Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. There is little evidence of the requirements of parole being spelt out; is that not a staff problem?
  (Mr Narey) It is. As I mentioned in an earlier response, I think it is very easy for staff, particularly landing staff, to get lulled into a belief that all that is important is custodial behaviour. There can be cases—and the most sophisticated prisoners are extremely compliant—where they can be quite charming and that can lull a prison officer to misunderstand what parole is really about.

  21. What 3.23 says, basically, is the parole manager's knowledge of parole—the staff say that their bosses know their knowledge is basic or poor. Is this lions led by donkeys?
  (Mr Narey) I agree with that statement. We have done a lot to put that right.

  22. In six months!
  (Mr Narey) Every prison now has a nominated senior manager responsible for parole. The parole clerk sometimes has to push this alone and is generally a very junior person, and there is a senior manager in every prison now who has to report directly to the Governor and has to take responsibility for making sure the parole clerk is supported. We give some of this subject the same urgency that we started to give to security in the mid 1990s. It is only with that sort of managerial concentration you can turn things around.
  (Sir David Omand) This evidence was, of course, gathered well over a year ago, almost 18 months ago. There has been quite a long period since, where the management have improved matters.
  (Mr Narey) I think that has shown in the performance, which has leapt on quite significantly.

  23. That is from a very poor base level to a pretty mediocre level of 72 per cent.
  (Mr Narey) The percentage of dossiers received by the Parole Board on time in September just gone was 86 per cent, which is a further improvement.

  24. What steps have you taken to simplify the number of reports that are required that concern each prisoner?
  (Mr Narey) I am sure Mr Casey will want to come in. We are looking at the whole process now to see whether we can improve that. I think you know that we are introducing a new joint offender risk assessment system with the Probation Service and that will bring forward some very, very important information to the Parole Board. It will forward the actuarial scope and it will bring forward a more continuous log of the prisoner's progress. We might be able to combine at least two reports in the process.

  25. This Report gives more than a strong impression, Mr Narey, first of all far too little is done to sit down the prisoner at the beginning of the sentence and spell out what is required of them. If you do not do that with them the simple steps become more complicated ones, which is the people who practise to deceive are not likely to be in that column. Secondly, what comes out of the Report is that as the prisoner serves a sentence there is not a stage when these reports are just collected and ready for a Parole Board in a future date, and can be updated, it is as if it all starts from scratch eight to ten weeks before a Parole Board requires it. That is a concern. What I am interested in is whether there are certain reports where you just tick a book? For instance, you are not causing a problem, you obeyed orders, the prison officer has no dispute with you. Is that not a box-ticking one?
  (Mr Narey) You could have a report like that but I think it would be pretty useless. We are trying to design a proforma with some reports so that report writers have some knowledge of what the Parole Board is seeking.

  26. If somebody is a model prisoner, if somebody creates no problems for the prison authorities, goes to bed on time, performs every task, why do you not tick the box and then deal with his neighbour, who may be at the opposite end of the spectrum?
  (Mr Narey) I do not think the fact that someone has behaved well in the way that you describe contributes anything that the Parole Board needs to know. They need to know what his dangerousness is to the community. I do not think custodial behaviour is very important.

  27. Is there any sort of report on custodial behaviour?
  (Mr Narey) Yes, there is, but it is a very small part. Clearly, if it is a negative report—

  28. If someone is good, is it a one page report about them?
  (Mr Narey) No, because the report should look at more than that. It should look at whether his custodial behaviour has been reasonable, but it should try and discuss his attitude to having completed an offending behaviour programme, the effort he has put into completing his education and so on.

  29. Forgive me, I would have thought there would have been a separate report done on the attitude of somebody attending a re-offending programme. I would have thought that there must be basics in a prison that show you whether a prisoner is not causing the prison system problems, as against the likelihood of re-offending?
  (Mr Narey) There are indeed. The point I am trying to make, Mr Griffiths, is that I do not think that information is of very much use to the Parole Board, because it is not a very good predictor.

  30. The reason I am dwelling on this is because I would like to know if it is a form in a process that could be got out of the way much for more easily than now?
  (Mr Narey) No. The Parole Board tell us that reports which are written too early are not much use to them. One of the reasons this is a little bit tricky to manage is that we cannot start the process very, very early to make sure we meet all the targets. In fact, the Parole Board tell us that completed dossiers that arrive more than five weeks early, they do not find terribly useful. They want a very up to date, immediate picture of that particular offender.

  31. You tell us you have a programme now which is going to work to educate the prison managers better on the requirements that should be spelt out by their staff to prisoners?
  (Mr Narey) I have prison managers gripping this, and they have been for the past year or 18 months.

  32. If I have time, can I finally talk about something different, and that is the length of time it takes for reports to go—if a prisoner is transferred—from one prison to another? What is the longest that can take, and why?
  (Mr Narey) I am not sure I know what the longest is that it can take. I imagine that in some circumstances it can take a very considerable period of time indeed, which is why, as far as possible, we are trying to slow down and stop unnecessary transfers, but I am afraid there are some very good reasons why transfers will continue to need to take place, even for those prisoners who are under parole consideration.

