. This appears to be much easier to achieve in prisons dedicated to that purpose.

52. The current commissioning arrangements for prison work and learning and skills do not appear to support the integration of these two vital aspects of rehabilitation. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills take steps to ensure that the next round of commissioning for learning and skills in prisons prioritises arrangements for embedding learning in the various forms of purposeful activity in which prisoners are engaged. In the shorter term, we recommend that the Government should review the combined impact of the various policies—the differential in remuneration when prisoners are in employment, the Victim Surcharge and Advanced Learning Loans—so as to ensure that they do not disincentivise prisoners from developing their learning and skills, and hence future employability.


53. Another Government priority is the creation of a network of resettlement prisons where prisoners can receive support "through-the-gate" in preparation for their return to the community. The Howard League questioned whether working prisons and resettlement prisons were compatible, observing that:

    For institutions to be working prisons, they require a fairly stable population of prisoners serving medium to long sentences who are able to work. Furthermore, a working prison must adapt its entire regime to suit a full working week, which includes ensuring all prisoners can be escorted to and from work and not interrupting the working day with roll checks, leisure activities and various appointments. If prisons are changed into resettlement prisons […] this will result in a large number of specialised prisons holding a significant number of short-sentenced prisoners for the first time and will greatly increase the 'churn' rate in these prisons. Such a change places significant obstacles in the way of achieving a full working week and attracting private companies to invest in prison work.[114]

Nick Hardwick explained that resettlement prisons would operate a split regime with half a day of activity and half a day of resettlement; we note this is unlikely to be conducive to operating the normal working day as envisaged by the Howard League.[115] We visited HMP Featherstone in February 2014 and were impressed by the workshops we saw in operation. At that time the senior management team were unclear about how the prison's training status would fit with its designation also as a resettlement prison.


54. We heard two particular observations about the creation of resettlement prisons. Some questioned whether there was sufficient capacity in the prison estate to achieve the objective of moving prisoners to their 'home' prison three months prior to their release, and concerns were also raised the potential impact on the large majority of prisoners serving medium to long-term sentences.[116]

55. In relation to capacity, two issues were raised with us: 'headroom' and staffing. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Prison Reform Trust questioned whether, while prisons were operating so close to capacity, there was sufficient headroom in the system to enable the movements required to bring prisoners close to home as they prepared for release.[117] According to the PRT, existing policies on 'closeness to home' and 'local discharge' could not be facilitated because of existing population pressures.[118] Thomas Bailey, Prison Officers' Association representative at HMP Isis, felt there were not sufficient staff to deliver effective resettlement prisons at present.[119] In some case staffing problems in offender management teams have resulted in backlogs in the risk assessment system (known as OASys), to the extent that some prisoners are being released without them.[120]

56. On the other hand, Michael Spurr was confident that the majority of prisoners, even in a situation with population pressure, would be held in the right prisons. He drew our attention to clear contractual arrangements in the event that people are not held in their 'home' prison: the appropriate Community Rehabilitation Company was required to provide a basic resettlement service to every prisoner in each prison; and there was a 'rate charge' so that the home CRC could request additional rehabilitative work, such as drug treatment, to be done by the prison in which they are held.[121] In relation to staffing, he felt this was a matter for CRCs.[122]

57. We heard also that the time prisoners spent leading up to their final three months was just as important as immediate preparation for release.[123] The Prison Reform Trust believed that prisons holding predominantly sex offenders, for example, were already under-resourced.[124] The Howard League suggested that it would be difficult to reverse the impact if prisoners had spent "a year or more locked up in an overcrowded, violent environment with nothing to do."[125] We heard also of a practical concern related to the potential impact on levels of violence in prisons of the re-igniting of relationships between gang members being brought back to their local prison to prepare for release.[126]

58. In previous Reports we have commended the Government's creation of a nationwide network of resettlement prisons. It should not, however, confuse the priorities of multiple purpose establishments, and dilute the priority accorded to resettlement needs elsewhere in the estate. This initiative to improve provision in the last three months of a sentence should not come at the expense of rehabilitative support for the majority of prisoners who are serving medium to long-term sentences. If time in non-resettlement prisons has been used productively, prisoners will be in a better position to prepare for resettlement. We recommend that NOMS develops measures of performance to ensure that the quality of rehabilitative provision for prisoners who are not in the final three months of their sentence is maintained, and publishes them regularly.

59. There are also some immediate issues which must be rectified as a matter of priority if support for offenders in moving from custody into the community is to work to best effect. These include as a matter of urgency resolving staffing shortages and clearing the backlog of risk assessments. Both issues are likely to hamper considerably the efforts of the new providers of Community Rehabilitation Companies as they seek to implement their through-the-gate services. There is a risk that such services could be rendered inoperable as a result of failures in the system that are the responsibility of NOMS. We ask the Ministry to clarity in its response to this Report whether it has any financial obligations towards Community Rehabilitation Companies in the event that they are unable to operate effectively because of failures in the system that are beyond their control.

