Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  60. In a case where a prisoner has been banged up for years it is not until 26 weeks before their parole is due that a parole clerk will begin to compile that file, and at that point they are having difficulty finding those documents. Why?
  (Mr Narey) As I said to Mr Rendel, because I think our communications in the wider Criminal Justice System, until recently, have been very poor. I think we have done a lot of things recently to put that right.

  61. Let me just proceed with the argument that I am trying to construct here. If, as you have conceded, a prisoner may have been banged up for years without anybody having immediate access to his pattern of offence, so that there are no police reports, there are no lists of previous convictions, tell me how is it, therefore, that in prison for all those years the prison authorities can be claiming to do the other part of what you told me parole was all about, namely, getting somebody to address their pattern of offending? If you do not know what their previous convictions are, if you do not know what their pattern of offence is, how is it that for all those years any constructive programme of work can have been done with that prisoner?
  (Mr Narey) I think I can explain, Mr Gardiner. The reality is that the previous convictions, for example, will be in the prison. The parole clerks who find difficulties, in 51 per cent of cases, the clerks who were asked this are having difficulty getting hold of the previous convictions, but it does not mean that they are not in the prison. In fact, nobody can get into a training prison from a local prison until we have seen the previous convictions. Obviously, someone may be charged with theft, but if they have a rape on their antecedents then we will put them in a prison accordingly. So, frequently, we, the Prison Service, have the information, but we have not made it available to the parole clerk, and we made it unnecessarily difficult for them to get hold of it. We have only really started to sort this out because we have started to take it serious and bring a bit of managerial clout to bear on getting everything together. The information has been there, but we have not always made it easy for the parole clerk to get the dossier together when she has started her work, sometimes many years after the prisoner has arrived in our custody.

  62. What you are saying is that you are confident that the Prison Service has had all the information it requires to be setting out constructive programmes for offenders to address their pattern of behaviour, and that the only reason that it has been difficult for the Parole Board and parole clerks to get that information is simply poor communication?
  (Mr Narey) Certainly with previous convictions, I am convinced that in the overwhelming majority—I am talking about the very high 90s—perhaps after a delay of a few weeks, we will always have the previous convictions. That is communication. In terms of the work that we are doing to address offending behaviour, we would find out through an induction process, or the Probation Service, whether somebody was a drug abuser and needed drug treatment, or we would, through basic skills assessments, see whether somebody needed work on literacy and numeracy and so forth. So a lot of that work would start a long way in advance of consideration of parole.

  63. Of course, and so it should, but in the Report it says that the clerk had to go back to the police to get information. Why is that, because if that information is held within the prison, if it has already been used as part of the process of rehabilitation within the prison, how is it that the clerk had to go back to the police to acquire that information?
  (Mr Narey) The clerk should not have to go back to the police to compile this information, and, indeed, as I have already described, we can now get that information direct from the police computers. I am confident that the difficulties that the clerks reported when this study was done will now be much improved.

  64. I said that I had one statistical question that I wanted to put to you. That is in relation to those people who are released on parole. I cannot remember whether it was Mr Rendel who touched on this area. Those people who are released on parole and then subsequently taken back in before the end of their sentence expires, not because they have re-offended, I want the statistics on those who are taken back in because they were considered to be at risk of re-offending. I want to know whether that was a real or a fictional possibility, if you see what I am saying, whether anybody actually was ever taken back in because they were considered to be at risk, rather than for actually re-offending?
  (Mr Casey) Last year about ten per cent of the average number of people who were on parole were recalled. Of those only 3.8 per cent were recalled because they committed a further offence, the remainder had breached their licence conditions or behaved in a way that suggested there was a risk of them re-offending.
  (Sir David Omand) After the parole has started there are two key dates, one at which the period of the licence expires and the other when the sentence expires. For the first of those periods the individual is under the supervision of the Probation Service. There are often quite stringent conditions attached to that licence, which are then monitored by the Probation Service. It is perfectly possible that an individual might breach those conditions and be recalled. Once the licence has expired, at say the three-quarters point of a sentence, they are then at risk of recall if they re-offend, and slightly different conditions apply.

  Mr Gardiner: Okay.

Mr Davies

  65. This is a question for the NAO, I am interested to know if you have available or have been supplied with any breakdowns of success and failure rates for parole by ethnicity, by category of offence, by prison or region? What I am interested in is, is there statistical evidence to support any level of bias of institutionalised discrimination on an ethnic basis or perhaps they are more lenient in the north or the south? Do you have that information?
  (Mr Narey) The position is that in terms of straight ethnicity, the white prisoners applying for parole have about a 30 per cent success rate, slightly higher than Afro-Caribbean prisoners. About 73 per cent of applications by Asian prisoners are successful[1].

