Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  80. Presumably there is a statistical breakdown that shows the rate of re-offence by category, by prisoner and Parole Board, and presumably there is quite a variation in the tendency of certain Boards who interview prisoners to release people who re-offend much more than other Parole Boards. Is that the case, and san you provide that information[4]?

  (Mr Casey) The Boards do not actually sit on a regional basis.

  81. Am I right to say that there are different Boards and you can monitor them against each other?
  (Mr Casey) No. We hold meetings of the Board every day, panel members come in from all round the country. So the individual members may not actually sit together regularly in the same group of three.

  82. If there was someone who was on these Boards regularly and they were biased, in that either they let off guilty people easily or they were biased against black people or whatever, is there a way that you could isolate them statistically or are they so churned up that you cannot do this?
  (Mr Casey) We could not isolate individual members. Panels share the decisions.
  (Sir David Omand) I think that would become apparent if a panel of three included an individual who consistently went against the views of their colleagues.

  83. You say there are three people and they are all in different places, it would be different. Is there a way of organising these things in a way that we can pick up institutionalised discrimination? Perhaps it is something to think about. Mr Casey seems to think you cannot easily do it, because they are all churned up every week. It was just a thought. Perhaps there is not an answer to that. Can I ask Mr Casey, I understand, as you stated earlier, that the process must assume rightful conviction. Coming back to one of Mr Rendel's points, I have a very great worry about the significant minority of people in our prisons who are innocent—they come to light in the media from time to time—and it seems to me that if it is the case that they are not allowed on certain rehabilitative courses because they will not admit their guilt, that is a real problem. It is quite a different thing to say, "We will not give them parole", but you did say that you would actually stop them going on behaviourial courses to help them because they say, "Look, I am innocent actually"?
  (Mr Casey) There are certain courses which can be done by people who are in denial. The problem mainly focuses around sex offender treatment programmes4.

  84. Can I just say that the point about sex offenders has been well made? Can you confine this to non-sex offenders in your response? I agree with you on sex offenders.
  (Mr Casey) All I can do is reiterate that the Board has to proceed on the basis that the person has been properly convicted and look at everything that is known about them, and identify what risk factors are present and how far anything has been done to address them.

  85. I will give you a very brief example. A man who came to see me in my surgery said that his son had been involved in some cocaine dealing and was threatened by gangsters with his life, put a gun in his mouth and all that sort of stuff. He was put in prison for another offence—trying to get the money through a bank robbery—and was threatened with his life in prison. Meanwhile the father had to somehow get this money, so he borrowed the money off some fairly shady characters, tried to pay it back, then allowed his garage to be used for storage and it ended up that they were putting all sorts of things in there, from explosives to chemicals and all the rest of it, and he got done for this. He said, "Well, you know, circumstantial evidence, and my sons life, but I have served my sentence", and when he went to the Parole Board they wanted him to say what an awful person he was—which I guess he is in some sense—and he has got no chance of getting out. I wonder whether people are inside, who are not particularly dangerous to the community, and are being systematically resisted because they want them to say, "I am sorry for everything and I have changed, and I am not a danger." Are there a large number in this category?
  (Mr Narey) I think with individuals like that it is not quite as difficult as with sex offenders.

  86. I accept all sex offenders.
  (Mr Narey) I do not know if that particular individual was a drug user, but, for example, he could go on drug treatment programmes. We have invested an additional £64 million in those from last year[5]. If he had problems with employability he could go into education and make himself more employable by getting qualifications. Very crucial in that particular circumstance you described would be his particular release plan. If, for example, he was making a fresh start, going to live in a different community, had a chance of a job and somewhere to live and was getting away from the group that pulled him into that crime, they would all be persuasive points in his favour when the Parole Board came to assess him.

  Mr Davies: He has not had a problem with drugs or anything of that sort, he is just stuck inside. Thank you.