15   Q 11; Justice Committee, The work of the Secretary of State, Session 2012-2013, HC 741-i. He said Oakwood, the newest prison, costs about £14,000 per year per place; some of the older prisons are nearer £40,000. Back

16   Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Managing the Prison Estate, HC 735, Session 2013-14, 12 December 2013. According to the NAO, since the 2010 Spending Review, NOMS closed 16 prisons in three tranches, subsequently receiving savings of some £104 million annually. In September 2013, it announced a further four closures, at HMPs Blundeston, Dorchester, Northallerton and Reading, and the reclassification of HMP The Verne as an immigration removal centre; it also proposed closing HMP Dartmoor. In 2012, two new prisons were opened: HMP Thameside, in London, and HMP Oakwood, near Wolverhampton.  Back

17   IbidBack

18   Private sector prison staff. Back

19   PPP45 [G4S] Back

20   PPP15 [Serco] Back

21   Q 383 Back

22   Q 391 [Mr Spurr] Back

23   PPP33 [Ministry of Justice] Back

24   Q 67  Back

25   IbidBack

26   PPP05 [Mission And Public Affairs Council, Church of England]; PPP13 [Prison Officers Association]; PPP14 [Children's Rights Alliance For England ]; PPP15 [Serco]; PPP17 [British Psychological Society] Back

27   See paragraph 12 above. Back

28   Q 389 Mr Spurr ;Q 379 Mr Andrew Selous  Back

29   Q 309 [Mr Spurr] Back

30   Q 379 [Mr Selous] Back

31   PPP33 [Ministry of Justice]  Back

32   Q 301; Q 379 [Mr Selous] Glen Parva, Hindley and Feltham will provide adult male capacity from spring 2015.  Back

33   PPP26 [Standing Committee for Youth Justice]; Q 305 [Ms Gibbs] Back

34   Q 301 [Ms Hinnigan] Back

35   Q 306 [Ms Gibbs]; PPP57 Standing Committee for Youth Justice. Between April and September 2014, the youth custodial population has fallen 5% and the use of secure children's homes has declined by 29% Back

36   PPP55 [Youth Justice Board] Back

37   National Audit Office, Managing the prison estate, December 2013 Back

38   HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Thameside 14-17 January, May 2013; HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Oakwood 10-21 June 2013, March 2013; HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Report on an announced inspection of HMP Oakwood 1-5 December 2014, February 2015  Back

39   Q 395, Justice Committee, Twelfth Report of session 2013-2014, Crime reduction policies: a coordinated approach,
HC 1004; Qq 177-180 [Grahame Hawkings; Simon Cartwright; John Biggin]; Q 338 [Jerry Petherick; Mike Conway; James Thorburn]; PPP50 [Dr Geoffrey Penzer]  

40   Ibid; Q 188 [Mr Hawkings]  Back

41   Q 78 Back

42   Q 339  Back

43   Q 180 [Mr Biggin]; Q 345 [Mr Thorburn]; PPP50 [Dr Penzer Back

44   Q 227 [Steve Gillan]; PPP24 [HMIP]; PPP50 [Dr Penzer] Back

45   Q 227 [Mr Gillan]; Q 253 [Mr Pinchin]; PPP54 [Carole Homan];  Back

46   PPP54 [Independent Monitoring Board, HMP Belmarsh]; Q 207 [Mr Bailey]; see also Q 343 [Mr Thorburn]; Q 345 [Mr Petherick] Back

47   Q 335 [Mr Conway]. Q 341 [Mr Petherick] Back

48   Q 11, HC [Session 2012-13] 741-i Back

49   Ministry of Justice, Cost per place and cost per prisoner 2013-14 summary, 28 October 2014 Back

50   PPP24 [HMIP]; Ministry of Justice Monthly Population Bulletin October 2014; Ministry of Justice Monthly Population Bulletin October 2013; Ministry of Justice Monthly Population Bulletin October 2012; Ministry of Justice; Monthly Population Bulletin October 2011; Ministry of Justice, Monthly Population Bulletin October 2010. Back

51   Ministry of Justice Monthly Population Bulletin March 2014, London: Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Justice Monthly Population Bulletin December 2014. London: Ministry of Justice.  Back

52   HC Deb 21 July 2014: C823W  Back

53   Q 112 [Mr Hardwick]; Q 377 [Mr Selous] Back

54   BBC News, Prisons inspector accuses ministers of prisons 'failure', 14 June 2014 Back

55   Q 378 Back

56   National Audit Office, Managing the prison estate, page 26. Based on building 6,000 new places at an average capital cost for a new prison place of £158,000. Back

