Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)



  120. The second point the Board of Visitors make is that the proposed cuts to the education department will restrict access at a time when it is most needed.
  (Mr Narey) I do not believe in that, Mr Chairman. I am very happy to send you details[19] but if you looked at the education provision even after the reductions at Blantyre compared to that which I have at the other resettlement prisons, you will find that Blantyre is, if anything, very generously provided for. At Latchmere, for example, we spent something less than £20,000 on education in the prison, but a very large number of prisoners go out every day to FE colleges, and that is the shift which I hope we will see at Blantyre.

  121. The third point the Visitors made is that their reoffending rates are already very low and that therefore they ought to be allowed exceptions from the national requirements for resettlement regimes.
  (Mr Narey) We have put in hand this framework which I think is broadly right in terms of managing risk, and there is a reality for managing risk. The world will fall around me and prison governors if someone is released at an early stage in a long sentence and something very serious happens. I well recall the way everything shuddered to a halt in 1995 when security concerns caused an absolute about-turn from the then agenda set by Lord Woolf. I am trying to make those improvements while keeping an eye on security. I have already said, though, in the New Year I will revisit the stage one and stage two arrangements, and if there is a case in individual prisons for giving them some flexibility, then I would be happy to do that.

  122. Just going back to this inquiry which is about to conclude, it has interviewed Mr Murtagh, has it?
  (Mr Narey) Yes, it has. Although I have had nothing to do with the inquiry, for quite proper reasons, I do know it has.

  123. I ask because up until fairly recently it had not.
  (Mr Narey) I am quite sure it has. I think the investigating officer, Miss Loudon, was at Blantyre last week interviewing staff, and I understand she has one more interview to complete and she will be writing up the report.[20]

  Chairman: Can we turn now to young offenders institutions.

Bob Russell

  124. Minister, can you clarify in my mind that when we are talking about the record number of people in prisons, it does include those in young offenders institutions in that total nudging 70,000?
  (Beverley Hughes) Yes.

  125. Is the rate of young offenders being locked up increasing in the same way as the adult population is?
  (Beverley Hughes) I think it is increasing proportionately, yes, with the general increase.

  126. You mentioned earlier, or Mr Narey did, the fact you are budgeting or planning for two new prisons, and then went on to talk about the next round. In the next round does that include further young offenders institutions if the prison population continues to rise?
  (Beverley Hughes) Yes. We are looking across the board at the prison population generally, about particular groups within that—women and young offenders—and we are making contingency plans in relation to the trends, including for young offenders.

  127. So we can expect, from what you are saying, some more young offenders institutions to be provided at some stage?
  (Beverley Hughes) That depends on the numbers and on how we choose to apply a range of options which will be open to us, whether that is an institution or the ready-to-use units I talked about. We have various different means of increasing capacity if we need to.

  128. Mr Narey, in reply to an earlier question you mentioned that we can change people's lives if we can get to them early, and you said that some of them had not been at school since the age of 13. Mr Sutton gave some quite detailed knowledge of young offenders' backgrounds and prisoners' backgrounds. Have you done a survey amongst the young people just at one YOI to see how many of those have been members at any stage of recognised youth organisations?[21]

  (Mr Narey) I do not know if we have those figures, although I would be very confident in saying that the numbers would be extremely low. Characteristically, the sort of person in a young offender establishment at the moment is not only excluded from school but largely comprehensively socially excluded from any sort of activity of that nature.

  129. Can I suggest as a pilot scheme at one institution over a three month period that question be added to all the other questions which clearly are being put, otherwise you would not have had that detailed information?
  (Mr Narey) I am very happy to give that commitment. I might add at one or two prisons, the YMCA do come into the prisons to try to get young people involved and help them to carry on their participation after release, but for most prisoners they have never heard of organisations like that until we introduce them to them.

  130. Mr Narey, when you spoke to us on 13 February you said there was nothing more important in the whole of the service than reducing suicides, and you repeated that comment to Bridget Prentice earlier. Amongst those suicides I understand that 16 were of young people in the last year, can you tell me what the current figures are?

  (Mr Narey) I cannot give you the figure for young people. For those aged under 21 I think the figure is something like 21 or 22—and I can give it to you specifically—out of the total of 62.[22]

  131. Can you tell me how many safe cells there are in young offenders institutions?

  (Mr Narey) I cannot give you a full figure, the answer though is very few.[23] We have just started a process of trying to provide more safe cells in every establishment which receives prisoners from the courts, both young offenders and adults. The total number of safe cells is a very small number indeed relative to the population and the risk of suicide.

  132. You also said, Mr Narey, that there was greater investment in providing more safe cells without ligature points. You may be interested to know an oral question I have been lucky to have down for Monday 17 December asks what progress has been made in the installation of safe cells for remand prisoners, so I give you advance warning of that.
  (Mr Narey) I think I will be able to record significant progress, not least in the fact that new cells we build at any prison where there is likely to be any vulnerability are all safe cells. A lot of that is very expensive but it is the backlog in locals which is worrying.

  133. Can you confirm that, to the best of your knowledge, no suicide has yet taken place in a safe cell?
  (Mr Narey) I am quite certain that no suicide has taken place in a safe cell. Somebody in a safe cell may have been successful in taking their own life outside that cell.

  134. But so far as young offenders institutions are concerned, what plans do you have to instal more safe cells so we do not have any more young people committing suicide?
  (Mr Narey) I managed, although it was very difficult to do, to find about £9 million to dedicate towards not only the provision of safe cells but improving reception areas and appointing 30 full-time anti-suicide co-ordinators in the 30 prisons where we are most vulnerable to suicide. Although clearly the fact we have 62 suicides up to now this year is still a frightening number, and we are near the end of the year, that is a significant reduction on the 91 two years ago when the population is now significantly higher.

  135. Has the Prison Reform Trust's paper—I understand it is called Troubled Inside—prompted you to take new steps to reduce self-harm by young people?
  (Mr Narey) I do not think they prompted me. In the first speech I made to the Prison Service as Director General I said this was my number one priority, and I have always had the support of ministers in doing that. It has taken longer than I would have hoped to start to turn the trend around. Even now, I have to tell the Committee, I am not convinced we will maintain it. Levels of mental illness, levels of previous drug abuse and the numbers of prisoners who have previously tried to take their own lives, are so high that the burden we face is sometimes near impossible.

  136. But hopefully in your bidding proposals you will be arguing the case for more safe cells to prevent any prisoner committing suicide but particularly those on remand and young people?
  (Mr Narey) I was so agitated about the rise in the number of deaths to 91 in 1999 that I did not wait for the bidding, I found £9 million by taking it away from other areas of prison budgets to put into this what we call the Safer Custody Initiative. The meetings are chaired by the minister but it has the involvement of the Prison Reform Trust, the Howard League and other bodies.


  137. Can I just ask you one or two questions about privately managed prisons, Mr Narey?
  (Mr Narey) Absolutely.

  138. How many are there in the system?
  (Mr Narey) There are seven.

  139. Are we planning to expand that or keep it about the same, or what?
  (Mr Narey) The two new prisons which we have announced that we will build at Ashford and Peterborough will be both built, financed and managed by the private sector.

19   Ibid. Back

20   See Appendix, Ev 26. Back

21   Ibid. Back

22   Ibid. Back

23   Ibid. Back

previous page contents next page

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 19 December 2002