Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence




  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 into society?
  (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.

Mr Singh

  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 kills themselves.

  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 jails—or 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 suicidal.

  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 needs?
  (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.

Mr Malins

  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.[2]

  47. Roughly how many governors all together?
  (Mr Narey) Governing governors or those we would call governing grades?

  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 do it.
  (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.[3] 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 more quickly.

  51. What would you get as a starting salary as a young governor, one of these graduate trainees in London, say?
  (Mr Wheatley) They start on £12,000.
  (Mr Narey) But they move very quickly through the ranks.

  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 a figure.

  Chairman: I am advised that it is more likely between £17,000 and £20,000.

Mr Malins

  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.

Mr Malins

  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 not?
  (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

3   See Annex. Back

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