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Prison Capacity Management

Volume 556: debated on Thursday 10 January 2013

Our strategy for the custodial estate is to ensure that we have sufficient places to meet the demand of the courts while securing best value for money for the taxpayer.

My intention is to have more adult male prison capacity available than we had in 2010 but at a much lower unit and overall cost. Our strategy for achieving this is to replace accommodation which is old, inefficient or has limited long-term strategic value with cheaper modern capacity which is designed to better meet the demand for prison places and supports our aim to drive down stubbornly high reoffending rates. I am also announcing today that the Government are to start feasibility work on a new prison that could hold more than 2,000 prisoners—around a quarter more than the largest current facility.

At present, we have buildings within the prison estate which date back to the 18th century. Prisons are not all located where we would want them to be to best meet the needs of the courts or support resettlement and there is an annual maintenance cost of approximately £184 million. There is clear evidence that by replacing old uneconomic places with modern prison capacity we can drive substantial savings for the taxpayer and I am determined to do just that.

Last year we opened a significant amount of new accommodation including 1,600 places at HMP Oakwood in the west midlands. The average cost at Oakwood is £13,200 per place. This is less than half the average cost of existing prison places, and sets the benchmark for future costs. In order to further drive down unit costs in prisons, I can today announce that we plan to significantly increase capacity at four existing prisons by building additional houseblocks to provide up to 1,260 new modern and cost-effective places. Our current intention is that new accommodation will be built at HMP Parc in Bridgend, HMP Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, HMP The Mount in Hertfordshire and HMP Thameside in London.

These houseblocks, along with Oakwood, which is now reaching capacity, represent over 2,800 new places. This provides the opportunity to close excess capacity elsewhere in the estate.

I am therefore announcing that we will close around 2,600 old and uneconomic places through the closure of six prisons and the partial closure of accommodation in three other sites. The affected establishments are:


Partial Closures

Bullwood Hall




Shepton Mallet




Isle of Wight

The decision to close, or partially close places in these establishments is based on the suitability, sustainability and the cost of this accommodation.

Closures form just one part of our strategy to improve the operation of our prison estate and drive down the costs to the public. We will also decommission 200 contractually crowded places at private prisons, which are not currently needed.

We will continue to ensure that our estate reflects prison population demands, and in line with the falling population in the youth estate, I can also announce that we intend to negotiate a change to the function of HMYOI Ashfield and re-role it to a prison to hold adult male prisoners. I intend to work with the Youth Justice Board to review the operation of the youth estate to ensure that it provides effective education and training for young people while delivering value for money to the taxpayer.

Furthermore, I am conscious that women offenders have particular needs and that the custodial female estate should be organised as effectively as possible to meet gender-specific requirements while also delivering best value for the public. I have therefore asked officials to undertake a review of custodial arrangements for women. I expect this review to be completed by the summer.

As part of our strategy to modernise the estate and significantly reduce unit and overall costs, I have asked officials to explore options for building a new prison to enable us to accelerate the closure of uneconomic capacity across the rest of the estate. We will consider the feasibility of sites in the north west, north Wales and in London in line with demand for places in these regions and I will provide further details to the House as this work progresses.

Overall, this capacity reduction will save £63 million per year from the cost of running our prisons. These savings are in addition to the plans we have already set out to the House for how we propose to make significant cost reductions over the next few years through the application of an efficient benchmark for all public sector prisons, and through further competition of services.

This Government are determined to ensure that we have a resilient custodial estate with sufficient capacity available to meet the demands to imprison those committed by the courts. We also intend to ensure that the cost of a prison place is dramatically reduced. The strategy I am outlining today will help achieve both these aims.