TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2001
Mr Chris Mullin, in the Chair
Memorandum submitted by the Prison Service
Examination of Witnesses
BEVERLEY HUGHES, a Member of the House, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, MR MARTIN NAREY, Director General, HM Prison Service, and MR KEN SUTTON, Director of Resettlement, HM Prison Service, examined.
(Mr Narey) That is correct..
Chairman: Congratulations on that achievement! It is going to be a general evidence session today covering a wide range of topics, all of which I imagine will be familiar to our witnesses and to most of the Committee. We are going to start the ball rolling today on prison numbers.
(Beverley Hughes) It is a measure of the fact that the courts are sending more people, and certainly more people than we would like, to prison. It is a measure of success for the Prison Service that they are continuing to be able to cope effectively with those rising numbers, although clearly from my point of view I would prefer the numbers not to be rising, at least at that rate; because in terms of the issue we are here to talk about today, which is effective rehabilitation and resettlement, then clearly the larger the number of people in prison the more difficult it is for the Prison Service to really work effectively with prisoners to address offending behaviour, and factors that contribute to offending in the first place, and thereby to reduce re-offending when prisoners are released.
(Beverley Hughes) Certainly on a medium-term basis, what we have been trying to do in Government is to make sure that we can provide effective alternatives to custody. That is the reason why we have established a national probation service with a focus on effective alternatives to custody, with enforcement with national standards, so that we can begin to demonstrate, I hope, to sentencers, and indeed to the wider public, that alternatives to custody can be at least as effective, if not more effective in terms of the broader picture, than custody for many offenders. Clearly, custody will always be needed for persistent offenders, for people who commit serious violent or sexual crimes, and we are very, very clear about that. There is also potential clearly within the prison population for some of those people to be managed and to be deterred from further offending whilst remaining in the community under robust and rigorous supervision. The establishment of the national probation service, the development of alternatives to custody, the whole What Works Programme, the better integration of the prison and probation service have been very important steps forward. Home Detention Curfew is another measure whereby, subject to assessment of risk, prisoners can make their re-entry back into the community earlier. We are trying to send very strong messages, where the court is satisfied that the risk is appropriate, that an alternative to custody can be an appropriate means of disposal for many, many offenders.
(Beverley Hughes) I think you probably are aware, Mr Russell, that in terms of anticipating the prison population we produce a number of projections - high, medium and lower projections. Certainly on the basis of the trends we have seen over the last 12 months or so, we are revising those projections because the Prison Service has to be able to receive all of those people whom the courts send to it. We cannot have a waiting list in the Prison Service; and we have to make sensible predictions on the basis of trends. In terms of the potential for the future in the medium to the longer term, then clearly insofar as we can persuade sentencers that alternatives to custody are effective, in terms of the reforms that we want to bring in through the proposals of Halliday, in terms of a more effective combination of custody and supervision in the community, that is actually very hard to predict. What I can say is that what we want to see is a stemming of this continued rise because that is not an effective way - it is not necessarily the most effective way - to deal with many people in prison at the moment; they can be effectively dealt with in the community. We have to convince sentencers, and we have to convince the public. We have to give the public confidence in alternatives to custody. The What Works Programme demonstrating effectiveness is an important part of that equation.
(Beverley Hughes) There are two prisons at the moment earmarked particularly for women at Peterborough and Ashford that you are probably aware of, that have been commissioned and will come on stream within the next two and a half years, I think.
(Beverley Hughes) I think one should be operational in the summer of 2003, and the other one shortly after that.
(Beverley Hughes) We are still well below operational capacity; but obviously the prison numbers we have at the moment do involve a degree of overcrowding - two people to a cell. We are under our target for that still but, nonetheless, that has an impact on the way in which prisoners can be worked with effectively. We are still substantially under operational capacity. There has also been the development of some ready to use facilities in and around the Estate to cope with particular pressures in particular areas. We have increased the capacity of the Prison Service recently through ready to use units. We have re-rolled Downview, as you know, to cope with the really quite extraordinary rise in the number of women. Women are still a small proportion of the overall prison population but the rise there has been of the order of about 20 per cent in the last 12 months in the number of women coming into prisons. We have had to take action to cope with that particular pressure, which has included re-rolling one prison, planning to re-roll and in the process of re-rolling a second prison now to provide the extra places we do need for women prisoners.
(Beverley Hughes) There are a number of figures that the Prison Service is using to assess how it is coping with the population. There is a figure for our operational capacity which is a judgment as to the maximum number of people we think we could cope safely with in prisons, and that stands at 70,559 at the moment. That is the maximum we would want to see in the current capacity. The population at the moment is just over 68,000 - 68,300 and something - as of 28 November, so we are still under the number we could safely cope with. Accommodating that 68,000 does involve about 16 per cent of prisoners living in a cell which is made for one but having two people in it, and that is the definition of "overcrowding".
(Beverley Hughes) I think we are making great progress in relation to running a decent regime, and also to developing the opportunities for prisoners in terms of education, drug treatment and offender behaviour programmes, and I hope we will talk about that - I know the Committee wants to. Clearly, the larger number of people we have and the extent to which we have overcrowding is another factor that a governor will have to take into account in terms of how he or she can organise the prison; and, therefore, is another factor in terms of how easy it is to make sure that those opportunities, that development, that modernisation, achieves its potential in the way that we think the resources at the moment could allow it to. It is a further constraint really on realising the potential in prisons at the moment.
(Beverley Hughes) I would have thought that was more a question for some of your own colleagues, in that it is a matter for sentencers as to the sentences they give.
(Beverley Hughes) Thinking back to my own past, I remember being a probation officer in the late 1970s when we had suspended sentences. I am just drawing from memory here and I cannot put my head around what the actual figure told us at that time, but certainly it was my impression that in some instances people would get a suspended sentence and without the additional support and supervision there was a great danger when somebody breached a suspended sentence that they went to prison very quickly. One thing I will say is that one of the Home Secretary's responses to the Halliday proposals, which talked about custody plus, was to consider an alternative, a variant on that, which he at the moment is calling "custody minus"; which in a sense would be a form of suspended sentence, but crucially different from what happened in the past would be that the person was under supervision, and that the custodial sentence would only be activated clearly if there was a breach. In the initial phases the person would have the benefit of supervision and so, hopefully, the possibility of breach might be less than it was with the previous straight suspended sentence.
