Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)



  140. So there will be two new ones coming on stream?
  (Mr Narey) Yes.

  141. Have any that were privately managed reverted to the public sector?
  (Mr Narey) Two prisons, Buckley Hall managed by Group 4 and Blakenhurst managed by UKDS. We market tested those prisons and on both those occasions the in-house bid, the public sector bid, beat the private sector bid on both quality and price and they are now under public sector management once again.

  142. What are the main lessons that have been learned from introducing the private sector into the prison system?
  (Mr Narey) Speaking as someone who some years ago was fiercely opposed to the introduction of the private sector into the Prison Service, it has introduced competition, it has introduced better standards of working, a transformation in culture, in getting new staff in, and it has had a big role, I think, in helping me to persuade trades unions, but particularly the POA, to take a different attitude towards the care and custody of prisoners. The sorts of regimes which we are running at Buckley Hall, for example, which has been back in the public sector for 18 months and where the past Chief Inspector thought the prison was in some respects better than it had been in the private sector, it is inconceivable that I would have been able to deliver those changes so quickly without the impetus of competition.

  143. Take one particular lesson: the private sector was fairly successful in introducing women officers who have, generally speaking, a civilising impact on prison regimes.
  (Mr Narey) Yes, it was, not least because it recruited all its staff at once. I think our public sector recruitment of women officers and, indeed, of those from minority ethnic groups is extremely encouraging at the moment but the problem is it is against a workforce of 44,000 which is traditionally male and white.

  144. And you are still meeting stiff resistance?
  (Mr Narey) In terms of recruitment of—

  145. In terms of women. For example, I did hear one POA representative in one of our London prisons say that women would only be allowed in over his dead body, which I thought could be arranged if necessary.
  (Mr Narey) That is certainly not the case. I can remember that. I can remember working many years ago in a prison in the north east, Frankland, a dispersal prison, where it was thought to be very nearly the end of the world when we introduced the first female officer on a wing. It is a long time since I have heard that, particularly in the case of male prisoners. A good proportion of women officers have a tremendously civilising effect and certainly conflict and violence as a result of their presence is significantly reduced.

  146. Are you confident that the lessons learned in the private sector have been transferred successfully to the public sector?
  (Mr Narey) I think that I can best give proof of that by demonstrating that we have had three competitions where we have competed, the public sector against the private sector, for Manchester, which was in the private sector, and the two prisons I mentioned. The public sector won all three by some margin. Where we have just had a market test at Brixton Prison no one in the private sector decided to compete against the in-house bid, which I regret actually. Where we have not yet caught up in the public sector, and I am not sure that we will, is we do not remotely have the expertise of the private sector in building prisons. The fact that I can pay for private sector built prisons over 25 years means that in terms of providing decent accommodation, for example safer cells, I can do it much more quickly through the PFI route than I could ever do by building conventionally.

  147. If the private sector intervention has been so successful, why not increase it a bit more than just the two you are proposing?
  (Mr Narey) I do not anticipate, and I have had initial discussions with both the Minister and the Home Secretary on this, that in the foreseeable future we will build a new prison in the public sector. What the Home Secretary has indicated we may do, however, to try to keep competition afloat is get the private sector to design, construct and finance prisons but compete for the management of those prisons once built. I am very close to coming to a decision on the management of The Wolds Prison, a Group 4 prison in Humberside, and one of the interesting things that I am quite convinced has happened is that since the public sector started to regain jobs the private sector has increased its performance and the quality of the bids I have had in that competition from both the public and the private sector have been very significantly improved.

  Chairman: Good. Thank you.

Angela Watkinson

  148. Mr Narey, you described the Prison Service famously as an institutionally racist organisation and in your annual report and accounts 2000-01 you referred to "pockets of blatant and malicious racism within the Service".
  (Mr Narey) Yes.

  149. Could you describe how you deal with these?
  (Mr Narey) By demonstrating absolute intolerance of either violence against prisoners, which I think the Prison Service put its head in the sand about for many years, the prevalence of that, and by demonstrating the same intolerance in terms of racist behaviour, making it very clear to governors that I expect either of those behaviours, if proven, to be punished by dismissal, by dismissing staff when it comes to their attention. We have not dismissed many staff for racist behaviour but we have dismissed, I think, five or six in the past year in circumstances where some years ago their behaviour might have been, not exactly tolerated but would not have resulted in their leaving the Service.

