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HM Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS) is the body within the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) which carries out sentences given by the courts, in custody and the community, and rehabilitates people in its care through education and employment in England and Wales.

Estimates Day Debates

Approval of government spending is given by parliament through the Estimates process, in which the Government lays a document before the Commons with the amounts that it is requesting, and the Commons then votes on whether to approve these amounts.

The subject of this debate was selected by the Backbench Business Committee and proposed by the Chair of the Justice committee, Sir Bob Neill MP. On making the application, Sir Bob Neill MP said:

“At present there are serious challenges in the prison and probation system. The prison population is close to its highest ever level at more than 85,000, and could rise to more than 100,000 over the next 4 years. The Ministry of Justice was provided an additional £4 billion in the 2020 Spending Review to increase prison capacity. To date, however, only £1.1 billion of this has been spent. At the same time, both the prison and probation workforces are experiencing severe recruitment and retention challenges, which is having knock-on effects for prisoner welfare and rehabilitation.  This debate allow the House to debate these important issues, including whether the Ministry of Justice has sufficient resource to meet current and anticipated demands.”

Ministry of Justice Estimates

The MOJ’s total proposed gross expenditure (excluding AME) for 2023-24 is £14.8 billion. Income is expected to be £1.7 billion, reducing the overall cost to the taxpayer to £13.1 billion (£10.8 billion Resource DEL and £2.3bn Capital DEL).

Over half (53%) of the department’s expenditure goes on Prison and Probation Services, 19% on courts services, 17% on legal aid, with the rest going on central policy and corporate costs and arm’s length bodies.

HMPPS’s investment expenditure has increased dramatically in recent years following the government pledge to spend £4 billion to “to make significant progress in delivering 18,000 additional prison places across England and Wales by the mid-2020s” during the 2020 Spending Review.

Despite this increase in the budget, programme delays have meant that 37% of the prison programme budget was reprofiled into future years in both 2021-22 and 2022-23. This re-profiling of programme expenditure has meant a large increase in investment is now expected in 2023-24.

The prison estate

The prison estate in England and Wales contains 120 prisons, 16 of which are managed privately. The newest prison, HMP Fosse Way, opened in May 2023, while the oldest prisons date back to the Victorian era.

The Library has a briefing paper on the prison estate which provides a more in-depth look at the composition of the estate, conditions in prisons, and recent policy developments.

The prison population

The prison population has grown substantially over the past 30 years and is expected to continue to grow. As of 2023, however, the total prison population in England and Wales was around 84,400 people, below its peak of around 86,600 in 2012. In the long term, the Government expects the prison population to increase. The most recent set of projections give a central estimate for the prison population of 94,400 by March 2025 and a range from 93,100 to 106,300 by March 2027.

Conditions in prisons

There are long standing concerns that the prison estate is unfit for purpose. The estate includes many dilapidated and overcrowded prisons. There is a backlog of maintenance work in prisons that was estimated in March 2021 to be around £1 billion. Reports by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in recent years have found persistent problems despite some areas of improvement.

Crowding is a persistent issue in the prison estate. In 2022, 62% of prisons were crowded, meaning some cells contained more prisoners than their intended capacity (i.e. two or more prisoners in a one-person cell, or three in a two-person cell). On an average day in 2022, 20.6% of prisoners in England and Wales were being held in crowded conditions.


Probation in England and Wales has undergone major reforms in recent years, as detailed in the Library’s briefing paper on contracting out of the probation service (12 May 2019).

At the end of 2022, the Probation Service was supervising around 240,000 offenders. This number was slightly higher than in the previous two years, which was likely an effect of the pandemic, but lower than between 2016 and 2019, when the number averaged around 260,000 at the end of each year.

HM Inspectorate of Probation monitors the performance of the probation service. Its most 2023 report on serious further offending (SFO) found that “assessments of the risk of harm people on probation pose remain inaccurate and incomplete – not enough is being done to stop them reoffending and SFO reviews remain below the expected standard.”

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