(Beverley Hughes) I certainly will agree in the context of what we are looking at in terms of Halliday. I think we would want to look much more clearly than I have been able to do this morning with you at the research at that time in terms of what the overall impact of suspended sentences was telling us; and whether or not, because of the potential to breach very early, it actually meant that more people were going to prison anyway as a result of that without the supervision element.
(Beverley Hughes) I will certainly drop you a note, Chairman.
(Beverley Hughes) I think the home detention curfew was not brought in, as you will know, specifically as a measure to reduce pressure on the prison population; it was brought in as an attempt to facilitate that transition from custody to community in a helpful way. I want to put that on the record and make that clear. I think in terms of the number of people, based on the very robust risk assessment that accompanied HDC, we anticipated that a smaller number of people have been released on Home Detention Curfew than was originally hypothesised might be the case. We are re-looking at that, because I think, perhaps understandably, governors have been cautious in the way they have implemented the risk assessment. The Director General (and he may want to say a word about this) has recently written to governors to say, "Without in any way increasing the risk, please, governors, look at how you are operationalising the Home Detention Curfew and see, within the parameters of the risk assessment, whether or not there are other people who could be safely released than those you are releasing at the moment". We think there is some potential for using HDC, but I would want to stress that we do not want to compromise the risk assessment and that must prevail.
(Mr Narey) HDC, although I accept it was not introduced for this purpose, has provided a great help in keeping the population at manageable levels, particularly reducing the levels of two in a cell overcrowding. It has also been a tremendous success. The proportion who successfully fulfill the period of tag is more than 95 per cent - considerably higher than we ever believed it would be; and because we have that cushion I felt able, with the Minister's support, to say to governors not to take undue risk but just to ease off a little. My guess is there might be between 300-500 additional prisoners whom we might very gradually get out for effective supervision in the community, but I also will have to keep a very, very close eye on the failure rate and if it starts to deteriorate put the brakes on again. I do not want the scheme to fall into disrepute.
(Beverley Hughes) Obviously we are looking at that in some considerable detail. As you say, most recorded crime is falling, although there are some offences - robbery in particular - that is still showing an increase. It may be partly a reflection of that. I think it is also clear that more people are being remanded in custody and are spending rather longer in custody at the moment. The custody rate has increased. More people are being given a prison sentence; and perhaps reflecting those offences that are still increasing, like robbery, there is a slight increase in the length of sentence being given overall on average. These trends are much more marked for women, as I have mentioned.
(Beverley Hughes) Yes. The average length on remand has increased slightly.
(Beverley Hughes) We certainly want to see that; but we have seen the impact of the trends in crown court, particularly when offenders are committed to crown court. There are some longer waiting times there now and that has been reflected in the length of time people spend on remand when they are committed to crown.
(Beverley Hughes) I think there is some evidence that the crown courts have experienced some difficulty in coping with the number of cases they are now receiving. You will know that cases are now committed directly. There is a backlog of cases generally in many crown courts and it is that which is causing the delay.
(Mr Narey) Yes. Waiting times at magistrates' courts fell between two years and one year and remains stable. It is the waiting times specifically in the crown court . Largely for reasons which we do not yet know, the crown court are making greater use of remand. I think one of the reasons may be that when a magistrates' court has committed a case triable under indictment only to the crown court, it would seem more likely to put the defendant on bail than the crown court had done. The crown court had inherited these new cases and seemed to be using custodial remand rather more eagerly. In addition, there is a backlog which the Minister has stated, which simply means that the crown court people are waiting rather longer for the case to come up to trial.
(Mr Narey) No, it was not. The idea of putting indictable only cases direct to the crown court was to reduce delay, and I believe it still will. It was not anticipated that the court would take this apparently cautious view in terms of making a decision of whether or not to remand in custody.
(Mr Narey) The backlog is at the crown court specifically. Previously a lot of the waiting time for somebody to actually come on trial at the crown court took place when the defendant was actually at the magistrates' court - they would keep the case under review before it was committed to the crown court. Now they go direct to the crown court. The overall waiting time for these cases has not been allocated; but the burden on the crown court has meant they have not been able to keep up with cases. The Lord Chancellor is putting on additional courts in the new year to clear that backlog.
(Mr Narey) Yes, I do hope so.
(Mr Narey) Yes, we will.
(Mr Narey) We have opened new prisons just this year at Dovegate and Rye Hill, which has given us extra capacity, and we are building additional house blocks and ready to use units at a number of prisons. The money I got in the last Spending Review was primarily for expanding the current capacity of prisons, and I got money for about 2,700 places. In the work I am doing for the Home Secretary now in preparing for the next Spending Review, I am advising the Home Secretary that we need to plan for further capacity if we are to keep apace with the population rise, and if we are not to further increase overcrowding, which is still very regrettable.
The fact that in England and Wales there are about 13,000 mean sharing a cell meant for one and, for the most part, sharing a toilet is regrettable; but at least we no longer have three people to a cell meant for one. At the moment we are just about coping with the increase. My anxiety is if there is any repeat with the male population of the extraordinary use of custody for women over the past year then we really would be in very serious trouble.
(Mr Narey) We have been bringing those into commission for the past two years. We have just filled Rye Hill Prison; we are just gradually filling Dovegate Prison in Staffordshire.
(Mr Narey) That figure is revised month on month as we bring extra capacity online. I am confident that towards the end of the Spending Review period I will have enough accommodation to cope; but I will need, I believe, to provide extra capacity and start planning for that next year - which is why we have already announced the buildings of new prisons at Ashford and Peterborough.
(Mr Narey) The next Spending Review period, or the one we are just entering?
