The prison estate in England and Wales is crowded. At the end of January 2024, the prison population was 87,538 people. Many adult male prisoners are being held in cells designed for fewer occupants. This can have negative consequences for the safety and security of prisons and mean that prisoners have reduced access to rehabilitative programmes. The government urgently needs to increase prison capacity if it is to house a prison population that is set to rise further to between 94,600 and 114,800 people by March 2028.

In response, in December 2021 the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), and its agency HM Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS), committed to providing 20,000 additional prison places by the mid-2020s to help meet demand. These places are expected to come from a combination of six new prisons, the expansion of existing prisons, and from temporary accommodation.  However, delays in receiving planning permission for new sites and a maintenance backlog have been hindering efforts to increase capacity. The MoJ and HMPPS have taken a number of actions to manage capacity, including delaying maintenance work, maximising transfers to the open estate, and delaying the transfer of some 18-year-olds to the adult estate.


This study follows our 2020 report on improving the prison estate. It will consider:

  • MoJ’s and HMPPS’s progress in delivering their planned expansion of the prison estate
  • MoJ’s and HMPPS’s oversight and management of recent prison capacity pressures
  • MoJ’s modelling, understanding, and planning for the number and type of prison places it needs

NAO Team

Director: Jenny George
Audit Manager: Lee Nicholson