Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 40-59)



  40. If I went into one of your prisons today and looked through your prisoner files, how many would not be complete in terms of the documents listed in Appendix 2, which you would normally expect to be on the prisoner's file?
  (Mr Narey) It would depend very much on how long into the sentence somebody was. I would be very confident that on almost all those files you would now find previous convictions, which you would find at a very early stage of the sentence. I would not like to predict what stage you will find all of those reports there.

  41. Have you ever done a sample test?
  (Mr Narey) I often look at files.

  42. Roughly, how many do you find not complete?
  (Mr Narey) Within four to six months after a finding of guilt I would say that the vast majority of that information was obtained.

  43. That is only a very rough and unquantified figure.
  (Mr Narey) I would say, I am estimating, 75 per cent or more. One of the reasons why we begin to see some improvement, I think it will get better, is it is only since April this year that my Services has the same regional boundaries as the Probation Service and the Crown Prosecution Service. We have only just got the mechanisms to be able to work horizontally with the rest of the Criminal Justice System in a way which was made impossible when we had 13 areas and the probation had 54 areas.

  44. All of you have said, certainly Mr Narey and Sir David, offending behaviour courses are very important in terms of determining whether somebody is ready for parole or not. Am I right in saying you cannot get on that sort of course if you do admit your guilt to start with, and you still maintain you are innocent?
  (Mr Narey) That is broadly true. There are some courses that offenders can go on if they do not accept the guilt for the offence they are in custody for, if they admit to previous offending or a previous impetus to criminal behaviour. Certainly a prerequisite for our current sex offender treatment programmes is an acceptance of guilt, because it is only through that one can try and explore with the prisoner the effect on his victim. We try and expose a twist of thinking which lies behind a lot of sex offending. Some paedophiles will argue and rationalise themselves that children can consent to sex and enjoy sex. It does need an admission of guilt.

  45. I understand your reasons for not doing that. Going on from that, if people who are not going to admit their guilt do not go on these courses, because they are of no use of them, if that is true, then how does the non-attendance on such a course affect their chances of parole?
  (Mr Narey) Mr Casey may want to say something about that. From the Prison Service's point of view our difficulty is that, whilst we know that there will be individuals who will be convicted who are innocent, we have to treat everyone we see from the court as properly and appropriately convicted. We will continue to encourage all those, particularly sex offenders, to agree to address their offending behaviour. It means in the reports that we provide to the Parole Board we will almost certainly conclude, where that has not happened, that somebody may be more dangerous.
  (Mr Casey) The Parole Board has to proceed on the basis that the prisoner has been properly convicted. We are required to look at all of the information in the dossier and to take into account not only if the person convicted went on courses but any other information that may be favourable to their release. It may be possible for a person who is still in denial to demonstrate through other factors that his risk is reduced to an acceptable level, a change of life-style, what have you. In the case of sex offenders it is particularly relevant whether or not they have done the SOTP.

  46. You seem to be saying, and this is a worry that has been brought out in public very recently in some sections of the media, that it is correct to say if you are genuinely innocent and, therefore, if you are not prepared, quite naturally, to admit your guilt you do not get on one of those courses, and you are in practice less likely to get parole than you would be if you were guilty. That seems to work contrary to common sense, in a sense, that one would want people who were innocent, even if the court procedures have decided they are guilty—we all understand sometimes court procedures can go wrong. It seems to me that those who are, in practice, innocent are less likely to get out earlier than those who are in practice guilty, is that not something of a worry?
  (Mr Casey) The Board's function is not to look at the question of guilt or innocence.

  47. I understand that.
  (Mr Casey) It can potentially disadvantage a person who is innocent if it is felt that attendance on a particular course they cannot do would be essential. As I said, in other circumstances people have been able to demonstrate the risk has been reduced without having done courses.

  48. Do you accept what I say, that in practice you are less likely to get parole if you are innocent?
  (Mr Casey) You are less likely to get parole if you are in denial of guilt.

  49. That is not the question I asked. One assumes you are in denial of guilt if you are innocent, it is possible you could admit guilt even though innocent.
  (Mr Casey) To say somebody is innocent is misleading because they have been found guilty by the court.

  50. I understand that, but the fact of the matter is that almost certainly some of them will be innocent, even though the court has found them guilty. In those circumstances it does seem to me less likely that they will get parole.
  (Mr Narey) I would agree with that.
  (Sir David Omand) The direction the Secretary of State gives to the Parole Board is that they should look at the risk to the public of further offences being committed. What we say to the Parole Board is they have to look at whether the prisoner has shown, by attitude and behaviour, that they are willing to address offending behaviour. In the circumstances you describe it is very difficult to see how an individual will be able to meet that criteria. I do not see a way around it.
  (Mr Narey) It is a real dilemma. You occasionally do become convinced that someone you are dealing with is innocent. I have been in that position myself in the past.

