EXAMINATION OF WITNESSES (Questions 40-59)
TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2001
40. We all understand the difficulties here
but to go back to my experience in Dartmoor, there is a farm there,
as you know, and only a handful of prisoners were actually willing
to work on the farm. It would have probably been better for them
if they had been forced to get out of their cells, particularly
on a cold day, and work on the farm and produce food, providing
it did not undercut the local economy. That is clearly a fear
people have. May I take you further forward onto resettlement?
You know the view of this Committee that we were hugely impressed
by Blantyre House and the regime there. Your speech referred to
resettlement twice in the same sentence. What is your vision for
resettlement for long-term offenders, to prepare them for return
(Mr Narey) That prisoners, not just at the end of
their sentence, but throughout their sentence, should be equipped
to lead a life free from crime. Obviously we cannot force individuals
to do that and with many individuals it will never work. From
the outset of the sentence we should address some of the reasons
why people may be in custody. The most important two are the fact
that currently offenders are committing acquisitive crime to fund
a drug habit or they are so inadequate in terms of literacy and
numeracy that they are unemployable. I hope you will forgive me
for repeating the statistic which I have given to you previously
but two thirds of the prison population have levels of literacy
and numeracy so low they are ineligible for 96 per cent of jobs
and that is a basic skills agency statistic, not mine. Resettlement
is not something which should be tacked onto the end of a sentence.
We should start addressing those needs as soon as people arrive.
In addition to that I should like to see more resettlement units
which bridge the gap between custody and the community and since
we last spoke we have opened essentially a new resettlement prison
within a prison at Hatfield near Doncaster. We have opened at
Brixton prison a day resettlement centre with about 70 prisoners
there every day involved in learning how to apply for jobs, putting
together CVs, further improving literacy and numeracy. I am very,
very keen that we do much more. We have £21 million promised
over the next three years so as to double the number of people
who leave our custody and go straight into jobs. That is a very,
very challenging target but I think we shall do it.
41. I should like to ask you some questions
on two areas: one on suicides and the other on racism within prisons.
Suicides have risen alarmingly over the last three years, although
last year there was a slight fall. Having said that, there was
more than a 50 per cent rise in suicide attempts. What steps are
you taking to tackle this appalling problem?
(Mr Narey) I have said publicly on many occasions
that there is nothing more important in the whole of the Service
than reducing suicides. Although it was a small fall, I am nevertheless
delighted that last year saw the first fall for five years in
the number of suicides. They fell from 91 to 82, possibly 81 as
it is now becoming clear that one of the deaths we thought was
a suicide may have been natural causes. That is a significant
fall of about ten per cent in the rate of suicides and a rather
larger fall in the numbers. I do not think we can be confident
that will necessarily be repeated, although the numbers this year
at eight suggest we may match or undercut the number last year.
We are also putting very significant investment this year into
local prisons, greater investment into providing more safe cells
without ligature points, piloting a much more effective screening
process on reception to try to identify the potentially suicidal,
prison officers working full time on suicide prevention duties
within the local prisons to try to see whether we can effect a
year on year reduction. I believe we can, but the burden facing
us is very, very considerable, for some of the reasons Mr Stinchcombe
mentioned in terms of people coming into our care, the proportion
who abuse drugs, those who are undergoing various forms of detoxification
when in our custody, make the burden very, very difficult. At
any one time at the moment in prisons in England and Wales there
are 1,000 or so prisoners identified as being at extreme risk
of committing suicide. Three nights out of four nobody does, but
about one night in four somebody does. Despite the fact that there
are many occasions on which staff intervene and pull people down
or resuscitate people, about one night in four someone successfully
42. I find it hard to believe that conditions
in prisons in the United States of America are better than conditions
in the UK. I may be wrong. Nevertheless, the suicide rate in prisons
in the UK is 12 times higher than that in the US. I understand
Jack Straw recently went to New York to look at US jailsor
Home Office officials anyway. I do not know whether they have
reported back to you what they found. Are there any reasons for
this massive difference between American rates and ours?
(Mr Narey) Some of my officials went to try to examine
that. I have seen some US jails. I share your view about US jails,
indeed I visited one in Washington State last year which I thought
in some respects was an institution which troubled me greatly,
hugely austere, a vast proportion of prisoners permanently locked
behind the doors without getting out at all, no relationship at
all that I would recognise as being a normal one between staff
and prisoners and yet the suicides were very, very low indeed.