Mr Davidson

  87. I must say that this is a very interesting Report. I was very much struck when looking at the frontispiece, if you remove the glasses and gave Mr Narey a flat cap there would be an amazing resemblance to the character on the front there. I am not sure this is a tribute to the powers of disguise, but we will just note that, perhaps. Can I pick up this point about the delays which have already been well covered and ask whether or not this was indicative of the way in which the Prison Service viewed its clients, or customers, that effectively they were people of little consequence who really had no voice to protest either on their own behalf, individually, or collectively, and that there was an ethos in the Service that meant that these delays did not matter particularly. Was that there and has it been entirely removed?

  (Mr Narey) I hope there has been a shift in recent years in the extent to which the Service has concentrated on doing things with prisoners to prepare them for release. In the mid-90s when this was being managed weakly, this was in the wake of some hugely embarrassing disasters, escapes of Irish terrorists from Whitemoor and escapes of category A prisoners from Parkhurst. We had so many escapes of category of category C and D prisoners that to some extent we were not counting any more. There had been a focus which was described as "security, security, security". We have that right now. Touch wood, there have been no category A escapes since 1995-96. We have only had five escapes of prisoners of any sort this year compared with the same period in 1995-96, for example, approaching 100[6]. I think, having sorted our first duty out it has allowed the Prison Service to start taking seriously doing a better job in preparing prisoners for release. We have also had, since 1997, for the first time, some significant investment to allow us to do that.

  88. I understand that and the way in which you pose security as being the main issues, but surely the need for security should not be an excuse for administrative sloppiness? I understand why you, perhaps, did not pay attention to the need to prepare prisoners for release. I see these as being a clash in objectives or competing objectives, but none of it excuses administrative sloppiness. I would have thought that the pressure for additional security, and the emphasis on security, would make you want to have all your routines, all your systems, all your structures running like clock work, with quasi military precision, yet clearly here this just seems to have been shambolic for a long period of time.

  (Mr Narey) I agree, Mr Davidson, but there is not a choice between security and all the things you have described. We can do them both together. Indeed, my belief is that if you get security right you maintain public, ministerial and Parliamentary confidence and people are happier with you doing more constructive things. What I am trying to explain is that there was a real crisis in the Prison Service from 1995 onwards and almost everything else was forgotten. Certainly we were not preparing prisoners for release. I would like to think that the evidence shows that we are now trying to do both. We have a security record better than ever before, better than could be imagined, particularly with dangerous prisoners, and we are now, for the first time—not just through parole, but through other means—starting to do things which I think make it less likely that people will re-offend when they leave us.

  89. I am prepared to accept the point about the change in emphasis, particularly the leadership of the Service. Is the previous neglect of the needs of prisoners, in particular the extent to which the administrative details went forward, because it did not matter particularly, indicative of an attitude of mind which has not necessarily changed amongst the prison workforce as a whole?
  (Mr Narey) I think that would be somewhat unfair. It owed more to this not being a priority for the top of the Service, rather than people on the ground floor. Also, there was an expanding parole caseload over that period, and we did not keep up with that workload in terms of putting reasonable resources both into prisons and into the Prison Service headquarters to service that demand. It is only in the last two and a half years that we have taken a real grip of it and that meant we had to put resources in as well.
  (Sir David Omand) There is also a deeper reason to do with the way the criminal justice system operates. It is only relatively recently that it has been accepted across the criminal justice system that the objectives of the system are shared by all of the participants and, therefore, although it may not have been the highest priority for the Probation Service to prepare a particular report, that is essential for the operation of the whole system. It is that recognition of the interrelationships, and particularly in passing information, that I think lies behind much of the improvement.

  90. cultural change programme should show increasing improvements. These are not administration actions, there will be a change throughout the whole service and, therefore, we can reasonably expect to see drastic improvements.
  (Sir David Omand) What you are seeing here is one particular corner of the system, which is parole. Equal problems could be identified in the other aspects of administration of criminal justice, as the Committee saw when you took evidence a few months ago.

