10.As we noted in the introduction, the Ministry’s strategy for managing the prison population and project growth has changed course during our inquiry. This chapter sets out the Ministry’s current approach and considers the financial sustainability of the prison population at its current size.
11.On 18 February 2019, the Secretary of State for Justice, Rt Hon David Gauke MP, set out his vision for a new approach to sentencing and the use of imprisonment, which appeared to recognise the question of the sustainability of the prison population, whilst not explicitly mentioning the scarcity of resources. He made reference to:
12.In June 2018, the Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart MP, told us that he saw two solutions to managing the prison population: predicting the future prison population and providing prison places or looking at the drivers of that population and trying to influence them. He believed the latter would be a significant challenge. In our final evidence session in December, he acknowledged that, while he had succeeded in securing “hundreds of millions” of extra resources from the Treasury for prison building and security measures, in order to overcome overcrowding it would be necessary to do that “every year for about the next 20 years”. He acknowledged that this meant it was necessary to have “serious conversations about sentencing”, restore the faith of the judiciary in community sentences, and encourage them to use community sentences more when appropriate. He explained to us that in the short-term his focus was on prison safety and decency, in the medium term it was on rehabilitation and in the longer-term on a reduction in the prison population. In relation to long-term planning, the Ministry of Justice has embarked on a horizon scanning project, Justice 2030, to identify the main trends that could impact the justice system and what they might mean for citizens, the state, the Government and the department, and how they might respond to them under a ten-year strategy.
13.In the Ministry’s Single Departmental Plan, published in May 2018, the Secretary of State for Justice set out a narrower set of priorities for 2018/19, three of which have direct relevance to our inquiry:
He restated the objective, set out in the previous Plan, for the Ministry to provide prison and probation services that reform offenders. In the remainder of this chapter we set out the detail of the Ministry’s overall approach.
14.Existing strategy is framed largely around the November 2016 White Paper Prison Safety and Reform. This set out what the Ministry described in its written evidence to us as an ambitious agenda to modernise the prison estate, improve education and empower prison governors, to help tackle violence, reduce reoffending and keep staff and prisoners safe. Our predecessor Committee examined some of these plans in its reports Prison Reform: Governor empowerment and prison performance and Prison Reform: Part 1 of the Prisons and Courts Reform Bill. The latter had been intended to be the centrepiece of the then Government’s legislative ambitions, which were constrained to some extent by the fall of the Bill at the 2017 general election. We were told by the Ministry of Justice in December 2017 that it was developing an update to the White Paper, along with an action plan. This has not been published.
15.There have been four Secretaries of State for Justice in the last three years. Several of our witnesses expressed concern that in that time prisons policy has been characterised by piecemeal announcements and delays. The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) described the Government’s approach to prison reform between February 2016 and December 2017 as comprising “a multitude of ambitious policy announcements and a plethora of promised reviews and consultations on how to achieve them.” While PRT welcomed a consultative approach, they suggested that the pace at which action is taken after a review is completed “might be said to lag behind the alacrity with which reviews are set up in the first place”. One clear example of the impact of changes in leadership is that the Ministry of Justice consulted on a female offender strategy in early 2017. We were subsequently told on several occasions that such a strategy was ‘forthcoming’ and it was eventually published in June 2018. Similarly, plans to devolve the commissioning of education provision to governors slipped from April 2017 to April 2019. We discuss these strategies further later in this chapter.
16.The relative funding commitments towards different activities to improve safety and reform have also shifted over time. The extent to which some policies remain priorities for the Ministry of Justice is unclear. For example, the plan to empower prison governors by devolving funding to deliver key strategies and refreshing leadership training launched in November 2016 and the data-driven approach launched in June 2016. On the other hand, each change has created fresh impetus for reform, and under the current administration the intensity of effort in the last twelve months has notably increased.