(Mr Narey) Our capacity will be about 71,000; but I have to say we cannot use every one of those spaces - we need quite a significant amount of headroom already. As we reach operational capacity we are having to move prisoners further away from home than what I would like; sometimes we disrupt prisoners' education and training by moving them up country to where there are empty beds. We have particular difficulties in the south-east at the moment. The fact that I have a limit does not mean I can reach there and not damage what I think has been improving in prisons steadily in the last few years.
(Beverley Hughes) There is some evidence that the kind of pattern of offending of women, insofar as explaining this increase, is one of the factors. There has been a rise in the number of women remanded - also in the sentenced population. In that sense it reflects what has happened generally across the prison population. In relation to women, women at committing more drug related offences. There is also evidence of a small but nonetheless demonstrable increase in the number of women committing robbery and violent offences. We estimate that about 52 per cent of the total increase is accounted for by drug related offences, and another 26 per cent for violence and robbery - and particularly younger women as well. There is some interesting evidence from the testing of suspected offenders when they come into police stations, urine testing, going on now in terms of testing for drugs, which shows much higher traces of opiates amongst women apprehended for offences than men. 45 per cent of women compared to about 26 per cent of male arrestees. It is a very substantial difference. That is accounting for quite a lot of this increase in terms of women coming into prison at the moment. In terms of the impact though, I think you will be aware that the impact, way down the line of a woman coming into prison, is very significant in the sense that women are predominantly primary carers very often. They will leave a family in the community when they are imprisoned. The long-term impact therefore in terms of social exclusion, in terms of fragmentation of the family, is generally regarded to be much more significant possibly than when a man comes into prison; he may well leave a woman in charge of the family, whereas with a woman the family is often left. The longer term consequences for a whole range of social, economic and relationship-type issues are very significant. We are very concerned about this.
(Beverley Hughes) I have asked the Director General to look particularly at that. I think it is quite difficult in terms of what I have just said about the kind of reasons these women are coming into prison now changing the profile of offences; because a number of women, particularly if they have been caught smuggling drugs or dealing in drugs, are getting quite heavy sentences. I have been talking to women myself in prison who have been sentenced to ten years or more and or course they are not eligible for Home Detention if they have been sentenced to four years or more. The potential may be limited but I do want the Prison Service to look at that most particularly. More generally, the focus on alternatives to custody is something we are pursuing. I did announce a strategy bringing together voluntary organisations in the departments across government to try, in a sense, to come very far forward and reduce women's offending by emphasising efforts we could make into the community in relation to drug treatment in the community, in relation to health education and training in the community targeted particularly at women, actually trying to prevent offending in the first place.
(Beverley Hughes) Yes, that is right.
(Beverley Hughes) You are right. I think from memory, I estimate that about two in every three women when they come into prison come in without any qualifications at all, and that is a higher proportion than for men who are also similarly unqualified. It is a real issue. As I have indicated, many also will be coming into prison with problems with drugs, with mental health problems and that is another significant issue for women prisoners. All of the things we are trying to do in prison are particularly, especially and crucially relevant for women prisoners because of the multiplicity of often quite deep-seated problems that they present. The focus on education, the focus on drug strategy and trying to get people off drugs while they are in prison, on education, training and on offending behaviour programmes on anger management and relationship problems, are all very, very particularly important for women.
(Beverley Hughes) I do not think they are interchangeable at all. I think there are some commonalities amongst prisoners, whether they are male or female. I think the different weighting of factors can often be different. What we have to do in prison and also in the probation service, more than I think we have done at the moment, is to make sure that the opportunities we are offering are sensitive and are delivered in a way which recognises where there are differences between men and women, but those differences are reflected in what we are doing. For example, because of the sheer volume of male offenders, when we have been developing offending behaviour programmes, What Works Programmes, there has been an assumption in our mindsets that these will be male. We have not yet quite begun (I think we are beginning now) to ask the question: are those programmes relevant as they are for women, or do we need actually to finesse them for women? I think the approach is relevant, but the way in which we deliver them and maybe some of the content needs to be considered as to whether it is gender-sensitive enough.
(Mr Narey) I would like to say, first of all, there is nothing more important to me - and I made this very plain to the Service - than reducing deaths in custody. Despite the huge burden we inherited in terms of mental illness and the fact that, for example, (a statistic I find quite incredible) 14(?) per cent of women coming into prison confess to previously having tried to take their own lives, despite that burden the number of deaths in custody will have fallen probably by a third over the last two years. I think for both men and women we take a radically more sympathetic approach than we used to. It used to be the case that we would deal with potential suicides, as did most other prison services, particularly in North America, by isolation and by taking away any means of suicide at all. In the USA, for example, it is traditional that prisoners spend a very long time in strict conditions where they cannot harm themselves, but where the underlying causes behind the crisis may be getting worse. We do not do that. We never, ever use isolation or strict conditions for male or female prisoners at the risk of suicide. We think it is the right thing to put prisoners together, either with another prisoner who is a friend, or sometimes with a listener - a prisoner trained by the Samaritans in counselling skills so they can help someone though a particular crisis. In most prisons now we have what we call "listener suites" where a listener can stay overnight if necessary while somebody gets through the crisis. To some extent this approach has brought different criticisms, because what we do not do routinely is take away the means of suicide; we do not take away people's clothing, people's shoe laces; people's bedding; and sometimes, regrettably, they use those things to hurt themselves or kill themselves. It is a matter of the longer term effect of what you do to someone, if you treat them, for however temporary a period, in a very, very austere manner. It is significant that in the USA they have much lower rates of suicide in prison but alarmingly high rates of suicide immediately after release.
(Mr Narey) Correct.