  91. Can I turn to Appendix 2, the point has been touched on, the contents of the prisoner's parole dossier. To what extent have you been exploring the concept of preparing dossiers and making sure that many of these items do not need to be done separately and do not need to be done repeatedly, and so on and so forth?
  (Mr Narey) We are beginning to do that but we are a long way from doing it at the moment. Our IT in the Prison Service is primitive. We have a reasonably successful information system, that was launched to 1990, it is now creaking a great deal, we have just launched a new partnership on IT with EDS called Quantum. With a very careful eye on things that have gone wrong in the rest of the Criminal Justice System and within wider Government in the past, certainly with major IT initiatives, I am quite intentionally taking that very, very slowly. Next year and the year beyond it will involve primarily the roll out of kit. From then on we start to look at linking up with other agencies. I am confident we will link up with the Probation Service very quickly.

  92. If we look at paragraph 3.16, it is about the Prisoner's Information Book which was due to be published by the summer this year.
  (Mr Narey) It is due to be published in April next year. I have a copy with me today, I just received a proof of it today.

  93. The section I am reading is 3.16, it says here, "The Prison Reform Trust and the Prison Service jointly published a Prisoner's Information Book in 1996... They are now working on producing a joint booklet on parole which is expected to be available by summer 2000".
  (Mr Narey) We have a draft of that booklet, which I received today, it has not yet been distributed, it is going to be shortly.

  94. It has been agreed by all concerned it would be produced in summer 2000. Why has that slipped?
  (Mr Narey) I think elsewhere it might refer to April 2001. The book is finished and it will be with prisoners and staff very soon.

  95. Is it reasonable for us to be surprised about the extent to which prisoners were unaware of the parole system, which obviously affects their lives massively? It must be subject to an enormous amount of speculation by the prisoners themselves yet the managers seem to feel they did not understand how it was going on. Whose failure is that?
  (Mr Narey) I do not think it is a case that prisoners are completely ignorant about it, some are and some are very sophisticated. There has always been information available to them, the information we give prisoners on reception.

  96. I am reading where it has been agreed, 3.14, "Professor Hood and Dr Shute's research found that prisoners were generally ignorant about the way parole operated". That seems pretty clear to me, that does imply some did and some did not.
  (Mr Narey) Indeed. We have not ignored that and we have produced information in the past, through ourselves and through the Prison Reform Trust. We have given a great deal of co-operation to a charity called Unlock for ex-prisoners and we have a prisoners' handbook. It is true that there is still a great deal of ignorance. I am not optimistic enough to believe that the new PRT publication will completely bridge that. Prisoners frequently work on the basis of anecdote and received wisdom rather than looking at the real facts. Some of that is because of general optimism about what parole means. Some of it is because for prisoners who have a long custodial history they experienced parole before and it has now changed to a risk base, rather than being based primarily, as it was some years ago -in the 1980s—on prisoners being rewarded for custodial behaviour and that was about it.

  97. Do you think that prisoners having a greater knowledge of the parole system would be helpful in terms of the management of the system and that would be one of the criteria by which yourself and the Service are judged?
  (Mr Narey) I am not sure to what extent it is a criteria to judge us on. It is to our advantage in all sorts of ways for those for whom we care to be totally aware of how their sentence works.

  98. Why should it not be something about which you are judged? I appreciate it is locked on to other things. It seems to me perfectly reasonable that you should have an obligation placed above you to make sure that people understand the rules of the system within which they are operating?
  (Mr Narey) I would certainly accept that, making sure we have information available to prisoners so that they can learn for themselves, and obviously that would mean making particular arrangements for non-English speaking prisoners. Making sure that information is available is something on which I am happy to be judged.

  99. We heard earlier on about differences in racial groupings. Are there differences in terms of social class?
  (Mr Narey) I do not know the answer to that question, I can try and find out for you and let you have a note[7]

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

5   Note by Witness: The additional £64m being spent on drug treatment programmes and services covers the period 1999-2002. Back

6   Note by Witness: In the current year, to end October 2000, there have been 5 escapes from prison establishments, and 6 escapes from prison escorts. In 1995-96, there were a total of 88 escapes - 54 from prison establishments and 34 from prison escorts. Back

7   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 15 for Home Office replies to Questions 99-103. Back

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