  51. You have been innocent when in prison!
  (Mr Narey) I was dealing with somebody and it was later proved to be the case that he was innocent. Within the group of people who protest their innocence there are also within that group, some very, very dangerous people in denial and if released prematurely would be extremely dangerous.

  Chairman: The undoubtedly innocent Barry Gardiner!

Mr Gardiner

  52. I suspect this is one Committee where one can honestly say that the witnesses are guilty until proven innocent, because they sometimes feel that like.
  (Mr Narey) There is nothing new there, then.

  53. Sir David, you have been before us in the past, and we have often been robust in other situations where you have been telling us about problems with the IND and passports, and so on. First of all, can I say congratulations for the improvement the Department has obviously made in this area. There is a huge change around from the sort of 40 per cent of dossiers and 40 per cent of decisions made by the due date to the figures you have now presented to us, which are in the 90s. That is good and something that this Committee should be thanking you for and congratulating you upon. Could I move from that to ask you, what is the point of parole?
  (Sir David Omand) If I can point you to the Secretary of State's Directions, "It is to look at the advantage and the benefit, both to the public and the offender, of early release back into the community under a degree of supervision which might help rehabilitation and so lessen the risk of re-offending in the future".

  54. Do you accept that many people find it very hard to understand why when a judge has passed a sentence of six years a prisoner can be out after having served four?
  (Sir David Omand) I think we have a continuing job to do to educate the public as to what is meant by a sentence. A sentence of so many years does not mean so many years in custody, it means that at least one half of that sentence, and possibly up to two thirds of that sentence, may be in custody, and these are the crucial dates that the Audit Report brings out. The sentence however, goes on until the end of the sentence. The individual is at risk of being returned to custody if they re-offend. They are under supervision on licence in the community for a proportion of that time, which may vary between a quarter and a twelfth of the sentence.

  55. If I can remind you of what Mr Narey said earlier when talking about the effect on prisoners when parole had been denied. I think, Mr Narey, the words that you used were that it can "sometimes present a problem of control."
  (Mr Narey) Yes.

  56. Meaning that it was difficult to control those prisoners in prison once they knew that the option, or the possibility, of parole had temporarily, at least, been taken away from them. So I wanted to ask you quite bluntly, is parole simply a means of exercising social control within the prison?
  (Mr Narey) I think, Mr Gardiner, it is much more than that, but I volunteer that it is very important in terms of making it possible. Because we have to run prisons, for a large part of the time, on consent, then I do not deny that it makes order and control much more easy. Tonight in a typical prison, in Parkhurst, for example, I know that there will be 300 prisoners locked in Parkhurst and there will be about 20 staff on duty, so it does give that benefit. In addition, I believe very firmly, that for long-term prisoners it provides real levers to us to get those prisoners to do more things about their offending than they would otherwise do, particularly drug treatment, for example.

  57. I want to take the two part that you have quite clearly outlined there in order. You said that, yes, there is an element of social control within the prison. Do you believe, therefore, that if one were to have a judicial system, or penal system, in which prisoners served precisely that, only that, and always that time which was prescribed by the judge as being their sentence, that would be a penal system which would be extremely difficult to operate in practice?
  (Mr Narey) I certainly do. If I can give a very brief example, with those 3,000 young men who are 17 and under who are detained, from April of last year I was advised that governors had lost the ability to add days to their sentence, and without that discouragement for bad behaviour you will find, in that age group in the closing weeks of the sentence, a great deal of misbehaviour and vandalism.

  58. The second part of your answer was that parole, or the possibility of parole, gave you the opportunity to influence the behaviour of the prisoner and to get them to seek to address their pattern of offending behaviour and redress that pattern. Is that correct?
  (Mr Narey) That is correct.

  59. If you turn to paragraph 2.33 of the Report you will recall that it says that 90 per cent of parole clerks had difficulty in obtaining police reports, 51 per cent could not get hold of something as basic as a list of previous convictions, and 82 per cent had problems in getting other documents, I cannot remember what they were at the moment. At what stage are the parole clerks requesting those documents? How long before the parole is due?
  (Mr Narey) Mr Casey will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think, 26 weeks before the eligibility date.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 29 March 2001