Background to the report

Since 2015, against a backdrop of worsening living conditions for prisoners, HMPPS (Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service) has changed the way in which it maintains prisons and launched a programme to improve the condition and suitability of prison accommodation. It opted to contract out facilities management, create 10,000 new-for-old prison places and change its estate to better meet the needs of prisoners.

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Content and scope of the report

This report examines how HMPPS handled these changes and what it achieved. It:

  • sets out the condition of the estate and the capacity within prisons to accommodate the prison population;
  • examines HMPPS’s approach to managing the maintenance of its prisons; and
  • assesses HMPPS’s performance in transforming its estate by building new prisons, selling unsuitable prisons and reorganising prison places.

Report Conclusions

HMPPS has committed to providing a safe, secure and decent prison estate, but its plans to achieve this are failing. It has not been able to provide enough prison places, in the right type of prisons, and at the right time, to meet demand. The Prison Estate Transformation Programme’s plans to create up to 10,000 new prison places to replace ageing, ineffective prisons proved undeliverable and outsourcing prison facilities management has not delivered expected efficiencies. If successful, these initiatives could have made a difference, but as it stands the prison estate is not meeting the needs of prisoners or those working in the prison system. It represents poor value for money.

HMPPS is taking welcome steps to improve its understanding of the condition of the prison estate, and now better understands the significant gap between its ambitions and the available resources. Learning lessons from its experience in delivering the programme will be crucial as it responds to the government’s new commitment to create 10,000 new prison places. But HMPPS must resist a reactive approach and put its long-term plans on a secure footing. Achieving value for money will ultimately depend on HMPPS working with the Ministry and HM Treasury to develop a long-term, deliverable strategy that will provide a prison estate that is fit for purpose.

“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.”

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO


Publication details

Press release

View press release (7 Feb 2020)

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