17.Another of the Ministry’s aspirations is to become a data-driven department as part of its plan for the department to become smaller, simpler and smarter. Richard Heaton wished to see data and evidence as the “engine for reforms to prisons”. He envisaged that this meant, for example, unblocking data flows in the justice system; bringing a ‘what works’ approach to the whole system, to generate scale, enhance existing activity, fill gaps, and allow more decisions to be better informed; and the use of predictive analytics to find better ways of delivering services, and of shaping policy advice. These aspirations are less prominent in the 2018/19 departmental plan; an objective to “provide high quality analytical services to enable data driven policy and operational decision making” has replaced the previous objective to “put evidence at the heart of the justice system, opening up our data, analysis and research, and improving our information management”.
18.In the White Paper, the previous Government indicated that a new resource could be established to support the use of evidence on interventions to reduce reoffending, including by synthesising evidence and building the evidence base through trials of new approaches. In May 2018, the Ministry published Areas of Research Interest which referred to working “in partnership to strengthen our strategic evidence base” and contributing to “filling knowledge gaps”. In relation to prison and probation services, this acknowledged that the criminal justice system is complex and expensive system to run and identified that research evidence on how best to reduce reoffending tends to be high level. Although Rory Stewart told us that the Ministry commissions a lot of economic analysis, the Department identified that there is a lack of evidence on the costs and benefits of interventions—and on which part of the system the costs and benefits fall—and need for a more in-depth understanding of what works with whom, and how. Nevertheless, the Ministry did not explain specifically how it would address this and it was not accompanied by a dedicated funding commitment to further research.
19.We noted during our inquiry that the Ministry has published evidence on prison violence, for example, and has launched, in collaboration with other Government departments, pilots on homelessness, and drug and alcohol treatment for people on community sentences. We consider these in more detail later in our report.
20.The Ministry has adopted a ‘back to basics’ approach, announced by the Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart MP, when he appeared before us to discuss the poor performance of HMP Liverpool, having been in the job for two weeks. He considered that society should look after prisoners:
We should be deeply ashamed as a society if people are living in filthy, rat-infested conditions with smashed-up windows, with high rates of suicide and violence [ … ] We are tough and we are clear on prisoners: if you commit an offence, your punishment is to go to prison. But we do not torture people in prisons through unsanitary conditions, and we must never allow that to happen.
21.As an example, he referred to broken windows as being important as they can also create “a general morale problem for prison officers”. He explained that his philosophy applied to “the whole system and culture” as well as the minimum standards acceptable. When he appeared before us again six months later, the Minister reiterated the importance of safety and decency but emphasised that this was not at the expense of rehabilitation. He explained:
The key is that it is not an either/or; it is an and [ … ] I assure you that [HMPPS] are also doing an enormous amount. They are pushing ahead with an education and employment strategy. They are pushing ahead with a new approach to rehabilitation. They are designing new NHS partnership contracts that the governors are central to, all of which is about rehabilitation. Finally, they are bringing probation officers into prison to work with long-term prisoners in order to address questions of reoffending.
We consider the question of decent and modern prisons in the next chapter.
22.The Ministry is targeting £40m at selected prisons to develop a coordinated approach to improve safety, security and decency. The ‘10 Prisons Project’ focuses on improving living conditions, preventing drugs from entering the premises, and enhancing the leadership and training available to governors and their staff. On announcing the project in August 2018, the Prisons Minister pledged to resign in a year if violence and drug misuse had not improved in those establishments. He considered that he would be successful if there had been a 10 to 25% reduction in assaults. The intention is for the approach to be replicated in other prisons should it prove successful. Michael Spurr explained:
I hope we can demonstrate through additional staff, discrete searching teams and so on, that we can get on top of drugs, alongside investment in treatment—some of the stuff the Government are looking to do to tackle mental health and drug use in wider society.
23.Successive Secretaries of State for Justice have adopted similar targeted approaches albeit with significantly less investment. For example, Rt Hon Michael Gove targeted £12.9m at 69 prisons, with enhanced funding for three of them, following our predecessor’s 2016 damning report on Prison Safety which documented a rapidly worsening decline in standards. Rt Hon Liz Truss increased staff in 10 prisons. Rt Hon David Lidington sought to bolster leadership, training and audit in the 26 most difficult prisons.