Part of that is explained by a significantly lower rate of suicide
in the community in the US than in the UK, but it is something
for which frankly I do not have an explanation. Suicides have
risen in prisons in England and Wales until last year even though
levels of overcrowding have certainly eased, even though we no
longer have three to a cell meant for one, even though slopping
out has gone, things which one might have thought intuitively
contributed to a lower suicide rate seem to have done the exact
opposite. I am afraid we do not have an explanation for what is
happening in the US other than some of the things which we are
introducing this year in terms of trying to bring a greater profile
and greater management priority to better screening of the potentially
43. One can only hope that your attempts in
that direction come to fruition. Moving on to the issue of racism
in prisons, an article in The Independent on 6 February
said about you "Since his appointment as Director General
he has not been afraid of speaking out, although some of his attempts
to highlight controversial issues have slightly backfired. He
has campaigned to boost the number of ethnic minority staff within
the Prison Service and tackle discrimination. But evidence has
emerged in the past three months of alarming levels of racism
in jails and the Commission for Racial Equality has set up an
inquiry". We were all shocked by the death of the young Asian
at Feltham when he was put in a cell with a known racist. How
do you feel you are doing in that area? Where are you succeeding
and where are you failing?
(Mr Narey) The Service is facing up to the fact that
we have a very real problem and I think that is the first part
of trying to put things right. There are some encouraging signs
in the last year or so. The proportion of staff from minority
ethnic groups who joined us last year reached six per cent which
is the highest ever total. For the first time last year, the proportion
of staff promoted in the Service outstripped their numbers in
our workforce. Ten per cent of the young governors who joined
the fast stream, governors of the future, were from minority ethnic
groups last year and things started to improve for prisoners.
We have introduced a new complaints procedure for prisoners which
makes it much easier for prisoners to make complaints: there is
a tick box if somebody believes their treatment might have been
racist; it allows much swifter access to the Ombudsman, access
to the Ombudsman in typically six weeks rather than what sometimes
might be four or five months at the moment. We are making some
encouraging progress but I have acknowledged that we have a real
problem. We are institutionally racist and there are pockets of
blatant and malicious racism. I know that not least because I
received some racist hate mail following some of the pronouncements
I have made and I guess some of those have come from my staff.
I do think we are making real and tangible progress. What set
us back considerably and quite rightly was the appalling murder
of Zahid Mubarek in Feltham, a 19-year old boy serving 90 days,
first custodial sentence, and he should not have been sharing
a cell with a young man whom we should have known to be both psychopathic
and racist. That was a very, very serious failure on our part.
I went to see Mr Mubarek before his son died and I have seen the
family since. As soon as the verdict was made, I believed it was
no longer tenable to do other than to say to the CRE that they
should come in and do their first formal inquiry into any organisation
for 11 years, because frankly I did not believe the outside world
were going to believe our protestations that we were putting things
right and that the CRE should come to look for themselves. That
inquiry is now under way.
44. It is very brave of you to say that your
institution is institutionally racist and you have made some very
important comments about what you are trying to do. I understand
that the Prison Service had a race adviser who has resigned. If
you are taking these steps, why has that adviser resigned?
(Mr Narey) We have a race adviser, an outstanding
one in Judy Clements. She certainly has not resigned, neither
she nor the other key appointment which was a Muslim adviser 18
months ago to look after the interests of our growing Islamic
population; now four per cent of all prisoners are Muslims. Neither
of them has resigned and indeed both of them have made an outstanding
contribution in the first years in their jobs.
45. I am very impressed by your statistics in
terms of six per cent of your new recruitment from ethnic minorities.
You may be able to advise other institutions on how you have done
that because that is commendable. In terms of cultural needs of
prisoners, yes, prisoners have been deprived of their liberty,
they have been sent to prison, but they still have their human
rights in terms of their religious needs, dietary needs and cultural
needs. I get many, many calls from constituents who are in prison
who have different faiths, about problems they experience maybe
in terms of fasting during Ramadan or Sikhs who do not eat beef
or do not want to be in cells where people smoke. What are you
trying to do to meet those religious and cultural and dietary
(Mr Narey) A number of things. First of all we have
an advisory committee on faiths which concentrates particularly
on our provision for the non-Christian faiths, the main one of
which is Islam. The Muslim adviser has made a real impact. In
the last year he has advised governors on arrangements for Friday
prayers, on the changing hours of Friday prayers. He has been
working very closely with my catering people to make sure that
halal meat is provided on every occasion. We have some way to
go but my own meetings with the Central London Mosque for example
and people from outside suggest to me that it is acknowledged
we are starting to make some real improvements. Certainly since
Maqsood Ahmed's appointment as Muslim adviser, there is much greater
confidence in the Islamic community that we are giving provision
for Muslim prisoners equivalent to what we give for Christian
prisoners. We have multi-faith rooms in nearly all prisons now.