  66. What were the other ones?
  (Mr Narey) 73 per cent of Asian prisoners, 32 per cent of white prisoners and 28 per cent of black prisoners.

  67. Are successful on the first attempt?
  (Mr Narey) I think are successful, not necessarily on the first attempt.

  68. That is for offence categories, is it? It might just be that the Asian people are in for minor offences and the white people are gangsters—are these all for corrective offence categories?
  (Mr Casey) These are all figures from the research undertaken by Roger Hood. These are just the percentages of successful candidates. What they went on to do is then look at the variables that are associated with successful applications.

  69. Am I right in saying, if you commit any sort of offence, murder or sex offence, whatever it is, you are just as likely to get parole if you are white or if you are black?
  (Mr Casey) Yes, offence for offence.

  Mr Davies: I think it would be useful if we have a note on that. 2


  70. Is that possible?
  (Mr Narey) Certainly.

Mr Davies

  71. You are saying to me there is a consistency across the board. In terms of individual parole boards it would be interesting to know whether there is any variation on a regional basis, if certain parole boards are more lenient on white people committing bank robberies. So I have this process clear in my mind, in 1999/2000 41 per cent of people considered for parole were successful. Obviously those people who were unsuccessful can try again the following year, can they not? I assume a very small number of people actually serve their complete sentence, because there is a process of interviews every year, is that correct?
  (Mr Narey) I am not sure what proportion of prisoners would get to the automatic release point, I think it is pretty substantial.
  (Mr Casey) A prisoner will only get a second review if he is serving more than six and a half years. About two thirds of the prisoners we deal with fall under that threshold[2].

  72. If I were one of these prisoners, you get one interview, you fail that, when can you come back, is it in a year's time?
  (Mr Casey) The way the timetable works is you have to be doing six and a half years to be eligible for a second review, because you will be released at the two thirds point in any case.

  73. Okay. It is clear from the Report that a very high percentage of prisoners spend too long in prison because of administrative delay, I know there is an improvement there. Can I ask you, Sir David, is there a system of compensation in place for people who are essentially innocent who should be going back to their everyday lives in the community and are boxed up in the prison system because of an administrative error?
  (Sir David Omand) No, parole is discretionary, it is not an entitlement. The essence of it is licenced supervision in the community. The individual is still continuing to serve their sentence and they are doing so under supervision in the community.

  74. What is the average delay in getting your parole interview now?
  (Mr Narey) Those delays have all fallen considerably.

  75. What is the average delay now?
  (Mr Narey) I do not know if I can give statistics, I mentioned that now currently 86 per cent of dossiers are getting to the Parole Board on time and they are getting 91 per cent of decisions issued on time. Of course, there was a legitimate concern in the Report that within the averages might be hidden a small number of cases where individual prisoners were being delayed a very, very long time.

  76. Does anybody know the answer? Is it three months, six months? What is the average delay?
  (Mr Narey) At the moment, of those prisoners that are told late only about four per cent of them are told eight weeks late or more, which is a substantial reduction on the situation as found in the Report.

  77. Eight per cent four weeks or more.
  (Mr Narey) I am corrected 0.4 per cent 8 weeks or more[3].

  78. Given the probability of being delayed, let out is something like 40 per cent, is it not? So 40 per cent of those people are being unfairly incarcerated, as it were, for that period of time. If somebody had a delay and knows they had a delay and then they are let out, therefore they have been in prison two months longer than they should have been, do you think there is a case for compensation?
  (Mr Narey) I think we would be reckless in doing that now we have the delays down to such a small period. Of those successful prisoners only 0.4 per cent are in for eight weeks beyond the date. In terms of ensuring public safety, which is at the forefront, and we do not compromise, I think that is acceptable.
  (Sir David Omand) At the risk of stating the obvious, it may be worth reinforcing the point that the administrative objective is to make sure that cases are prepared and ready for consideration by the Parole Board on the due date. Whether the Parole Board then approves those cases or not is a risk assessment for the Parole Board, particularly the cases for lifers. We do not expect everyone to pass the consideration and, indeed, they do not. The key consideration is the protection of the public.

  79. Can I ask you just to turn the question on its head, if you like? Is there a danger that in rushing to continue your rate of improvement, people are rushing round at the last minute getting the dossiers in, rushing into the interviews, not reading them properly and this is a quota driven output and they are not giving enough time for the consideration of whether people should not be given parole or given parole?
  (Sir David Omand) I do not think that is a real danger, no.

1   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, pages 14-15 for Home Office replies to Questions 65-70. Back

2   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, pages 14-15 for Home Office replies to Questions 65-70, 71 and 80-83. Back

3   Note by Witness: Of those prisoners who receive a late decision, only 1.7% (September 2000) received the decision eight weeks late or more. In the same month, 0.4% of dossiers were submitted to the Parole Board eight weeks late or more. Back

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