HL Deb 28 July 1997 vol 582 cc16-7WA
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will comment on the Prison Service audit report.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

Our manifesto said that the Prison Service faced serious financial problems and that we would audit the resources available. Shortly after taking office therefore, we asked the Director General of the Prison Service to carry out an audit of the resources available to the Prison Service, and current and projected demands on it.

The audit has now been completed and a report of its findings was placed in the Library on 25 July.

The main findings are:

  • the prison population rose by 17,000 or nearly 40 per cent. in the four years up to this June to reach 60,580. It is expected to rise to at least 68,900 by March 2000. In the three months since the election, it has risen by 2,440, far exceeding any projection published before 1 May. This three month rise is equivalent to the total capacity of four average sized prisons;
  • resources have not kept pace with this rise in numbers. The building programme approved by the previous government is already being outstripped by the rise in population, which on latest assumptions will exceed maximum capacity later this year, and will do so again by a larger margin by early 1999;
  • the number of prisoners "doubled"—held two to a cell designed for one—has already increased from WA 17 7,251 in 1992 to 10,926 at the end of June and, on current plans, would have to increase to around 16,000 by early 1999;
  • meanwhile, the level of purposeful activity for prisoners has dropped over the last two years, so limiting scope for reducing the risk of prisoners re-offending on release;
  • there is a growing risk of prisons having to close because heating, electrical and water systems, roofs and other infrastructure have not been adequately maintained.

We pay tribute to the dedication and professionalism of the Prison Service in coping with these intense pressures.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced on 24 July in an answer to my honourable friend the Member for Luton North, Mr. Hopkins, (Official Report, Commons, col. 682) that the Prison Service will be able to spend up to an extra £43 million during this year and next to accommodate the projected numbers safely.