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The prison estate in England and Wales contains 117 prisons holding people who have been sentenced or are on remand awaiting trial for a range of crimes.

The prison estate has a mixture of publicly and privately-run institutions some of which are newly built, while others date back to the Victorian era.

There has been growing concern that the prison estate is unfit for purpose. The estate includes many dilapidated and overcrowded prisons.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, in his 2017/18 annual report, said that the inspectorate had “documented some of the most disturbing prison conditions we have ever seen”. Such conditions have persisted with the Chief Inspector’s 2018/19 annual report stating that far too many prisoners still endure very poor and overcrowded living conditions. The Chief Inspector described squalid conditions in some prisons. He repeated that broken windows, unscreened lavatories in shared cells, vermin and filth should not feature in 21st century jails.

The Government is running a ‘Prison Estate Transformation Programme’ with the aim of building 10,000 new prison places, investing in repairs and renovations and reorganising the functions of individual prisons.

Many interest groups have been critical of the Government’s approach, arguing that it does not go far enough to improve conditions and that projected rises in the prison population will continue to put pressure on the system.

This paper discusses the prison estate in England and Wales.

Other Library briefing papers about prisons and prisoners


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