(Mr Narey) We try to take a longer term view of the effect on the individual of the things we do. I understand that some staff, particularly a significant minority of my medical officers, have found this very difficult. They have found it hard to come away from the belief that what we should do at all costs is make sure when they go home of a evening the prisoner is in such circumstances that he or she cannot harm themselves. I am entirely convinced that the longer term effects of that were negative. One of the reasons why the number of rate of deaths were increasing up to 1999 was that you might get a prisoner through a crisis over three or four days, they would they go back into normal location and take the opportunity to take their own lives then. It is true, it is a bit of a conundrum - whether the much more austere approach taken in USA jails (whether it is causal is a matter for argument) does lead to much lower rates of suicide in prison; but in my view, I visit some of these jails, I do not think they deal with people who are mentally ill in a way I think is something which we can do if we are intent on treating prisoners in a decent and moral way.
(Mr Narey) Very limited. I think we have got a research project at the moment. It is following prisoners on release to look at their mental health. The main problem for us is the difficulties of the population we inherited - with very, very high levels of mental illness, directly linked to the risk of suicide. Since the introduction of care in the community the proportion of the population, male and female, who suffer from medium or severe psychosis has risen seven-fold.
(Beverley Hughes) Yes. It is disproportionate - even higher than the 20 per cent. The number of women foreign nationals has increased by 37 per cent over the year up to October this year, compared to a rise of 14 per cent of UK nationals over that period.
(Beverley Hughes) Yes, predominantly.
(Beverley Hughes) 51 per cent Jamaica, and between 3-5 per cent from South Africa, the Netherlands and Spain. Those are the main countries. Predominantly over half from Jamaica.
(Beverley Hughes) That is an issue that is examined on a case by case basis. It is a complicated issue as I think you will know, because we do have arrangements and understanding with other countries about the way our prisoners are treated there and so on. I take your point. We have had a policy, generally, of not releasing somebody until they have actually come up to their respective release date here and we are looking at that.
(Beverley Hughes) If there were people detained under that legislation they would be detained in a high security facility on the Prison Estate. I think, for reasons that will be obvious, if they are suspected of international terrorism, if there were to be any attempt by compatriots to get these people out of prison we need to keep them in the most secure conditions. We do have facilities on the high security Estate that obviously have been used for other people, and there are facilities we would use in those circumstances.
(Beverley Hughes) Yes. We have been reviewing our capacity without making any assumptions, and making sure that the Prison Service can respond if those measures were implicated.
(Beverley Hughes) Yes.
(Beverley Hughes) It is very difficult for me to answer that because I do not know who might be detained and where there families are. Clearly, we have a number of facilities around the country, and it is possible that we could accommodate people as close as we could; but, clearly, because the variables inherent in the question are unpredictable to me at the moment I cannot give any guarantees about that.
(Mr Narey) We have not been given any figure at all, but what we have been doing is preparing the reconstruction of units which, happily, we have been able to have in mothballs for some years now.
(Mr Narey) These are units in our high security prisons which we have used for special and high risk prisoners, which we have been able to mothball since we have had a significant fall in the number of prisoners of that category, largely because those people convicted of terrorism in Northern Ireland have returned to the country. We have had some spare capacity in this respect and can cope with an influx. Obviously, if the influx was very large we would have to think about how we could expand that.
(Beverley Hughes) Again, it is very difficult to predict. We do not hear about a great many women suspected of being involved in international terrorism. It is possible there might be a very small number, but I imagine that most would be men.
(Mr Sutton) I think the premise of the question is right - we are looking to the range of present programmes to impact on re-offending. We have been developing in the last three, four, five years a series of programmes around basic skills, around offending behaviour and drug treatment which are designed to have that effect. It is true to say that the initial effort went into developing those programmes. Having done so, having made progress in this area, I think we felt that the time was right to look more across the piece of resettlement, and to bring a broader context to the programme - and we can talk about that in more detail. We wanted then and were able then to reflect that in the PSO on resettlement. The main changes that it really affects is that it is expressing our ambitions for resettlement as covering the whole of the Estate, not just the resettlement prisons. The PSO talks about resettlement from the period of induction through the sentence, and it is the opportunities to achieve resettlement through the whole sentence, the whole period in custody, that we are looking to develop. That is the main change that the PSO reflects, and it has come on top of the initial work and the initial effort which was to improve what we were doing with basic skills, offending behaviour programmes and drug treatment, which were the initial cornerstones of that approach.
(Mr Sutton) Clearly, as the Minister and Director General have reflected, there are constraints on our ability to develop regimes of resettlement as the population expands. It is still the hallmark of the approach that is taken today that is different from previous years, that where we are expanding capacity we are building in additional regime and resettlement provision within that so that we are in that way looking to maintain the regime of resettlement provision as the population expands; but, clearly, where it expands abruptly, and we have to cope with the logistics of that, that puts a pressure on the measures we are putting in place; but the figures for purposeful activity are holding up very well. As the population has expanded we have produced a tremendous increase in the amount of purposeful activity hours and that has kept step with the rise in population. Although we have narrowly missed our target figures for activity hours there has not been a deterioration in that level of purposeful activity as the population has expanded.
(Mr Sutton) I think that is a very important factor, and one which is increasingly recognised in the work we are doing. Indeed, in the PSO it is specifically recognised. The contribution is immense, and if we look around the areas of resettlement, we are looking now to develop around employment, around housing and around drug treatment. We know that we cannot make the kind of progress we want to achieve without connecting with the voluntary sector; and we are doing that on a significantly increased scale as compared with previous times. We are also trying to do it in a more coherent and business-like way. In the past, where there has been a tremendous tradition of work in the voluntary sector, it has not been governed by a kind of strategy which we think we now need if we are to make the best use of the sector. We have been working this year on a strategy for our work with the voluntary sector and working in consultation with leading representatives of the sector. It is a hugely significant part of it, particularly as we switch our emphasis now within the resettlement to a focus on jobs for prisoners subsequent to custody, and on tackling the kind of problems around housing and other social issues that we know we have to tackle if we are going to make that positive impact on resettlement.