24.A key part of the Prison Safety and Reform agenda has been the creation of a series of strategies designed to reform prisons and arrangements for prisoners’ release. Rachel Tuffin of the What Works Centre for Crime Reduction highlighted that the research evidence on what needs to be in place to reduce reoffending relates to preparation for leaving prison, particularly in relation to education, employment and accommodation.
25.Those released from prison are much less likely to continue committing crime if they have a job or have participated in education. Yet only 17% of ex-offenders are in PAYE work (i.e. paying income tax and national insurance as an employee) a year after coming out of prison and only half of employers say they would even consider employing an ex-offender. The Education and Employment Strategy, published in May 2018, aims to “put offenders on a path to employment as soon as they step foot in prison.” This included the following plans:
26.Research shows that prisoners who receive visits from family members are 39% less likely to reoffend. The devolution of family services budgets to facilitate the implementation of the recommendations of Lord Farmer’s review on prisoners’ family ties took place in October 2017. Lord Farmer concluded that maintaining or re-establishing family ties should be placed at the heart of prison reform as a key element of a rehabilitative culture.He made recommendations to the Ministry of Justice, HMPPS, and governors on how to achieve this. These were adopted by the Ministry in its implementation plan published in August 2018, although it acknowledged that some recommendations required ‘longer-term, structural reforms’. Lord Farmer has been commissioned to conduct a similar review on family ties for female prisoners.
27.The female offender strategy, published in June 2018, is a broader strategy which set out the Ministry’s vision that where appropriate, women should be given the support they need to address their offending behaviour in community settings and that custody should be used as a last resort. The Ministry’s aspiration is that by taking a “gender-informed approach”, outcomes will improve for female offenders. This comprises:
28.The strategy was accompanied by a cross-Government commitment to invest £5 million in community provision for female offenders, including a £3.5 million fund for 2018–19 and 2019–20, £2 million of which is for female offenders who have experienced domestic abuse. The remaining £1.5 million is capital funding in 2018–19, to support the development of community-based residential support. We consider this strategy in more detail in chapter 5.
29.We encountered concerns over the course of our inquiry regarding the clarity of the Government’s overall strategy since the fall of the Prisons and Courts Bill, which would have enshrined into law that a key purpose of prison is to reform and rehabilitate offenders, as well as punish them for the crimes they have committed. The former Prison and Probation Ombudsman believed that the “greater clarity of accountability and purpose” promised by the Bill remained necessary, as did the need to strengthen through legislation the role of scrutiny bodies and the relationship to HMPPS and the Ministry. Anne Fox of Clinks regretted the loss of the statutory purpose for prisons when the Bill fell. Our predecessor Committee had recommended a further purpose of achieving a decent and fair environment for prisoners. The Prisons Minister believes that reform can be achieved without legislation, a conclusion drawn by our predecessor Committee, although it advocated legislating to strengthen the position of the Prison and Probation Ombudsman and National Preventive Mechanism. The Government must legislate in the next Queen’s Speech on the purpose of prisons and to strengthen the statutory foundations of the Prison and Probation Ombudsman and National Preventive Mechanism, as our predecessor Committee recommended in 2017.
30.In relation to each of the specific strategies, we heard concerns about the strength of the approach being taken and the detail of implementation. For example, when we discussed the strategies with Anne Fox of Clinks, she said:
Some of them lack detail on the outcomes they are seeking to achieve, exactly how implementation will happen, at what stage and how it will be measured. There is a woeful lack of resource. I know we do not always like to mention it, but it is important to mention that most of them are underfunded, if funded at all.
31.Dr Paradine of Women in Prison, Juliet Lyon of the Independent Panel on Deaths in Custody, and Jessica Southgate of Agenda called for a clear, timetabled plan, with targets and costings for each element of the Female Offender Strategy. Similar observations were made about other strategies, including the lack of commitment of sufficient resources to achieving the outcomes desired. In relation to the employment and education strategy Mark Fairhurst of the POA said:
… let’s be serious about rehabilitation. Give us the funds, and let’s give prisoners a 30-hour working week, but pay them a half-decent wage. Then, when they are released, they will not have to rely on a £45 release grant or on the state; they will have savings to go out with, and maybe they can put down a deposit on a flat. At least they will be able to get by until they are sorted out. Make them work 30 hours a week or educate them for 30 hours a week. Give them vocational skills that can help them to gain employment on release. But that takes a major investment. People are just playing with words at the moment.
