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Prison Estate

Volume 737: debated on Tuesday 12 September 2023

7. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the prison estate for housing prisoners. (906335)

We are building 20,000 modern prison places to help rehabilitate prisoners, cut crime and protect the public, and we continue to invest in prison maintenance, so that existing places remain in use and safe.

The Minister’s answer is very interesting because, let’s face it, our prisons have been run down for 13 years. Many are so old that they were built before RAAC—reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete—was even a twinkle in somebody’s bank account. If we read the inspection reports, as I have, it is a list of woes. They are draughty, damp, infested, terribly overcrowded and woefully understaffed—hardly likely to enable rehabilitation. It is our communities that endure the consequences, with at least 37% of prison leavers reoffending within 18 months. It is simply not good enough, is it?

We continue to upgrade the prison estate. As I say, we are investing in 20,000 new places—the biggest expansion in the secure estate since the Victorian era. At the same time, we have been taking out some of our most overcrowded and unsuitable prisons. In the last financial year, we took out 1,900 places, and we are investing £168 million in custodial maintenance for 2023-24 and 2024-25.

The hon. Lady mentioned reoffending. There is no good level of reoffending but zero, but I am pleased to be able to report good progress on reoffending, which has been coming down as a result of more ex-offenders getting into employment, fewer of them being homeless and more being able to get suitable, good treatment for addiction.

The Justice Committee is proposing to hold an inquiry into future prison population and estate capacity, and I look forward to the Minister giving evidence to us about that. He will know that that is prompted in part by concerns that overall overcrowding in the adult male estate is some 23%, and it is much worse in many of the old local prisons. While he is right to draw attention to the Government’s new prison building programme, even if that were all completed on time, there would, according to figures we have seen, be a shortfall in March 2025 of about 2,300 places as against anticipated demand. What is going to be done to deal with that? Should we have a proper conversation with the public about what is a reasonable expectation of what can be done in prisons, what is the best use of prisons and who should be there?

On my hon. Friend’s last point, of course we must constantly be having an intelligent, constructive public debate about these matters. On the question of capacity, projections change, and there are many complex factors at play. I look forward, as ever, to being scrutinised by his Committee on that point.

It is important to note that crowding—doubling up in cells—has for a very long time been a feature of our prison system. Crowding overall is 2,000 fewer than it was when we came into government in 2010.