(Mr Sutton) I think we are better placed, than we have been, to achieve a more consistent approach. We are clearly in the area of basic skills. It is one of the major elements of the programme. We have national targets which are developing a greater consistency around the Estate in terms of what we are achieving. I mentioned the national strategy now in the voluntary sector, which I think will mean we are achieving greater consistency in our work with the voluntary sector. We are working out the details now of the new targets for employment of prisoners, what we call "custody to work"; which, when we develop that and operationalise that, I think will lead to greater consistency in the work that is done with resettlement around the Prison Estate.
(Mr Sutton) I think we are doing work now with the Chief Inspector, indeed with both the Prisons Inspectorate and the Probations Inspectorate around their recent report. I think we have already got evidence in the work that has been done on basic skills that we are making progress. I think we have got evidence from offending behaviour results that that is having an impact on reoffending, so I think the process has already started. I think the point I was seeking to make in relation to employment is that we are now setting our sights on a harder target, a still more tangible target in relation to outcomes in the community, and I think that we would expect to make an impact with that over the next couple of years and as the investment which we obtain from the last spending review starts to come on stream so we would be looking to be making a bigger impact in that, specifically by 2004, which is the period that that target is expressed to run at.
(Mr Narey) Can I offer a useful statistic in terms of what we are doing in education because in the memorandum which we provided we recorded that last year there were 12,000 qualifications in basic skills at level 2, this is the level at which people break into the job market, approximately approaching the numeracy age of a 14-year-old. That will probably be 18,000 this year. We are talking about a population in our young offender establishments, a huge proportion of whom have been permanently excluded from school, and about giving them not as much as I would like but in many cases the first ever qualification and raising with them the prospect for the first time in their lives the possibility of getting a job.
(Mr Narey) That is a real dilemma and the argument needs to be a more sophisticated one than it has previously been. It is my view that we can do little which is of any use for a short-term prisoner but actually if we have somebody long enough - and when I say this to magistrates I quickly follow it up by saying I am not asking for more prisoners - we can change people's lives, we can get them off drugs, get them some qualifications, and what Ken has described is our to intention to move from making people employable to actually getting them into employment.
(Mr Narey) I would be careful not to ask for longer sentences but we can change people's lives if we have them long enough. I was at Low Newton prison on Thursday afternoon and I talked to a number of young women, all of whom had been taking drugs, all of whom were off drugs, all of whom had got their first ever qualifications and most of them had not been to school since the age of 13, and we had changed their lives. When, as a young woman did on Thursday, young woman talks to me with such conviction about going home to Sunderland and getting a job in the new call centre at MFI which has opened there, you realise something very important has happened.
(Mr Narey) We are doing so now to check two things, first of all, the commitment which the Home Secretary has asked me to make to double the number of prisoners getting into jobs and, secondly, to try to demonstrate the things we are doing on education, drug treatment, offending behaviour programmes work. We are tracking them to try to demonstrate that we have reduced the re-conviction rate which it is measured at two years after release.
(Mr Narey) Every prison has been asked to form a specific resettlement committee. Ken will tell you what the proper name is.
(Mr Sutton) Resettlement Policy Committee, which is part of the PSO Ms Watkinson was mentioning, so there is a new committee stretcher and it is now for the first time a required element at each prison that there will be such a team established.
(Mr Narey) It depends on the prison. At open prisons - and 4,000 of our prisoners are in open prisons - there is generally somebody full time dealing with that. For example, at Leyhill, which I also visited last week, 100 prisoners every day are working outside in paid jobs and there are two or three people working full time on that. I am not pretending that there is a very much active resettlement work going on in Brixton and Manchester where predominantly they are concentrating on receiving people from the courts and getting people into basic skills assessment to start the process of getting them ready for downstream release.
(Mr Narey) Yes.
(Mr Sutton) The increasing focus on resettlement is reflected in the PSO which we have mentioned and a member of the senior management team at each prison has to take charge of that new structure, so we are recognising the importance of that at all prisons, not just the fewer who have specific units.
(Beverley Hughes) Could I make one point just in terms of your questions about do we want people in longer so we can deal with some of the many issues that they come to us with. I make one point in relation to that. Firstly, I think that rehabilitation and resettlement of offenders generally and prisoners in particular has really got to be the most important focus of the Prison and Probation Services and that in order to try and address some of the many issues that offenders bring to those services, we cannot and should not expect the Prison Service to be able to deal with all of those because they simply cannot. Members of the Committee have already demonstrated their knowledge about the multiplicity and range and deep-seatedness of many of those problems, and that is not to excuse people's offending behaviour, it is to say that if we are serious about protection of the public and reducing crime then prison services and other agencies really have to work together to address those issues. We need a much better interface between prison and probation, but also we need to call on the other agencies, health service, education and employment, at a central and local level because really, arguably, it is those services that could and should have been addressing some of the issues that offenders bring to the Prison Service and Probation Service long before they ever get to court and we really do need that multi-faceted focus. The prison service could never and should never try to deal with all those issues on its own; it simply cannot do it.
(Beverley Hughes) Absolutely and certainly as a politician like yourself I am acutely aware of that and that is why it has got to be seen in the context of public protection and reducing crime. If we are sending people out very much in the same state as they came in they are going back to communities, they are going to commit more crimes in those communities and create more victims. It has to be part of that agenda. The Joint Inspectors' Report on Resettlement and the Social Exclusion Unit Report has also highlighted the need for that interface, and I would argue not just the interface between somebody going from custody back into the community but actually starting at the point pre-sentence where agencies in the community liaise with prison and then back again, the "through the gate" concept - that interface has got to be much stronger and much more seamless in terms of the experience of the offender. There is no reason why programmes and education and so on started in prison should not continue in a seamless way outside in the community. We are not there yet but that is where we need to get to.
