MoJ's prison programme can't work as planned - and even if it did, wouldn't address the causes of the prison crisis. Time to dare to....think?
FT article today
Plan to overhaul UK jails faces £1.6bn shortfall Overcrowding and building delays mean problem of prison violence ‘will not be resolved’
Britain's prison populationhas almost reached full capacity, at nearly 90,000 people
A plan to tackle overcrowding and violence in Britain’s prisons is underfunded by £1.6bn over the next five years and will not work, according to a former finance director of the prison service. Julian Le Vay, who was the service’s finance director for five years until 2001, suggested that a higher-than-expected prison population and delays to building plans for new prisons mean that the present levels of unrest and violence will not be solved without fresh funding. The most recent prison population figures show 86,075 people in prisons in England and Wales, only just short of the 87,411 total capacity.
The Prison Reform Trust, which released his analysis, said it showed the fundamental problems with efforts to resolve overcrowding by providing new spaces, rather than by cutting down the numbers of offenders sentenced to prison. The severe overcrowding of prisons has helped to produce a significant rise in violence, with 27,193 assaults or serious assaults in the year to June and a 25 per cent rise in attacks on guards. Many analysts also believe that overcrowded prisons lead to worse rates of reoffending on release. After trying the same failed policy for nearly four decades, the time has surely come for a change Peter Dawson, Prison Reform Trust
Mr Le Vay said he believed a shortfall in cash means the government’s 2015 plan to build nine new prisons “is not going to do what they want it to do.”. The plans for the five years to 2020 were meant to provide around 10,000 new places in five new prisons, at a capital cost of £1.5bn. The project was meant to be funded largely by closing old, expensive-to-operate city-centre prisons such as London’s Holloway and selling the sites for housing. But so far the government has done no more than identify the sites of four new prisons and, in March, told parliament only that it would be submitting planning applications in future.
Mr Le Vay said that, based on the experience of Berwyn Prison, near Wrexham, which opened in February this year, the service could expect a 3½-year gap between planning application and partial opening. That meant none of the new prisons would be open before 2020, while the prison population is expected to grow by 1,600 by 2022. He added that because the facilities would not open on time, it would be impossible to close the city-centre prisons on the anticipated schedule and the money for those sites would not be received as planned.
The study highlights the dilemma that the government faces as courts respond to increasingly tough criminal law by sending growing numbers of offenders to jail, despite a long-term decline in most measures of violent crime. Mr Le Vay calculates that spending for the 2018-19 financial year on prisons in England and Wales will be £162m more than budgeted because of extra staff costs. His projections anticipate steadily higher-than-budgeted spending over the following five years, to £463m by 2022-23. The total underfunding over the period amounts to £1.57bn.
Mr Le Vay argues that efforts to build capacity to relieve overcrowding have never been successful, since courts tend to sentence extra offenders to prison, filling up the capacity. Ministers have generally been wary of changing sentencing policy to divert offenders away from jail because of the risk of a public backlash.
But Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said the UK was continuing to “throw” taxpayers’ money at prison building, at a time when many developed countries were reducing their prison populations. “After trying the same failed policy for nearly four decades, the time has surely come for a change,” Mr Dawson said. The Ministry of Justice said the analysis was “pure speculation”. It said it was investing to create “high-quality, modern establishments” and closing older prisons that were not fit for purpose. “This will help deliver prisons that are more safe and secure, so our staff can work more closely with offenders to change their lives and turn their back on crime for good,” it said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
I was formerly Finance Director of the Prison Service and then Director of the National Offender Management Service responsible for competition. I also worked in the NHS and an IT company. I later worked for two outsourcing companies.
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