32.Anne Fox called for a wider strategy drawing together the existing plans, and for the existing strategies to have clear implementation targets that would then drive the data; from that should flow information and dissemination of good practice through the operational teams in HMPPS. She cited the implementation of the Farmer Review as an example of a strategic approach that has “flourishes of good practice”, including clear governance (with ‘owners’ in the MOJ and HMPPS, a steering group which includes operational leads, and ongoing contact with Lord Farmer); an implementation plan; and published updates with access to good practice.
33.In the remainder of our report, we set out the detail of the Ministry’s activity on the overarching objectives and assess progress on them in the wider context of the Government’s recently stated approach.
34.The frequent changes in Ministers at the MOJ and the inevitable changes in priorities that follow have hindered the sustained implementation of an overarching strategic approach to prisons policy. A clear dedicated effort will be needed to ensure that the ever-worsening decline in safety, which has now been going on for five-years, is reversed. Reversals in cuts in spending on prisons and investment into staffing, training, infrastructure and guidance will be needed and the Secretary of State for Justice and the Prisons Minister must demonstrate decisive action to achieve this.
35.We also welcome the Ministry of Justice’s efforts to devise strategies that seek to address some of the factors that contribute to reoffending. The philosophy behind each of the individual strategies is welcome, but the current overall approach is largely a collection of operational policies and lacks a coherent means of driving reform, including processes that link plans, data on outcomes, and the evaluation and dissemination of good practice. They are also woefully under-resourced and it is unclear what resources, if any, have been allocated to future planning. There should be an overarching strategy for reoffending and a clear vision for what prisons will look like in the future. The Ministry’s rehabilitative strategies should each be underpinned by clear governance arrangements, action plans, timetables and resources.
36.The Ministry of Justice and HMPPS are increasingly making more transparent and positive use of the evidence base in articulating the rationale for strategic approaches. This is essential if the public are to better understand who is in prison and how best to stop them from committing further crime. The creation of a small number of pilots which will be properly evaluated is welcome. Nevertheless, piloting is only helpful if expansion in programmes which prove successful are followed through and funded. The Ministry should set out in its response to this report how it intends to replicate those pilots which prove effective to the extent necessary to achieve substantial reductions in reoffending.
37.We welcome the courage of the Prisons Minister and Justice Secretary in raising the profile of the financial choices that need to be made and to think “more imaginatively about different and more modern forms of punishment in the community”. Nevertheless, we note that neither have made an explicit commitment to reduce the prison population. Rory Stewart explained:
I am not going to reduce the prison population just to save money. If somebody ought to be in prison, they ought to be in prison and my job is to go to the Treasury and get the money to pay for that prisoner place, to drive up the baseline.
His vision was for there to be “a realistic relationship between the number of people in prison and the amount of money it costs to look after them” including the minimum conditions necessary to look after someone and stop them reoffending. Accordingly, to inform the next Spending Review, he planned to present the Treasury with “very detailed realistic costings on what it actually costs to run a prison at a particular population level.”
38.We have heard compelling evidence for a similar narrative about the realistic costs of community sentences, treatment for drugs or alcohol misuse and mental health, for example, driven by the Reducing Reoffending Group. The Justice Secretary has committed to one aspect of this by indicating his intention for transferring resources from prison to probation. Our evidence shows strongly the need for a broader approach, with several witnesses believing that this was vital to create sustainable change in the prison population. The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and Justice Episteme thought that future spending reviews should make explicit the role of non-justice agencies in reducing crime and quantifying the benefits of different approaches across justice, health and social care in particular.