(Mr Sutton) We are beginning to make progress very much along those lines. If I could mention one example. The Employment Service has allocated an additional £1 million to ensure that there is a proper tie up between the prison and the receiving areas' job centres so the process of looking for a job can be established with a guaranteed interview in the prisoner's home area, and that is arranged as part of this programme before release. That is one example of a recognition of the point that the Committee is making. But we know that there is a tremendous distance to travel. The extent to which we are dealing with problems of social disadvantage with the prison population is becoming ever more clear as we look at the resettlement agenda. Over one quarter of prisoners were in care as children, which is 13 times the rate of the general population. Almost four in five male prisoners had been permanently or temporarily excluded from school, which is clearly out of sync with the general population. Over two in three prisoners were unemployed at the time of imprisonment. So the extent to which we are dealing, as it were, not so much with the problem of resettlement but with putting in place for the first time some of the elements of resettlement that prisoners require is becoming clearer and with it the task that we face in joining up with the range of other agencies. We are making progress, for example, just one further example if I may, we are now with the Probation Service introducing offending behaviour programmes that can start in prison and be continued in the community post release. In that fashion we are beginning to make headway.
(Beverley Hughes) We do have a joint assessment process now called Oasis which has been developed to be used across the probation and prison estate. It is going to be operationalised on a paper basis over the next year on probation moving towards an IT model that can be applied in probation and prison. That is the essential building block really because we can get some shared assessment. The one thing the joint inspectors pointed out is that everybody was reassessing from scratch the first time they met a person, whereas one assessment can follow them through. That is one important area of the joint work, but in terms of picking up something in your question, I do think we need a model, a concept or a framework within which more effective, tighter, robust liaison working together across agencies can actually take place and follow an offender through. The Social Exclusion Unit team has been considering whether or not a case management approach across services is actually going to be the best vehicle for doing that. I very much welcome that. It is something we have already - prior to the publication of our report, which I hope will come out in the new year - been talking to the Probation Service and the Prison Service about, as to how such a case management model might be operationalised.
(Mr Narey) I would have to dig out that figure and write to the Committee. I think it was about 7,000 the previous year so the 12,000 was a very significant increase and in the year 2000 further still. So much so, in fact, that I have been discussing with the Minister whether or not the emphasis on level 2 (which I think is very important) is beginning to distort performance in terms of driving governors to get level 2 accreditations. This year I am beginning to become convinced that we are concentrating rather too much on that level and not pulling enough people through at entry level on literacy and numeracy at level 1, and we need to make sure that the targets we set fully reflect the educational needs.
(Mr Narey) I think we will probably do more than reach all the targets we have on the literacy and numeracy accreditations and the increase this year shows what we can do when we set out our stall to do it. I think if we get a more reasonable spread of accreditations from entry level to level 2, there is a good possibility if I get some of the investment from DES, that I will do rather more than my targets.
(Mr Narey) The point that Mr Sutton was trying to make is that over the last two years or so we have raised purposeful activity by more than two million hours a week but the denominator has gone up, so instead of getting to the point (which I would like) where we have more than 30 hours, which we have in the juvenile estate, we have only managed to keep pace and so it looks to the outside world as if there is no more purposeful activity in prisons than all those years ago. In fact there are millions and millions more hours but the denominator keeps rising and absorbing that.
(Mr Narey) The current target is 24 hours and at the moment, frustratingly, our performance is about 23.8 and this year we will probably just miss the 24 hours because of the rise in the population. I would not like to give any commitment for what the level per prisoner will be until I know more about movements in the population and investment. With our youngest prisoners, those under 18, where we have had a very significant investment from the Youth Justice Board the levels of purposeful activity will exceed 40 hours next year, we hope, in education alone and in education and other training activity every prisoner in our care who is aged 17 and under will receive 30 hours of education and training activity per week.
(Mr Narey) We would need 68,000 additional activity hours in the week spread over the whole population. I have been very careful to avoid just quantity in reaching this target and I have tried to concentrate on quality. I could have made this target last year and this year if I had crammed workshops full of prisoners. The target has not been reached in part because rather than doing that I have made sure that prisoners have been in literacy and numeracy classes which traditionally have had no more than five or six in a class or in offender behaviour programmes where there is a dozen, or in drug treatment programmes which could be quite small. It would be very easy for me to say I could reach any target if I crammed people into workshops which, frankly, for the most part were not teaching skills that were going to make very much difference to someone's employment. If we are going to increase the hours and do things that make a difference then that would require some significant additional investment and I am grateful for the Minister's determination to try, if she can, to give them that investment particularly for those aged 18 to 20 (in the wake of much better treatment for juveniles) to make it a priority area.
(Beverley Hughes) We have not yet got it, we have got through the first sift of a bid under the Capital Modernisation Fund to improve the estate in relation to 18 to 20s, but this is also going to be, I hope, a major part of our bid under the next spending review to secure the revenue that we need to make sure we can deliver, as the Director-General says, the improved regime and programmes for 18s to 20s. This was a Manifesto commitment at the last Election and, as I said, it is going to be a major part of our planned bid to the Treasury spending review.
(Mr Narey) For 18s to 20s to provide a regime with the emphasis on education, drug treatment and so forth that we would like, just for that age group, it probably requires somewhere in the region of £20 or £30 million a year to provide the extra teachers we need. We are very encouraged by the Capital Modernisation Fund because that would give us new education blocks so we have got the classrooms, but I still need the money to give me the budget year-on-year to provide the teachers and so forth.
(Mr Narey) Yes. We are not, for the most part, a very attractive employer to those in the teaching profession and we have to try to be much more flexible in taking on part-time staff if we are to get the people we need. It is interesting that once people come into prison education they often become entirely captivated by it and stay, but getting people in initially is quite difficult. Exactly the same applies in health care.
(Mr Sutton) There are countless examples of work that we are doing with a whole raft of voluntary sector partners - NACRO, SOLVER (?). In referring to the strategy I was not meaning to suggest that the collaboration with those partners was waiting the strategy, but in future it would be more structured by that strategy which we have recently agreed within the Prison Service.