Mr Rendel

  33. Can I start off, Mr Narey, with a very general question? If a prisoner is turned down for parole as a result of this process, what extra difficulties does that put the Prison Service in?
  (Mr Narey) Most prisoners can develop a very, very optimistic view of their parole chances, and even when they can be conditioned into expecting a negative result, my experience in prisons is that most of them are very, very optimistic and can take a knock back very, very badly. That can do a number of things. The most important thing it can do is that a prisoner, a serious offender, who has been co-operating and trying to address his offending behaviour and taking part in courses, working on education, sometimes the prisoner will say, "Well, that did not do me any good" and will throw that all up and start being a control problem. Indeed, I think for the staff in general it is a very difficult job to tell a long-term prisoner that they are not getting parole, but the staff are pretty competent in doing it and in those circumstances, after an initial period of difficulty, most prisoners get down to try and make their second application more successful.

  34. You have told us that the situation is a great deal better and it is very good news, obviously, that these things are going through a lot quicker than they were before. What analysis have you done of what the remaining problem is? Is it a question of particular prisons or particular forms that often are not there, or what is the main reason?
  (Mr Casey) It depends what the problem is which place you start from. In terms of the Parole Board targets, we are currently notifying 97 per cent of the decisions. The other 3 per cent are likely to arise from cases having to be deferred for new information or because the prisoner has had an adjudication, or deferral so he can complete a course.

  35. Can I stop you and ask something, coming back to Mr Narey's previous question? If prisoners are asking for deferral is that because someone in the Prison Service is, perhaps, saying, "We do not think you are going to get it this time. It might be better not to get disappointed and go ahead at a later date"?
  (Mr Narey) That might sometimes be the case, yes. A prisoner—particularly if they are realistic about their chances—who knows that they have a place coming up on a sex offenders treatment programme, which is very significant in parole terms, may wish to defer their circumstances.
  (Mr Casey) In terms of the performance on dossiers, which is currently running at about 83 per cent, the remaining cases are probably still down to late reports of one kind or another.

  36. Has anybody analysed why those reports are late? Is it that particular prisons are very bad, or there is one particular report that everybody seems to be late on?
  (Mr Casey) I do not have that information, I am afraid.
  (Sir David Omand) Can I add one point to that, which is that, as with all examples of process engineering, as you get closer to 100 per cent the random fluctuations in the system begin to affect you. What we want to look at now, through the Comprehensive Review that Mr Narey mentioned, is whether we can improve the processes themselves, rather than just better management in the existing process, whether we can actually have simpler processes, in particular, use technology more. I expect to see some improvements made which will begin to get us towards that.

  37. Do you know if there are any prisons that are providing 100 per cent reports on time?
  (Mr Narey) I do not have a list of them, but certainly some are, because the general performance is now very high—in the high 80s. In addition, in terms of incomplete reports, we used to be guilty of sending the Parole Board reports on time but which were incomplete. The rough proportion of incomplete reports now, I think, in the Report there was an improvement from around 25 per cent to 5 per cent. We now have that down to 1.4 per cent. The reason why there are still some areas where we are not doing well, although there are some improvements, are now down to us, not the Parole Board. We have not yet got sentence planning working as effectively as it should. We have not yet got parole properly integrated into sentence planning, and sometimes, in any case, we cannot offer the courses that a particular prisoner needs for his first parole review. Sometimes other operational pressures disrupt parole and we do, although we would like not to, have to transfer prisoners.
  (Sir David Omand) The Prison Service would not want to start a prisoner on a course which would not terminate until after the parole eligibility date, but in the real world you cannot always guarantee that.
  (Mr Narey) There is a significant waiting list for sex offenders treatment programmes, and the courses are very intensive, it takes about 6 months to complete, and one can only assess the apparent efficacy of the course at a minimum of three months after the completion of the course. So it means, for some prisoners, actually getting through the course can take someone beyond their parole eligibility date.

  38. Are you saying that it is more likely to be because of the type of offence that some people are not getting through the system as they should be?
  (Mr Narey) I think it is particularly difficult for sex offenders. SOTP is seen, quite properly, as very significant by the Parole Board, because it appears to have a certain effect on dangerousness.

  39. Appendix 2 gives a list of what the papers are that are supposed to be in the dossier that comes forward. It is clear from paragraph 2.32 that a large proportion of those papers, not, obviously, all of them, should be kept on the prisoner's file. Why have so many of the sort of papers that you expect to be on the prisoner's file—for example, previous sentences and so on, which are supposed to be done before the sentence starts—not in the prisoner's file and, therefore, very readily available to the Parole Board?
  (Mr Narey) Sometimes because we have traditionally found communication with the Criminal Justice System pretty poor, particularly electronic communication. Previous convictions are a simple area which we have done very badly with until recently. Despite the fact that previous convictions should come with a warrant from every court, that frequently does not happen and sometimes when it does happen they get diverted from the prisoner's file to the security file somewhere else. The way we have got through that, and why we have started to make some improvement in the completion of dossiers, is that now, in all local prisons—38 of them—we have IT links with the Police National Computer. So on the day that we receive the prisoner or the day after if you do not have the previous convictions, which we need for all sorts of other things like categorisation, we can down-load them immediately from the database.

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