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Tue, 29 September 2020

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Continued mismanagement and outsourcing of our Prison Service has failed the taxpayer and prisoners

Continued mismanagement and outsourcing of our Prison Service has failed the taxpayer and prisoners

There is now a £900 million major maintenance backlog, with 500 prison places put permanently out of use each year due to poor conditions, writes Shabana Mahmood MP. | PA Images

3 min read

Inadequate planning, unrealistic assumptions and poor performance have all resulted in a Prison Service which operates hand to mouth, rather than with a view to a long term strategy.

The Public Accounts Committee’s damning report on the prison estate will have come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen the state of prisons across the country. The government has been repeatedly warned that their actions will have consequences - and it's something that we in Birmingham know all too much about.

The 2018 report on the failings at Birmingham prison was utterly damning, with shocking accounts of prisoners living in squalor and degradation. But sadly, it seems wider lessons have not been learnt across the estate, and continued mismanagement has resulted in widespread problems. 

Despite promises to create 10,000 new-for-old prison places by 2020, just 206 new places have been delivered so far, and prisoners continue to be held in unsafe, crowded conditions that do not meet their needs.

The Committee also found that there is a specific issue around female prisoners. Although women make up five per cent of the prison population, the Ministry was unable to answer basic questions about the female prison estate or demonstrate that conditions in these prisons are adequate for the needs and safety of prisoners. 

Proper investment in the female estate is necessary to ensure female offenders do not become further marginalised

The Ministry’s failure to invest in the female prison estate means that women continue to serve their sentences far from home and family, and women’s prisons have by far the highest levels of self-harm across the prison estate. Proper investment in the female estate is necessary to ensure female offenders do not become further marginalised.

But the Ministry's approach hasn’t just failed prisoners - it has also failed taxpayers. 

Inadequate planning, unrealistic assumptions and poor performance have all resulted in a Prison Service which operates hand to mouth, rather than with a view to a long term strategy.

Because of the budget cuts to which it has been subject, the Ministry of Justice has needed to prop up funding for day-to-day operations by reallocating money from its capital budget, exacerbating the backlog of maintenance issues. There is now a £900 million major maintenance backlog, with 500 prison places put permanently out of use each year due to poor conditions.

The outsourcing of facilities management services in 2015 has also failed to protect taxpayers’ interests.

Privatisation that is not supported by evidence or results has once again ended up wasting public money at the same time as undermining vital services.

The Ministry admits that its approach prioritised delivering at speed and achieving predicted £79 million in cost savings at the expense of the quality of the service provided.

In a striking echo of the failures of probation service privatisation, it outsourced a complex service without fully understanding what it was contracting out. Demand for reactive maintenance work as a result of poor-quality assets or vandalism has cost the taxpayer almost £143 million more than expected.

Privatisation that is not supported by evidence or results has once again ended up wasting public money at the same time as undermining vital services.

The state of our prisons isn’t only relevant to the lives of prisoners while they are on the inside. Prison conditions and facilities play a crucial role in supporting prisoners to stay away from crime on their release and reduce the £18.1 billion cost to the economy of reoffending each year. But despite the PAC’s recommendations in May 2019, there is still no sign of a cross-government strategy for reducing reoffending.

It is abundantly clear that the Ministry of Justice must take immediate steps to redress the harm that their mismanagement has done. 

 

Shabana Mahmood is the Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood and member of the public accounts committee. 

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