  150. Would you say that most of the incidents are concentrated within a small number of people rather than a general code of racist behaviour over all staff?
  (Mr Narey) I think it is a small minority of people but I have described that minority as a cancer, and it is a minority that I am determined to drive out of the Service.

  151. There has been quite a significant growth in the number of Muslim prisoners, presumably because of the growth in the Muslim population.
  (Mr Narey) About 4,000 prisoners are Muslim now.

  152. You are trying to give provision for Muslim prisoners equivalent to that given to Christian prisoners. Does that provide logistical or practical problems?
  (Mr Narey) It does provide some practical problems, not least in the provision of prayer rooms. One of the things which characterises the 4,000 or so Muslims in our care is generally speaking they are more devout, many more of them want to attend Friday Prayers than do Christians want to attend Sunday Services. The Muslim population in many prisons has outgrown the small prayer rooms they have. We have appointed a new (Anglican) Chaplain General this year and for the first time he has wider responsibilities than just the Christian community. He is working very, very co-operatively with Maqsood Ahmed, my Muslim adviser. With the agreement of Bishops locally chapels now are being frequently used for Muslim services on a Friday and for Christian services on a Sunday.

  153. Is there a demand from other religious groups, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, many other world religions?
  (Mr Narey) There is indeed and at a conference last week I was taken to task by a Sikh minister who thought that in Belmarsh he was not getting sufficient hours to deal with the growing number of Sikhs in prison. The numbers of the other religions are still very small indeed. We have an Advisory Group on Race, chaired by Mr Sutton, which involves the leaders of all of those faiths, Buddhists and Sikhs particularly. We are endeavouring to make our provision much more reflective of the prisoner population that we have.

  154. So would the trigger point for providing special facilities for any one group depend upon a minimum number?
  (Mr Narey) In practical terms, yes. It is difficult to have dedicated facilities in a prison when you might just have a handful of prisoners. In a number of prisons we do, for example, have Buddha Groves despite the fact that the population there is very small. Angalimala (Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Organisation) has been a great supporter of diversity, and got a great deal of help from the Thai community to provide and fund those Buddha Groves. There is a particularly active and popular one in Springhill Prison. If we can allow the very small number of Buddhist prisoners to end their sentences there, we do.

  155. Do you see the number of racist incidents reducing? Are you optimistic that over a period of time you can overcome these?
  (Mr Narey) I said when I got this job that I would consider I was getting somewhere in securing the confidence of black and Asian prisoners and staff if the number of racist incidents that we recorded increased. They doubled last year and they will double again this year, and I think that is a mark of progress. There is a growing belief, we are not there yet, on the part of prisoners particularly that we are taking this seriously. The introduction of a new complaints procedure, which will allow prisoners' complaints to get to the Ombudsman within about six weeks rather than, frequently, six months is an important sign of our wish for their complaints to be treated independently and honestly.

  156. Are prisoners able to make their complaints easily without others knowing that they are doing it?
  (Mr Narey) In the new complaints procedure which we are rolling out this year it will be much easier. For example, we will have dispensers on the wings with forms, prisoners can have confidential access to the governor if they wish, there is a simple tick box on the complaint form if they believe that their grievance has a racial origin. I think we are making it much easier for prisoners to make complaints. Of course, prisoners already, as I am sure you all know, use the opportunity of writing to MPs and solicitors. I have a very, very large postbox dealing with individual cases from Members of both Houses.


  157. Can I just ask you briefly about the success of the drugs policy in prisons, Mr Narey. Am I right in thinking that the number of positive tests has halved?
  (Mr Narey) It has more than halved. In the first year we tested the whole of the population, which was ending April 1999, the figure was 25 per cent. Pilot testing before that had indicated much higher levels. It is currently running at about 11 per cent.

  158. Is that because prisoners have got more skilled at outwitting the system or is it because there are less drugs in prison?
  (Mr Narey) I would be naive to suggest that some prisoners cannot outwit the system, and women prisoners can certainly outwit the system. I am entirely convinced that it is because we have got significantly fewer drugs in prison than ever before due in part to security requirements, in part to the testing regime and in part to the huge investment I have been able to put into drug treatment programmes.

  159. You still have drug free wings, do you, with an enhanced regime?
  (Mr Narey) I have got about 30,000 prisoners signed up to living in enhanced regimes on voluntary testing units. We do not call them "drug free" because sometimes we know they are not always. Thirty thousand or so prisoners last year signed up to be tested on a voluntary basis as frequently as the staff might require them so to be tested.

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