57   Q 9, Justice Committee, The Work of the Secretary of State, Session 2014-15, HC 312 Back

58   Q 112 Back

59   PPP33 [Ministry of Justice]; PPP34 [Prison Governors' Association]; PPP13 [Prison Officers' Association] Back

60   Q 215; PPP24 [HMIP] Back

61   Q 374 [Mr Spurr]  Back

62   Howard League press notice, Feeding the crime problem: 3 in 4 men's prisons are overcrowded, 2 March 2015 Back

63   Managing the prison estate, p23 Back

64   Qq 217-222 [Mr Bailey; Mr Gillan] Back

65   Q 217 Back

66   Q 378 Back

67   Q 20, Justice Committee, The work of the Secretary for State , Session 2014-15, HC 312 Back

68   PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust] Back

69   Q 78 [Mr Lockyer]; Lockyer, K. (2013) Future Prisons: A Radical Plan to Reform the Prison Estate, Policy Exchange. Back

70   Q 73; PPP12 [Prisons Reform Trust] Back

71   See also PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust] Back

72   Q 98 Back

73   PPP06 [Howard League] Back

74   Q 73; see also PPP06 [Howard League] Back

75   PPP23 [Women in Prison] Back

76   PPP20 [Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence] Back

77   Q 314 [Ms Gibbs]; See also PPP02 [Secure Accommodation Network]; PPP14 [Children's Rights Alliance] Back

78   HC [Session 2012-13] 339 Back

79   HC Deb, 6 Feb 2014, col 35WS Back

80   Allen, R. (2014) Young adults in custody: the way forward, Transition to Adulthood Alliance; Youth Justice Board, Transforming Management of Young Adults in Custody, Consultation response from the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. Back

81   IbidBack

82   Q 381  Back

83   Q 381 [Mr Spurr; Mr Selous] Back

84   Q 332  Back

85   Q 311 Back

86   Q 72 Back

87   Q 73 Back

88   PPP33.[Ministry of Justice]; Q 378 [Mr Spurr] Back

89   Q 184. See also Qq 183- 184 [Mr Hawkinge; Mr Biggin]; PPP53 [Ms Homan] Back

90   Q 116 Back

91   PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust]; PPP23 [Women in Prison] Back

92   Q 71 [Mr Podmore] Back

93   Ibid. Back

94   Q 27 [Ms Harriott]; Q 90 [Mr Podmore]; Q 196 [Mr Cartwright]; Q 362 [Mr Timpson]; Q 395 [Mr Selous]; PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust]; Q 163 [Dr Mills]  Back

95   Qq 356-360 Back

96   Q 129 [Mr Cartwright] Back

97   PPP58 [National Offender Management Service] Back

98   Qq 364-365 [Mr Timpson] Back

99   Q 125 [Mr Hardwick]; PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust]; PPP13 [Prison Officers' Association]; PPP06 [Howard League]; PPP24 [HM Inspectorate of Prisons] Back

100   Q 252 Back

101   PPP12 [Prisons Reform Trust] Back

102   Q 242 [Mr Pinchin] Back

103   Q 27. Michael Spurr admitted that it had not been possible to secure a commercial contract; the problems with staffing had been short-term and are now resolved PPP0058 [National Offender Management Service] Back

104   Q 121 Back

105   Ibid. Back

106   PPP58 [National Offender Management Service] Back

107   IbidBack

108   Q 395 Back

109   Q 394 Back

110   PPP09. [Prisoner Learning Alliance]. The Prisoners' Education Trust has established the Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA) who meet on a quarterly basis: 'To bring together diverse non-statutory stakeholders with senior cross-departmental officials, to provide expertise and strategic vision to inform future priorities, policies and practices relating to prison education, learning and skills'.  Back

111   Q 162 [Mr Clark] Back

112   Q 163 Back

113   PPP09 [Prisoner Learning Alliance]; PPP18 [A4e Ltd]  Back

114   PPP06 [Howard League for Penal Reform] Back

115   Q 125; see also Q 196 [Mr Cartwright] Back

116   PPP45 [G4S]; PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust]; PPP06 [Howard League for Penal Reform]  Back

117   Q 122 [Mr Hardwick]; PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust] Back

118   PPP12 [Prisons Reform Trust] Back

119   Qq 230-234 [Mr Bailey] Back

120   Q 188 [Nick Hardwick]; Q203 [Mr Hawkings]; PPP13 [Prison Officers' Association] Back

121   Q 22 HC [Session 2014-15] 848 Back

122   Q 393 [Mr Spurr]  Back

123   PPP09 [Prisoner Learning Alliance] Back

124   PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust] Back

125   PPP06 [Howard League for Penal Reform] Back

126   Q 253 [Mr Pinchin] Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 18 March 2015