In 2016 the Government published a landmark White Paper, ‘Prison Safety and Reform’, which promised to deliver much-needed changes to the prison system. It committed to address poor safety for staff and prisoners, high levels of assaults, the poor condition of the estate, poor retention in the workforce, and ultimately poor outcomes for reoffending.
Since the Government laid out its plans for “the biggest overhaul of our prisons in a generation” progress has been poor in several key areas:
- Prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-staff assaults have increased by 30 per cent since 2016.
- Incidents of prisoners self-harming have increased by 65 per cent since 2016.
- The leaving rate for band 3-5 staff – operational prison officers – has increased by 32 per cent since 2016.
- In the 12 months to March 2019, 17 per cent of drug tests on prisoners were positive.
- Nearly £529 million intended for spending on the prison estate has been diverted to spending on the day-to-day running of prisons since 2016.
Significant resource pressures on prisons are likely to have held back the progress of reforms. The White Paper promised prisons the “resources, authority and tools” to address these challenges, but real-terms resource spending on prisons fell in 2016-17 and 2017-18. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) has highlighted that “reduced resources, both in terms of staff and investment [has] made it extremely difficult” to run prisons.
Increasing spending is an opportunity to make progress – if targeted effectively. In 2018-19, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service’s (HMPPS) resource budget rose by 4 per cent in real terms to over £3.9 billion. Several further commitments have been made: £2.5 billion for 10,000 additional prison places, £100 million for enhanced security, and £156 million for maintenance. To make the most of this increased spend the Government should focus on four priorities: more effective sentencing policies, creating a fit-forpurpose prison estate, improving prison safety, and developing the workforce.