(Mr Sutton) It is starting to happen. What we are looking to do is look at a range of ways of involving outside agencies. I mentioned the particular initiative of the Employment Service, what they call Fresh Start, and that involves not the Employment Service actually coming into the prison but making sure that the prison staff, working with the Employment Service people on the outside, arrange a guaranteed interview for the prisoner post-release in the prisoner's home area, which is significant, so we are looking at a variety of different patterns of working with the Employment Service and others. Clearly where we can engage with the Employment Service coming into prison, as they have done in a number of our welfare to work pilots, that is extremely valuable, but that is very labour intensive, so we are looking at a range of ways of making sure that, when the prisoner is released, proper arrangements have been made with his or her home area to pick up on that, and we are not dependent on one particular model. The contribution of the Employment Service there is very welcome and it is a sign of the pattern of activity that we are seeking to develop. There are other examples with the Benefits Agency coming into prisons, for example, for similar reasons.
(Mr Narey) May I add to that. I am quite excited by the possibility that this year working with the Employment Service in a number of local prisons we will introduce electronic job kiosks so a prisoner who is in a prison 100 miles away from home will be able to log into a job centre in his home town and find out what jobs are available there, which will be a big improvement on what we currently do which is to try to replicate job centres rather than linking people into the real job centres where they are going to live.
(Mr Sutton) That does happen. Again as part of our "custody to work initiative we will be building stronger bridges to employers. We are particularly looking at a number of sectors of the job market where we think it is more feasible and realistic for prisoners to get into employment on release, and we have recently initiated contact with construction industry representatives, with industrial cleaning, with catering, with the leisure industry, all sectors where we think there is a particular contribution that we can achieve. So we are looking with the representative bodies in particular in those industries to ensure we are making the right contacts, bringing in employers to the prison where that can help, but also making sure we are preparing the prisoners for the kind of the employment which these days they might expect to get post-release.
(Mr Sutton) There is limited work, to be honest, at the moment of that kind. As we introduce the new target of doubling the number of prisoners going into employment post-release, there will be stronger connections made. As we work with the Probation Service more closely, there will be better contact and better information available because we know that if we can get prisoners into jobs which they hold they are twice as likely not to re-offend than if that is not the case. So we know that we are making a contribution to reduce re-offending when we can make that link. But it is important, as I think your question suggests, it is not just any old job on a first day which the prisoner might not stay in, we have to look for employment which is stable employment.
(Mr Sutton) No, we do not, Chairman. What we have currently is an estimate from NACRO evidence that only 10 per cent of prisoners discharged go into employment on release. We have some research currently underway which will report in the next few weeks from which we will be constructing a more accurate base line, but for the moment we are dependent on that rather out-of-date assessment.
(Mr Sutton) Within the next month.
(Mr Sutton) No, we are very much part of a target of reducing re-convictions by 5 per cent over that same period. The prison and probation programmes are key contributors to achieving that target, so we are very much part of that. The employment target will be part of it and has its own focus but it is not at the expense of the contribution to the overall re-conviction target.
(Mr Narey) I think I can tell that reasonably accurately, Mr Malins. I will correct it if I am wrong. It is about 18 or 19.
(Mr Narey) I would love it to be upped by that percentage. I think when I wrote to you I said 14 was an improvement. Feltham is an establishment of contrasts. The side dealing with those under 18 is excellent.
(Mr Narey) The other side is relatively impoverished. I managed to find some money this year to try to pump-prime what I hope will be the significant investment coming from the manifesto commitment for 18s to 20s, and the amount of purposeful activity has been rising steadily since then. I may possibly have under-estimated it, and I will tell you if I have. I would like the levels to be very similar to those for 15, 16 and 17 year olds but I do not have the resources to provide those levels at the moment.
(Mr Narey) I certainly could.
(Mr Narey) I am not going to attack the Government ----
(Mr Narey) I have been hugely grateful for the support I have had from Government in terms of giving me investment for the things we have described today. Certainly in terms of the outputs, in terms of offending behaviour and all the other things, I think the service has undergone a transformation from the days when the message to the service was "decent but austere".
(Mr Narey) During the day or over a 24 hour period?
(Mr Narey) Typically I would think about 16 regrettably.
(Mr Narey) It is certainly regrettable.
(Mr Narey) I am not ashamed. On the contrary, I am quite proud of the improvements which have been made from a very, very poor base line, but clearly I desperately would like there to be more ---
(Mr Narey) --- both there and in other prisons.
(Beverley Hughes) Chairman, could I make a comment on this? I think what Committee members will understand, whilst the figures that the Director General has just given out in terms of the period of time an 18 to 20 year old in Feltham is spending in a cell is unacceptable - everybody accepts it is unacceptable - it reflects a very, very low base in terms of both investment and, I have to say, political interest in what was actually happening in prisons generally and young offender institutions prior to 1997.
(Beverley Hughes) If I may finish the point. As with any Government programme, we have to start with priorities. The investment the Government has made since 1997 generally in the Prison Service, generally in terms of offending, has been substantial. We have started with the juveniles because that seemed to be the most important thing to do, and one of the things we have to hold on to is that we can now see as a result of real, new investment a substantial improvement in what the Prison Service is able to do with young people under the age of 18. It is right that was a priority.
(Beverley Hughes) We have the evidence that when we have put the investment in, as we have done, we can improve the quality of life and the life chances of young people. We are going on now to repeat that with 18 to 20 year olds. It is a very big mountain to climb but the mountain was there when we took control in 1997.
Chairman: We are going to turn now to one particular issue that has exercised the Committee in the past, and that is the situation at Blantyre House Prison. Mr Malins is going to lead off on that.
(Mr Narey) I am not aware of any proposal to use Blantyre House as a young offenders institute or for asylum seekers. It was the case some years ago I was considering it for use as part of the new juvenile estate, when the Youth Justice Board was introduced, but we decided not to do that. We have fulfilled the Home Affairs Committee's advice that Blantyre should be reclassified as a resettlement prison with a security status between a Category C Prison and an open prison; we have done that.
(Mr Narey) Absolutely.
(Mr Narey) I do not have the particular figures. I can get those for you. I would consider it likely to be very similar.
(Mr Narey) The budget which is being spent within the prison is being reduced, although it is still and will be at a level significantly higher than any other resettlement prison.
