NAO: Government’s flagship prison initiatives fail to hit the mark

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prison initiatives,
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The government has failed to deliver the savings it hoped for by contracting out prison maintenance services, according to a new National Audit Office (NAO) report

The new report by NAO says the government is failing to provide and maintain safe, secure and decent prisons and its flagship initiatives to address this have not delivered.

More than 40% of inspected prisons were rated as ‘poor’ or ‘not sufficiently good’ for safety in the last five years. Poor safety in prisons has reached all-time highs.

Over the last decade, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) has taken 1,730 cells permanently out of use and it expects to lose 500 places a year because of the poor conditions of the remaining estate.

Over 40% of prisons need major repair or replacement in the next three years. There is currently a backlog of major repairs that will cost £916m to fix.

There is a surplus of 18,700 places in local prisons for people serving short sentences or on remand awaiting sentencing. However, there is a shortfall of 15,000 training and resettlement places.

Prison Estate Transformation Programme

The government has attempted to improve conditions by contracting out prison maintenance and creating new prison places through its flagship Prison Estate Transformation Programme. In 2014-15, HMPPS decided to outsource facilities management and expected to save around £80m by contracting out to the firms Amey and Carillion, but it has failed to achieve this, according to NAO.

The report reveals that HMPPS has had to spend £143m more than expected over the last four years. This has been attributed to an inaccurate and incomplete understanding of prison conditions and the services needed.

NAO says HMPPS also underestimated the need for reactive maintenance work due to vandalism and breakdown.

New prison delays

HMPPS has struggled to create new prison places. In 2016, it committed to creating 10,000 new for old prison places. So far, only 206 have been built with 3,360 under construction.

The main reason behind these failures was the delays in agreeing and receiving funding to build new prisons. This meant construction work began later than planned.

In addition, the report shows HMPPS was not able to close old prisons and replace them with new ones due to high demand, which meant it received less money from sales income.

Report recommendations

The NAO report recommends that HMPPS develop a long-term strategy which sets out exactly what conditions prisoners should be held in and minimum levels of investment needed to ensure a safe, decent environment.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, commented: “HMPPS has not been able to create enough prison places, in the right type of prisons and at the right time to meet demand. It has failed to deliver the savings it hoped for by contracting out prison maintenance services. Prisons remain in a poor condition, poor safety has reached record levels, and there are huge maintenance backlogs.

“The government has recently committed to creating 10,000 new prison places and needs to learn lessons from its recent experiences.

“Crucially, HMPPS must work with the Ministry of Justice and Treasury to develop a long-term, deliverable strategy that will provide prisons that are fit for purpose.”

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