Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)



  100. Can you drop us a line giving us the history of why they were cut and why they have been reinstated?[16]

  (Mr Narey) Happily.

  101. Can I now talk a little about escapes. In the five years to May 2000 there had only been one escape, how many escapes or absconds while outside the prison have there been since May 2000?
  (Mr Narey) There has been one escape from each of the three resettlement prisons in that period.

  102. And for absconds?
  (Mr Narey) I do not have the figures for absconds but it is very low indeed.

  103. I understand, and it may be wrong, you can correct me in a letter, that the absconds have increased since May 2000 compared with previously?
  (Mr Narey) I will have to check on that and write to you.[17]

  104. Did you know we were going to ask about Blantyre House today?
  (Mr Narey) Yes.

  105. You do not have this information?
  (Mr Narey) I do not have figures on absconds but it has not previously been suggested to me that the rate has altered significantly.


  106. Can we make the suggestion that on absconds, from the figures we have, from November 1998 to April 2000 there were three, and from May 2000 to October 2001 there were eight. Also in terms of people testing positive for drugs, there has been a slight increase as well, the figures for the same periods being six up to nine.
  (Mr Narey) I will check on those figures and write to you, Chairman.[18]

Mr Malins

  107. Mr McLennan-Murray, the previous Governor, has made a complaint about bullying, has he not?
  (Mr Narey) He has indeed.

  108. That was made earlier this year.
  (Mr Narey) That is right.

  109. Was it asked by him, or anybody else, that the investigation be by an independent person?
  (Mr Narey) The request from Mr McLennan-Murray was that the investigation should not involve me because I had given an opinion to this Committee last year about whether or not bullying had taken place. So the complaint or grievance was sent to the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office.

  110. Was it asked that the investigation be carried out by an authority independent of the Prison Service?
  (Mr Narey) Yes, and it has been done so. The report has been carried out primarily by Deborah Loudon from the Home Office, and she is finishing the report at the moment. She is a personnel director in the Home Office.

  111. Independent of the Prison Service?
  (Mr Narey) Yes. She was assisted by Clare Pelham who at one time, no longer, was director of the Quantum Programme, the IT Programme, in the Prison Service, who has had no involvement at all in operational matters.

  112. Is it right that twice it has been said that the report will be completed, first of all in September, just gone, and secondly no later than 16 November?
  (Mr Narey) There have been delays in the report being completed, yes.

  113. Twice it has been said it will be completed, and there have been delays. The allegations involve Mr Murtagh?
  (Mr Narey) That is right.

  114. When does he retire?
  (Mr Narey) He retires in the middle of next year.

  115. This is going to be completed well before he retires?
  (Mr Narey) I have checked on this point carefully. I expect the report to be forwarded to the Permanent Secretary possibly this week. There is no possibility, I can promise the Committee, of Mr Murtagh retiring before the report is completed and considered.

  116. That is helpful. Would you like to give us a general statement on how you see Blantyre House in the last six months, because you will know we were very concerned about that establishment? Are you pleased with it?
  (Mr Narey) Yes, I am pleased with Blantyre House. Clearly it went through a trauma this time last year because of the events which had happened. I have been very anxious to get it back on track and have paid the prison quite a lot of attention, seen quite a lot of the Board of Visitors, for example, and the Governor and Area Manager. I think we now have greater clarity about its status and that of the other three resettlement prisons. I think there is a better balance between security and outside activity. I have just had a standards audit completed on the prison and it has performed significantly better than it performed two years ago on a range of issues. I think the prisoners are being selected now more on their resettlement needs. That means that the balance of long and short-term prisoners has had to be kept in careful view, because some of the prisoners going there have certainly shorter sentences, and at the request of the Board—and it was a very good suggestion—I compensated by significantly increasing the lifer population at Blantyre House. There have been some things which have improved the place. A Throughcare Unit has led to better sentence planning; I am very enthusiastic about the introduction of a job club; I would like to see many more prisoners going out to carry on their education outside rather than in the prison, as we do in other resettlement prisons. I think it is going well and, although the Board have brought some concerns to me through the year, they have generally recorded satisfaction with the progress which is being made.


  117. You said there was a better balance between security and outside activity, but surely security has got a bit worse and outside activity has diminished?
  (Mr Narey) It depends on the way you look at it. I was very concerned about the lack of supervision of work places outside the prison. I was concerned about the fact, for example, a lot of prisoners were driving cars which were uninsured, and I was extremely agitated about the interest of Customs & Excise in the activities of some prisoners while on temporary release, where I do not think they were being adequately supervised and monitored. I may have failed to convince the Committee of this but I was extremely concerned about the possibility of serious criminal activity taking place at Blantyre. I am confident that we still have the same emphasis on working out but I am confident it is much better monitored, staff are spending more time ensuring people are at their place of work, and there is not quite the same occurrence of prisoners going to Blantyre House and finding their own jobs. We are sending people to Blantyre House who need to go there because they cannot find their own jobs and we are finding them for them.

  118. Yet you have had more abscondings and more people testing positive for drugs. I do not want to make too much of that because the difference is not enormous, but it is up.
  (Mr Narey) I do not in any of the open estate—and essentially Blantyre has been moved very much into the open estate—minimise the danger of absconds, but I do not take that as a real commentary on the security of the place. By security I mean the place is a safe place to live and criminal activity is not being planned or taking place as sometimes happens. When you take the risk of putting prisoners out to work, you will sometimes get absconds, and from some open prisons the abscond rate is very high. So long as proper care is taken and we are not making rash decisions in putting people outside, I am satisfied with that. Generally speaking, the number of failures on temporary release we have now are very, very small compared to two years, and minute compared to five years ago.

  119. Can I just put to you one or two points made by the Board of Visitors. The main one is that stage one prisoners are only allowed out for 12 hours a week. They are complaining about that.
  (Mr Narey) What we have tried to do across the open estate, which deals with much more than resettlement prisoners but 4,000 prisoners, in the advice we have given and in the framework for resettlement which the Committee encouraged us to put into operation, we have divided the time in those prisons into two stages. Stage one is primarily spent in the prison, dealing with education, and perhaps other work to prepare for employability. The second stage, which still comes in some cases a considerable time before release, is when the emphasis is more on leaving the prison on a daily basis to work out. It means for Blantyre, who released quite a lot of prisoners much earlier in the sentence, there has been some reduction in the time at which early release will come, but on the other hand we were filling Blantyre with some long-term prisoners and restricting the opportunities for more prisoners to get there one after the other and have their resettlement needs addressed.

16   See Appendix, Ev 25-26. Back

17   Ibid. Back

18   See Appendix, Ev 26. Back

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