In some prisons the Christian chaplaincy and the imam have come
to arrangements for sharing chapels and so forth. We have moved
quite a long way in the last couple of years in looking after
the particular requirements of minority prisoners.
46. A few questions on staffing and governors
and managers. May I just clear my own mind? Roughly how many staff
work for the Prison Service in prisons?
(Mr Narey) Forty-four thousand.
47. Roughly how many governors all together?
(Mr Narey) Governing governors or those we would call
48. Call them what you like.
(Mr Narey) Governing governors: 136. Governing grades,
which is an expression which is going out of use now: about 1,000.
49. Are you attracting capable people as future
governors? Tell us about your ability to get them in and how you
(Mr Narey) One of the nicer parts of my job every
September is to go to meet the graduate entrants who join us and
arrive at our Prison Service college near Rugby. From my own experience,
but also objectively measured, we are getting a quite stunning
quality of young men and women, an almost 50:50 gender split incidentally
of men and women joining on the fast stream to become prison governors.
50. Do you need to be on the fast stream to
become a governor?
(Mr Narey) No, you do not.
We do indeed have some governors who have worked all the way up
on the steady stream for officers. You can become a governor much
51. What would you get as a starting salary
as a young governor, one of these graduate trainees in London,
(Mr Wheatley) They start on £12,000.
(Mr Narey) But they move very quickly through the
52. How quickly? How quickly to £18,000?
(Mr Narey) I think one of the fast stream governors
would start on rather more than £12,000 would they not?
(Mr Wheatley) Three years to become a governor.
53. Yes, but my question was quite straightforward,
I hope. What would I start off on? I am an undergraduate of 21.
Where do I come in?
(Mr Narey) I believed we start them on rather more
than £12,000. I believe we start them on £15,000 or
£16,000 on the fast track. May I check and let you have that
information? Very quickly, they will be earning money which is
competitive with those people outside; they will be earning middle
management salaries and salaries in the £20,000 plus.
Mr Malins: I am a bit surprised you do not know
Chairman: I am advised that it is more likely
between £17,000 and £20,000.
54. What I am getting at is whether you are
getting good young graduates in.
(Mr Narey) Very good.
55. That is good. When you get to the senior
appointments of governor and area manager, do you have enough
freedom yourself to bring in outsiders from outside the Prison
Service to any of these posts?
(Mr Narey) Yes, we do. I might say that although we
are getting very good people now we have a problem at middle management
levels in that some years ago the fast stream recruitment I described
stopped for a while and there is a bit of a problem for us at
middle management level. We have some very good people at the
top of the Service and some very, very talented people coming
through, but there is a gap in the middle. We have tried to plug
that in one or two ways. First of all, two years ago we launched
a scheme to attract people who were already in another career,
people who typically might have been working as teachers, probation
officers, solicitors, whatever and who might want a change in
career. We bring them in and train them very quickly.
56. Do not let that Mr Blunkett know you are
nicking his teachers.
(Mr Narey) Quite a few teachers come to join us actually,
not least people who teach in prison. We train them very quickly
so that within a number of years they will be working as a third
or fourth in charge of an establishment.
57. That suggests you may have problems at the
bottom end, taking people in in terms of calibre of people trying
to join the Prison Service today because these are the people
who would normally work up to middle management level, are they
(Mr Narey) The quality of the fast stream people is
very good. The quality of officers is much better than it used
to be, typically now every officer will have five GCSEs or the
equivalent or have passed competency tests to prove they are of
that level. That is a big change from a few years ago.
58. Are you allowed to appoint someone from
outside the whole Service as a prison governor?
(Mr Narey) I just appointed as governor of Feltham
somebody who had left the Service and who had been working for
some time in the private sector.
59. So you are allowed to appoint anybody you
like who is the right person for the job.
(Mr Narey) Yes, if I wish.
2 See Annex. Back
See Annex. Back