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REVEALED: Prisons are Another Public Service Facing Soaring Energy Bills

An investigation by Sian Norris for the Byline Intelligence Team finds prisons are facing rising energy costs, after nine years of austerity have wreaked havoc on the sector

An inmate looks over the railings at Wandsworth Prison in London. Photo: Alamy

REVEALED:Prisons are Another Public Service Facing Soaring Energy Bills

An investigation by Sian Norris for the Byline Intelligence Team finds prisons are facing rising energy costs, after nine years of austerity have wreaked havoc on the sector

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The combined gas bills of public prisons cost £1.9 million more in July 2022 than they did in August 2020, as public services face rising energy costs during the cost of living crisis. The combined electricity bill in July 2022 was £1.3 million higher.

The prison system joins schools, hospitals and children’s homes in the list of public services that have seen their budgets squeezed during the austerity era, only now to be faced with rising energy costs. 

A Freedom of Information request revealed the total monthly energy bills paid by the country’s public prison system over the previous two years. The Ministry of Justice was unable to confirm projected costs for the next financial year. The bills provided are dated from before the Government announced support for non-domestic properties and the prison estate is covered by the energy price guarantee. 

The combined gas bill for all public prisons in August 2020 was £916,576.13 compared to £2,898,790.16 in July 2022. An additional bill of £2,401 was paid in July, making the total increase £1.9 million from two summers ago.

While there was some variety in the data, bill rises across prisons since April are clear. Gas prices for all prisons combined in April 2021 were £2.7 million – rising to £4.54 million in April 2022. In July 2021, the combined bills totalled £1.5 million, this July they hit £4.6 million.

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Sian Norris

Individual prisons have also seen their gas bills increase. Belmarsh paid £23,663 for its gas bills in August 2020 and housed 778 prisoners. Two years later, in July 2022, its bill was £43,474. In June 2022 the prison housed 695 men.

Pentonville had more than 1,097 inmates in June this year, an increase of 80 men from August 2020. That month it paid £5,243 for gas, but in July this year its monthly bill was £42,207 (this exceptionally high rise may be because it owed for more than one month – in June 2022 no bill was recorded). 

Lindholme prison housed 917 prisoners in August 2020 and paid £10,234 for its bills that month. In June 2022 it housed 939 people and paid £15,471.

“Even when these prisons are not overcrowded, they face a wide range of problems in maintaining and running buildings that are no longer fit for purpose, and the energy crisis will only worsen an already struggling system,” Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, told Byline Times

“People in prison are suffering due to a lack of adequate staffing, work and education provision, and adequately equipped or hygienic environments. Rather than continuing with plans to expand prison capacity in coming years, the Government must focus resources on managing demand for prison places and in improving outcomes in the existing prison estate, which is in dire need of intervention.”

Pressure on the Prison System

As with schools and councils, the rising price of energy follows more than a decade of austerity that put pressure on prison budgets, staff and inmates.

Public spending cuts instigated in 2010 by the Coalition Government and continued by successive Conservative Governments had led to a 22% reduction (£2.71 billion) in prison spending by 2017.

In 2010/11, public expenditure on prisons in the UK per year was £4.97 billion, dropping to £3.83 billion in 2014/15. In 2015, the prison population was at a 13-year high of 86,193 – latest figures show it is now 80,659. The Johnson Government increased prison spending, which is now at £5.42 billion.


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The cuts, however, had an impact – leading to an increase in deaths, violence, self-harm, poor behaviour and drug use, along with a drop-off in efforts to rehabilitate prisoners, according to 2019 research by the Institute for Government. It described “a dramatic deterioration in standards across prisons since 2009/10”.

This, it argued, could “be linked to the cuts in Government spending on prisons, and a fall in the number of prison officers”. 

In the same year, the Chief Inspector of Prisons wrote in his annual report that “the recent history of many prisons in England and Wales has been deeply troubling” with staff shortages “so acute that risks to both prisoners and staff were often severe”.

Even as budgets have increased since 2019, problems in the prison system remain. As of September, 52% (62) of prison establishments were overcrowded. In total, overcrowded prisons held 7,835 more prisoners than the Certified Normal Accommodation of these institutions.

The most overcrowded prison is Leeds, at 171% occupancy. Its gas bill in July this year was £26,204 for 1,085 prisoners compared to £10,200 in August 2020, when it housed 1,046 men. 

“The prison system is holding the country back at significant cost to the public purse,” said Neilson. “Successive governments have repeated the mistake of trying to tackle crime by growing the prison population, only to find that this makes matters worse.”

Now public services are facing a new age of austerity, with the Chancellor expected to warn Government departments to instigate spending cuts. What this means for the criminal justice system is not yet clear. 

A Prison Service spokesperson told Byline Times: “We are deploying a range of energy saving measures across our estate like LED bulbs and our carbon emissions have decreased by 45% over the last decade.”

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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