Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 56 of Session 2005-06, dated 19 July 2006


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today:

"This Committee recommended in 1998 that meals for prisoners should all be served within 45 minutes of being cooked. The Government promised to make prison governors responsible for this target. Eight years later and over a third of the prisons visited by the NAO were still not complying. And over half of all prisons cannot satisfy our recommendation that no prisoner be kept waiting more than 14 hours between the evening meal and breakfast.

"There hasn't been enough progress by the Prison Service. Keeping hungry prisoners waiting for meals and then serving up cold and unappetising food must make the task of keeping control in prisons all the harder.

"There has been welcome progress by the Prison Service since 1998 in cutting catering costs at the same time as making some improvements to food quality. But it is clear that meals should be both healthier and cheaper. The fact that the quality and cost of food varies so hugely between different prisons of the same type clearly shows that there is substantial room for progress. The Prison Service has also been painfully slow in arranging further research into the link between poor nutrition and anti-social behaviour.

"The prospects for an inmate's readjusting to life outside are possibly improved if he or she leaves prison both healthier and fitter than on arrival. However, only two out of every five prisoners can be bothered to take advantage of the high quality keep fit facilities often available to them. The prisons with the worst participation rates should find out what the prisons with the best rates are doing right."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 56th Report of this Session, which examined the Prison Service's progress on catering since the Committee last reported on this subject in 1998 and how prisoners' access to nutritious food and exercise could be improved.

Since 1998 the Prison Service had made good progress in reducing catering costs and improving the quality of catering. There remained concerns however, that two of the Committee's previous recommendations, on reducing the time interval between meals and serving food within 45 minutes of preparation, had still not been fully implemented.

The Prison Service has placed a high priority on providing prisoners with a decent diet and the opportunity to exercise. These factors help maintain well ordered prisons, which allow prisoners to participate in other activities and prisons themselves to cope with other pressures.

The Prison Service needs to take further steps to meet the requirements to provide correct food appropriately prepared for religious diets. It also needs to reassure religious prisoners that the food is in fact appropriate.

Although the Prison Service has succeeded in providing a diet that is broadly in line with the government's nutritional recommendations, there were some important exceptions; for example meals contained too much salt. Important follow up research on the link between nutrition and behaviour has not yet been started.

The Prison Service ought to carry out benchmarking between prisons and against other organisations. Benchmarking would help it to reduce costs further and to improve the quality of catering and provision of exercise.

Some 40 per cent of prisoners took part in physical education activities across the Prison Service. Prisons could do more, however, to increase participation both by female prisoners and those prisoners who could most benefit from exercise.

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