Prison cost us £3billion last year

We spent £3billion on imprisonment in England and Wales last year. Government accounts also show the wide variation in costs between individual prisons.

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How much does prison cost?

Three billion pounds is the short answer.

£2,997,687,957 is the official number for 2016/17 published in an addendum to the HMPPS annual report and accounts last month (26 October 2017).

That’s the overall figure (which includes “net expenditure met at regional or national level and recorded in the annual accounts of the National Offender Management Service”), the direct resource expenditure (which only includes net expenditure at a prison level) is a billion pounds less: £1,943,546,987.

These two different calculations generate two different costs:

The overall cost per prison place last year was £38,042 a big jump on the previous year’s £36,720. The cost per prisoner shows a similar jump (4.2%) from £33,931 in 2016/17 to £35,371 last year.

The direct cost per prison place last year was £24,664 compared to the previous year’s £24,249. The cost per prisoner was £22,933 in 2016/17 compared to £22,407 last year — this is a smaller increase of 2.3%, showing that it is head office expenditure behind most of the rise in the costs of imprisonment. This is unsurprising given the range of problems the prison service has been trying to respond to in terms of recruitment, riots etc.

Public vs private

The accounts also show comparative figures for public and private sector prisons (which the MoJ calls “contracted prisons”).

The table below shows the comparison in terms of direct resource expenditure. The MoJ classifies two types of private prison: Private Finance Initiative (PFI) for prisons which are designed, constructed, managed and financed by the private sector and Operate and Maintain for prisons which are leased to a private sector operator who contracts directly to run the prison and maintain the buildings.

[CNA stands for Certified Normal Accommodation, the number of prisoners an establishment should hold.]

Variation by prison

Supplementary tables are published with the accounts which provide costs per place and costs per prison by individual prison.

Obviously costs vary by type of prison from £16,317 per prison place for male open prisons (£27,418 for equivalent female prisons) to £38,066 for a male dispersal prison and £46,480 for a male YOI:

Even more interesting is the wide variation of cost within prisons of he same function:

Swaleside costs £17,762 per place while Rye HIll costs £38,531 although both are classified as male Cat B trainers.

HMP Liverpool costs £18,291 per place while Altcourse costs £63,565. Both are male locals but Altcourse clearly includes PFI costs as well.

There is a similar range for female locals with the cost per place at Styal £24,084 while it is £62,336 at Bronzefield.


All prison posts are kindly sponsored by Prison Consultants Limited who offer a complete service from arrest to release for anyone facing prison and their family. Prison Consultants have no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

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2 Responses

  1. I notice that Cat A prisoner costs are not specified but nestle among dispersal prisons. Whilst the logic for housing them there is correct, does this mask the real cost of Cat A prisoners, who presumably cost more than the average prisoner?

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