Independent, Effective, Humane: Funding charities in the prison system

There are around 83,000 people in the prison system in England and Wales and while this number has remained roughly constant since 2010, government funding for prisons has dropped by around 15%.

The cause of people in prison has never been a popular one among the public, so independent funders have always been a vital part of the funding mix but these difficult times make them more important than ever.

Unfortunately, though understandably, the contraction in government funding and the crisis in prisons have made funders frustrated by the criminal justice system in recent years. There is a risk of them drifting away.

Our research shows funders can still have a significant impact on prisons and should not be dissuaded.

This report argues that:

  • Charities continue to have an impact despite working in a prison system which is in crisis. Their work both in prisons, and to influence change is hugely important to individuals and society and is only possible because of their independence from the system itself.
  • Independent funders are vital to charities working in prisons because it is a field which has experienced steep government cuts and does not attract much funding from the public.
  • There are legitimate reasons for funders to be worried about putting money into a broken system, but these are outweighed by the potential for impact. People in prison represent both deep need and great potential, and changing the system would have hugely positive effects across the country.


The charity can be the difference between self-harm or even suicide.

Steve Robson, Governor, HMP Leeds


For more criminal justice work from NPC, see our other Beyond Bars research: