Prison minister calls for more money to build jails in England and Wales

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jun/26/rory-stewart-prison-minister-more-money-jails-england-wales

Rory Stewart says prison population will not fall and also reveals Carillion underbid for maintenance contract.

The minister for prisons has said that he would like the prison population to go down but is instead calling for more money to spend on increasing numbers because he does not believe his view enjoys sufficient support.

In a candid appearance before the justice select committee, Rory Stewart said it was time to stop hoping the prison population would fall, adding that he would plead with the Treasury in next year’s spending review for more money to build and sustain prisons in England and Wales.

He added that the number of those in jail was likely to hit 93,000 by 2022, from its current level of about 83,000, as he confirmed two new prisons – including a privately financed one – had been given the go-ahead.

The minister also revealed that collapsed outsourcing giant Carillion underbid for its contract to provide maintenance work to prisons by £15m a year. The revelation will heap more pressure on the under-fire cabinet minister, Chris Grayling, who signed off the contract during his time as justice secretary.

He told the committee: “I don’t feel, I’m afraid, even though ideally I’d like the prison population to go down, that’s very likely to happen because I’m not sure there’s the will among the public and the will amongst parliament to take the measures to reduce that population, in which case we need to increase our baseline and we need more money. And that’s the argument I’ll be making in spending review.”

Stewart’s comments came a day before the Ministry of Justice revealed it had scrapped plans to build five new community prisons for women as part of its new female offender strategy. The department is to trial “residential women’s centres”, which would provide supported accommodation to women as they completed community sentences, in a bid to reduce the number of women in custody. As of 15 June, the women’s prison population was 3,867, accounting for 4.7% of the prison population. Female prisoners are more than twice as likely as male prisoners to report needing help for mental health problems. The reoffending rate for women released from a custodial sentence of fewer than 12 months in April-June 2016 was 71%.

Stewart said that when Kenneth Clarke was justice secretary he entered negotiations with the Treasury for support in reducing the prison population to 65,000. But Clarke was “let down” and did not get the political support, Stewart said.

“We just have to be practical,” he said. “My fear is for the last 20, 30 years, governments have been funding for lower numbers and never got the legislation through. I’m afraid – let’s stop thinking like that. We’ve got to just be realistic. The likelihood at the moment, unless something astonishing changes, is our prison population is going up to 92,000 or 93,000 and we need to have the money to pay for that.”

Stewart announced to the committee that a publicly funded prison in Wellingborough and a privately financed jail at Glen Parva in Leicestershire were to go ahead, with work starting in Wellingborough at the end of the year. The two prisons together will provide a further 4,000 places and should be part of a programme of six new prisons designed to provide space for a further 10,000 people.

The announcement of a new private prison was met with criticism from the Labour party. Richard Burgon, shadow justice secretary, said: “From the crisis in prisons maintenance to the failings of our probation services, the Tories’ obsession with privatisation and outsourcing has caused widespread damage to our justice system – and it’s the public who’ve had to foot the bill.

“With a Labour government, there will be no new private prisons and no public-sector prisons will be privatised. Labour will bring all the outsourced prison maintenance contracts back in house at the earliest possible opportunity. The Tories must abandon this failed experiment of prison privatisation.”

On the collapsed outsourcing giant, Stewart said: “Carillion was proposing to try to save the taxpayer £15m a year by underbidding and trying to take on work, which cost Carillion £15m more a year to deliver than they were receiving from the taxpayer. The taxpayer is now paying a more realistic cost.

“What effectively happened there is that we had a contractor come in to us – and this is a vulnerability with all private sector contractors – who effectively offered at their own risk to do our maintenance for considerably less money than it would cost us to do. £15m less.

“We signed up to that. In retrospect, more weight should have been given to the factors saying, ‘wait a second, what on earth is Carillion proposing here? They’re basically proposing to do this and lose £15m a year, is that really sustainable or are we going to end up in a situation where we are paying for it?’

“It turned out what Carillion was proposing to us was completely unsustainable to their finances.”

Last week Grayling faced a vote of no confidence in his capability to carry out his current role as transport secretary. In the same week he faced a damning report from the justice committee on the impact of his broadly criticised reforms to the probation sector.