MoJ told to publish prisons spending plans as report slams 'policy by press release'

MPs sceptical over "government’s poor track record in delivering promised new prison places"

PM Boris Johnson, with justice secretary Robert Buckland and HMP Leeds governor Steve Robson. Photo: Jon Super/PA

By John Johnston

31 Oct 2019

The Ministry of Justice has let the prison system fall into an "appalling" state due to a lack of leadership, a damning select committee report has found.

The Commons Justice Committee today said prisons were in an "enduring crisis of safety and decency" as levels of violence and self-harm hit record highs.

MPs on the cross-party committee called on the MoJ to set out exactly how it planned to spend funding increases announced this year, as it accused the governmentof developing "policy by press release".


In August, Boris Johnson, the prime minister, pledged £2.5bn to help create a further 10,000 prison place by 2025 in a bid to "reverse the balance of fear" by "coming down hard" on criminals.

It said the MoJ should set out further details of how it would use the money, and in what time frame, “given the government’s poor track record in delivering promised new prison places”.

The committee also said it was “concerned by the focus on creating additional places, rather than on replacing dilapidated and decrepit prisons in the current estate”. The MPs estimated there was a backlog of maintenance work estimated at £900m, beyond routine day-to-day maintenance.

“However, we have still not seen the long-term estate strategy we were told was being developed by the Ministry of Justice,” they said, saying the department should publish its strategy in response to the report.

The MPs also said existing facilities management arrangements “do not work”, and said governors should be given greater autonomy to authorise some types of maintenance. They praised an initiative at HMP Leeds known at Q-Branch, where a team of staff and prisoners was carrying out minor maintenance work around the prison.

It comes as MoJ figures show prison staff suffered 10,311 assaults in the year from March 2018, a rise of 15%, while prisoner-on-prisoner attacks rose 10% to 24,541.

The report also recommended greater investment in "purposeful activity" to reduce the estimated £18bn cost from reoffending and a further push towards giving cleaning and maintenance contracts to local firms rather than national companies.

Committee chair Bob Neill said: "Too often we have seen what might be called 'policy by press notice' without any clear or coherent vision for the future of the prison system.

"New prison places might be welcome, but they do nothing to improve the appalling condition of much of the current prison estate, nor the prospect of offering a safe environment in which to rehabilitate offenders.

"Prisons will not become less violent without proper investment in purposeful activity for prisoners to support rehabilitation."

He added: "At any given rate, given the government's poor track record in building prisons, we now want to see the detailed plans for the promises of £2.5bn for 10,000 more places, what they'll look like and when they'll be up and running."

Responding to the report, an MoJ spokesperson said: “We know that many prisons face challenges but we have been confronting those head-on by recruiting over 4,400 extra officers in the last three years.

“This government is investing tens of millions in security and improving conditions,” the spokesperson said, citing the £2.5bn for extra prison places and additional funds for maintenance and security measures.

“We also fully recognise the value of purposeful activity to reduce reoffending and cut crime, which is why we launched our education and employment strategy which has led to hundreds of new businesses signing up to work with prisoners and help their rehabilitation.”

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