39.If the Justice Secretary wishes to adopt such an approach it will be necessary to make the case to the Treasury for a gradual shift in resources over a sustained period. In the short-term it is unlikely to be feasible to take resources out of the prison budget; indeed the baseline for prisons spending should increase. While Rory Stewart was content to make the case to the public for going to the Treasury to ask for more money for prisons to reduce reoffending, he was less convinced that it would be possible to do so for more fundamental reform. This will require public and political consent. In relation to this, Dee Anand said:
Let’s face it: it is an area and a topic of great political sensitivity and not a lot of public buy-in. We need to change the conversation and move it away from prisons being places that are full of terrible people who have done terrible things. Of course, they have committed crimes, but prisons are in fact full of very vulnerable people who need support to help them change. We need to change the conversation in strategic and political circles. We need to change the public mindset that comes down from top-level strategic thinking. We need to engage the public a bit more. I would like to see that as part of the policy, and part of the function of this Committee too. The focus can then be made much easier on turning prisons into places of rehabilitation, safety and change rather than purely punitive organisations and institutions that the public can forget about.
40.Such an approach would also require greater depth of analysis than the Ministry currently undertakes. The Ministry identified in its research interests that it does “not always know where we are best to direct limited resources for maximum benefit” and stated:
Offenders serving custodial or community sentences may be offered a range of interventions to address their offending behaviour and other needs. Our understanding of the effectiveness of the options available to achieve just and sustainable outcomes is variable, and where it is stronger the evidence is not always comparable.
41.We heard that such an approach is possible. Rachel Tuffin pointed to interesting examples of other jurisdictions which had undertaken detailed work to apply research to their spending plans for prisons and probation to successfully make the arguments for a change in approach. For example, in the US, the Pew Foundation has encouraged states to look at their budgets and think about where correctional resources are going and then to think about how they could move money around and invest more in wraparound services, to reduce their prison budgets. Previous Justice Committees have made the case for such an approach in their reports Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment and Crime reduction: a co-ordinated approach. Women in Prison proposed that a targeted approach be taken to alter prison population projections in each area with a high use of prison through a plan for community investment.
42.There are numerous inefficiencies and lost opportunities in the system. The Government itself estimates that the cost of reoffending is £15 billion per year and it is therefore disappointing that Chief Inspector of Prisons concluded in his annual report for 2017–18 that the effectiveness of education, skills and work had declined, as had the activity outcomes of prisoners overall. Similarly the upkeep and maintenance of the estate represents a significant cost to the system. The Government has committed to build 10,000 new prison places, but the Ministry was awarded £1.3 billion to invest in the prison estate in the 2015 spending review and that has not been spent, with only one new prison, HMP Berwyn, being completed in the period. The backlog of maintenance across the estate is significant. The Ministry told us that to replace all the windows in HMP Birmingham will cost £6.1 million. It cannot be efficient to continue to spend money maintaining often dilapidated buildings, many of which were built in Victorian times. It is ineffective and inefficient in economic terms and does not represent smart justice.
43.Maintaining a tight grip on finances is a laudable aim, but it is not sustainable if it results in driving down standards of decency and fails to capitalise on opportunities to reduce reoffending. We do not consider that the Government’s existing approach to prison reform is sufficient to resolve major structural deficits to provision to reduce crime. Modernising the prison estate is imperative but ploughing funding into building prisons to accommodate prison projections is not a sustainable approach in the medium or long-term. Our evidence demonstrates an urgent need for significant additional resources for cross-departmental provision to reduce reoffending. This would save the Ministry money in the long-term and would reduce the cost to society of reoffending in the long-term. We are open-minded about the solutions and encourage the Government and wider public to be so, too. We agree with the Justice Secretary that there is a need for a refreshed narrative around the use of imprisonment and how as a society we wish to deal with crime. We are encouraged by his direction of travel in examining the role that prisons should play in modern society. This should include an explicit recognition that social problems cannot be meaningfully addressed through the criminal justice system. This is not only a moral imperative but also now a financial necessity.
44.The Government must recognise the extent of the impact of reductions in funding during the current Spending Review period for prisons and probation services on the quality of these essential public services, relative to the size of the overall resource commitment. We welcome the Ministry’s proposed approach to amassing evidence about the funding required to deliver decent and well-performing prisons for the next Spending Review. Nevertheless, resources to close the hole in the Ministry’s finances, address major maintenance problems and run decent and rehabilitative prisons up to 2022 are unlikely to be found. We note the additional £18 million resource DEL and £13 million capital DEL announced as part of the 2018 Budget for measures in support of prison decency, but this is not sufficient. There appears to be some way to go to ensure that there is evidence of sufficient strength to convince the Treasury to change direction. Once the Ministry has a clear picture of the current and projected costs of running prisons over the next Spending Review period, we recommend that they are published.
