When the Chancellor stands up in Parliament on Thursday to deliver the Autumn Statement, every part of the public sector will be bracing itself for painful cuts. 

With every Whitehall department and pressure group making their case for protection from the axe, it must feel easy for the Treasury to look to our sector for savings. Politically, ringfencing investment in the NHS, defence and welfare will always be more palatable than protecting the prisons budget.

Our sector is lucky to be staffed by many thousands of dedicated, professional, inspirational staff and volunteers. But even the most optimistic would admit that we face unprecedented challenges. Rates of self-harm in prisons are close to record levels; there is a recruitment and retention crisis; reoffending costs society £18bn a year. In no small part, this is the result of a decade of cuts, which saw Justice budgets shrink by around 25% from 2010. 

This doesn’t just matter for prisoners, who all too often find themselves in unsuitable Victorian buildings. It doesn’t just matter for staff; assaults on whom have doubled in the last decade. It doesn’t just matter to the 95,000 children who have a parent in prison right now. 

It matters to everyone who wants to feel safe in our communities. Reoffending now accounts for four out of five crimes, so if we’re serious about cutting crime and reducing the £18bn annual cost of reoffending, we must invest in rehabilitation. 

People who leave prison with a stable home, a steady job and good health free from substance misuse are less likely to reoffend. But more often than not, strong family relationships knit these other factors together – providing the protective safety net that prison leavers need to stay on track. The statistics back this up - prisoners who get visits from a family member are 39% less likely to reoffend. 

There have been many positive and welcome steps – the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS are investing large sums in more support. They have introduced a major new scheme to ensure no one leaves custody homeless, and a major push to get more prison leavers into a job is bearing fruit. 

Rather than cutting funding to vital projects that reduce crime and save taxpayers’ money, I would urge the Government to look again at plans to build new prisons. Last year, the Government announced its intention to spend £4bn to increase the prison population by nearly a quarter, adding 18,000 people to the headcount of people locked up in cells. 

Never before has a British Government set out to achieve a massive increase in the number of people it deliberately plans to incarcerate. This is not Minority Report. We don’t have a Department of Pre-crime. But it appears to be based on the assumption that if we spend taxpayers’ money on an extra 20,000 police officers, their actions will result in more cases brought to trial, more prosecutions, and greater use of custody.

So my message to the Treasury is simple. If you want to save money, don’t build more prisons. Let’s make the ones we have work better. A justice system with rehabilitation at its heart pays for itself.



Andy Keen-Downs
CEO, Pact