(Mr Narey) Because we are concentrating education there into half the day, concentrating on basic skills and using the money to allow prisoners, for example, to have a job club at Blantyre House and crucially to allow prisoners to go out to study in further education colleges, which is exactly what we do at Latchmere House and Kirklevington. The budget for education, even when reduced at Blantyre, will be nearly ten times more than the budget at Latchmere House.
(Mr Narey) There have been some resignations from the education staff at Blantyre House, yes, as there have been from other prisons. But I am entirely confident that the education programme we are introducing there is based on a careful analysis of what the prisoner population needs. It has been done in conjunction with the Prisoners Learning and Skills Unit in the Department for Education, and I think it now addresses the needs of the population in terms of making them employable rather than having quite such an emphasis on recreational activity, which did not increase employment.
(Mr Narey) I believe family visits have just been increased.
(Mr Narey) I believe they have, I can check on that. I think family visits have just been introduced on a regular basis.
(Mr Narey) There had been a reduction in family visits, yes, and they have been reinstalled.
(Mr Narey) Happily.
(Mr Narey) There has been one escape from each of the three resettlement prisons in that period.
(Mr Narey) I do not have the figures for absconds but it is very low indeed.
(Mr Narey) I will have to check on that and write to you.
(Mr Narey) Yes.
(Mr Narey) I do not have figures on absconds but it has not previously been suggested to me that the rate has altered significantly.
(Mr Narey) I will check on those figures and write to you, Chairman.
(Mr Narey) He has indeed.
(Mr Narey) That is right.
(Mr Narey) The request from Mr McLennan 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.
(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.
(Mr Narey) Yes. She was assisted by Claire 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.
(Mr Narey) There have been delays in the report being completed, yes.
(Mr Narey) That is right.
(Mr Narey) He retires in the middle of next year.
(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.
(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 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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Narey) I do not believe in that, Mr Chairman. I am very happy to send you details 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.
(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.
(Mr Narey) Yes, it has. Although I have had nothing to do with the inquiry, for quite proper reasons, I do know it has.
(Mr Narey) I am quite sure it has. I think the investigation 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.
Chairman: Can we turn now to young offenders institutions.
(Beverley Hughes) Yes.
(Beverley Hughes) I think it is increasing proportionately, yes, with the general increase.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Narey) I cannot give you a full figure, the answer though is very few. 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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Narey) Absolutely.
(Mr Narey) There are seven.
(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.
(Mr Narey) Yes.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Narey) In terms of recruitment of ----
(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 care 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.
(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.
(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 Worlds 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.
(Mr Narey) Yes.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Narey) About 4,000 prisoners are Muslim now.
(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 Chaplain General this year, an Anglican Chaplain General, 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.
(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.
(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. Anguilimala, the Buddhist priest who has responsibility for prisons and has been a great supporter of diversity, has 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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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 hae 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.
(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.
(Mr Narey) It is a big progress. I am not sure how much further we can go. I think while you retain visit arrangements which are reasonably civilised and typically allow a father to embrace his child or embrace his spouse there are limits to how much further we can go and I do not particularly want a Prison Service that does not allow that sort of thing. I do not want routine closed visits.
(Mr Narey) Yes.
(Mr Narey) I am not sure that they are intractable. I do not think I would have signed on to do this job again if I thought they were intractable. The number of prisons which really cause me grave concern has significantly reduced from when I took over the job. None of them, incidentally, are dispersal prisons.
(Mr Narey) You are right, I was extremely concerned about Birmingham, which was the worst prison I visited in England and Wales.
(Mr Narey) Birmingham was the worst prison I visited in England and Wales but it is not now, it is improving, very, very quickly. Chelmsford, which has had a tradition of very critical Inspectorate reports, has just had quite a glowing one. The number that are on my mind and which I am very worried about are now about five or six and I am about to put proposals to the Minister for taking a couple of those and putting them on six months' notice that unless significant improvements are achieved in a six month period they will be contracted out to the private sector without a public sector bid.
(Mr Narey) The private sector have been reluctant to bid against the public sector because they believe that we are now difficult to beat. I am confident from speaking to the directors of the four companies in the market that while they would be just bidding against one another we would have competitive bids.
(Mr Narey) It is still limited. I have a trade union, the POA, which I think has reformed itself considerably over the last couple of years, not least under the leadership of Mark Healey. I do not think anyone would have believed, I certainly would not have believed it a few years ago if someone had told me the POA would sign up to an agreement never again to take industrial action in exchange for a peer review body. There are pockets where we continue to have extreme resistance. At Feltham quite recently I took the quite extraordinary step, with the Minister's support, of removing the POA Chairman and posting him to another prison because I thought he was an obstacle to the sort of improvements which I am assured are on the way there.
(Beverley Hughes) Could I just add to that. We have talked about a number of issues today which are crucially important for effective prisons, for rehabilitation and resettlement. Clearly investment is important, joint working between agencies is important, having a staff that feels trained and has got the capacity is important. Certainly as I go round prisons I am constantly struck by the fact that this is a Prison Service in a state of transition. The way that demonstrates itself to me very often is I do meet not just new and young people coming into the Prison Service but also some existing staff who really are thirsty for change, who want to do the kind of work we want them to do. In fact, one of the most impressive senior officers that I met, who has actually transformed a wing in Feltham, was a senior officer at Feltham. Equally, I go to prisons, and went to one last week, where I am still faced palpably with the legacy of a culture which is resisting change and does not want to move forward. In those prisons where we do have concerns this is the biggest single block to change and development and it is something we have to tackle. We do have to get this culture which welcomes change, which sees the role for the Prison Service in the way we have talked about it today as what the Prison Service is about. I think where we do meet those pockets of resistance still we will have to deal with them.
Chairman: Thank you. On that relatively positive note perhaps we should conclude. I think we do all acknowledge that within the last decade great changes have occurred for the better within the prison system but we do know that we have still got some way to go. Mr Sutton, Mr Narey, Minister, thank you very much for coming.