45.The Treasury must now be able to recognise the wider implications of the decision not to invest in the prison and probation systems in recent years. It should take this into account for the future. The Spending Review exercise for 2020 to 2025 should be broadened to encompass a more systemic approach to managing the £15bn a year costs of reoffending. This should include downstream measures, which are out of the control of the Ministry of Justice. To inform such an approach, the Reducing Reoffending Group should commission urgently a systemic review of cross-departmental activity to reduce crime, including mapping demand and identifying trends in the funding and outcomes achieved by a range of public agencies over the current Spending Review period. Such analyses have been conducted to positive effect in other jurisdictions, notably the US, enabling a shift in resources from prisons to community measures. In the medium-term, the Ministry must conduct a wide-ranging and transparent consultation on its Justice 2030 project, which should be broadened out to consider the cross-departmental impact on demand for criminal justice services. Should the Government choose not to undertake such work itself, we propose that an independent commission should be established to consult on and create a sustainable strategic approach to prison and crime reduction policy up to 2030. A similar commission was set up in Scotland, reporting in 2008 and the Commission on Justice in Wales, chaired by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd is currently underway.
6 Ministry of Justice, , accessed 01 March 2019.
7 Ministry of Justice, , accessed 01 March 2019.
8 Justice Committee, Twelfth Report of Session 2016–17, Prison reform: governor empowerment and prison performance, , 2 March 2017.
9 Justice Committee, Second Special Report, The Government’s Response to the previous Committee’s Reports (on Prison reform: governor empowerment and prison performance, and Prison reform: Part 1 of the Prisons and Courts Bill), October 2017, , 23 October 2017.
10 Prison Reform Trust ()
11 Prison Reform Trust ()
12 It has not been possible to locate the Government’s call for evidence or consultation. See submission by Women in Prison, which contains the consultation questions ().
13 Heaton, R, Civil Service Blog, 27 June 2016
14 Heaton, R, Civil Service Blog, 27 June 2016
15 Ministry of Justice, , accessed 01 March 2019.
16 Ministry of Justice, Prison Safety and Reform, , November 2016
18 Ministry of Justice, , May 2018
21 The ten prisons are: HMP Hull; HMP Humber; HMP Leeds; HMP Lindholme; HMP Moorland; HMP Wealstun; HMP Nottingham; HMP Ranby; HMP Isis; and HMP Wormwood Scrubs.
22 BBC News, , 17 August 2018
24 , former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice to the Chair, Justice Committee, 30 June 2016; Justice Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2015–16, HC625
25 , former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice to the Chair, Justice Committee, 28 February 2017
26 , HC418, Q41
28 Ministry of Justice, Cm9621, May 2018, para 20 stated that Ipsos MORI research commissioned by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Department for Education (DfE) in 2015 showed that offenders who participate in education are significantly less likely to reoffend within 12 months of release – 7.5 percentage points less likely.
29 Ministry of Justice, Cm9621, May 2018, page 3
30 Farmer, M. , August 2017, London: Ministry of Justice
31 Farmer, M. , August 2017, London: Ministry of Justice
32 National Information Centre on children of offenders, August 2018, page 1
33 Ministry of Justice, , 27 June 2018
34 Crest Advisory ()
35 [Mrs Anne Fox]
36 Prisons and Probation Ombudsman ()
38 Justice Committee, Fourteenth Report of Session 2016–17, , HC1150, para 18
39 ; Justice Committee, Fourteenth Report of Session 2016–17, , HC1150, para 32
40 ; see also
41 [Dr Kate Paradine; Jessica Southgate]; [Juliet Lyon]
42 [Helen Berresford];
44 ; See also [Helen Berresford]
49 Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and Justice Episteme ()
52 Ministry of Justice, May 2018, page 16
54 Women in Prison ()
55 HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, , HC1245, 11 July 2018, page 36
Published: 3 April 2019