Examination of witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
MONDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2000
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 majorityI am talking
about the very high 90sperhaps 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
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
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
Mr Gardiner: Okay.
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
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 gangstersare these all for corrective
(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.
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
(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.
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
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
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,
1 Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, pages 14-15 for Home
Office replies to Questions 65-70. Back
Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, pages 14-15 for Home Office replies
to Questions 65-70, 71 and 80-83. Back
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