Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
MONDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2002
1. Good afternoon. Welcome to the Committee
of Public Accounts. This afternoon we welcome Mr Martin Narey,
Director General of HM Prison Service, who is going to discuss
with us the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report on Prisoner
Reoffending. Would you like to introduce your colleague?
(Mr Narey) Nigel Newcomen, who is Head of my Sentence
Management Group in Prison Service Headquarters.
2. Thank you very much. I have to say that I
did find this a very depressing Report and it seems that we are
not making adequate progress, the sort of progress we would have
looked to. Let us try and be positive and look at things in more
detail. Could you start by looking at page 22 please and paragraph
2.17, and you will see there there is a phrase: "This is
also the reason why the programmes available are still largely
directed at male, adult prisoners serving sentences of one year
and more. Those serving short sentences are generally not in custody
for long enough." This seems to highlight to me what comes
through again and again in this Report that so many of your programmes
are directed at longer-term prisoners but it is the short-term
prisoners that are so much of a problem in society who need to
be addressed and are not being addressed. Can you tell us more
of what you are doing to try to prevent these young men (because
they are usually young men) from embarking on a life of crime?
(Mr Narey) In terms of specific offending behaviour
programmes, it is true that we have very few programmes for short-term
offenders. The most important reason for that is that we have
not yet found programmes which we think will work for those who
are with us for only a few weeks. The offending behaviour programmes
are very expensive. We know that if they are to work they have
to be delivered meticulously and intensively, and those coming
to us for quite short sentences their time in custody with us
is frequently too short a period for us to put them on a programme
which we think will work. One of the things we have tried very
hard to do through the development of offending behaviour programmes
is not compromise on quality but to try to make sure that what
we do adheres strictly to the evidence we have of what will work.
We are working on that very actively and we are trying to export
things that will work. My own view is that one thing we could
do for short-term offenders, if sentencing practice changes, is
for them to be prepared for courses in custody but for them to
complete them in the community.
3. One of the problems is, is it not, that if
you go to prison for less than a year you do not get probation
(Mr Narey) That is correct.
4. It seems this is a problem. I understand
to make a course work really well you may need up to 20 months
to do it but surely some sort of course for some sort of period
is better than nothing? Are you not setting your standards too
high? From reading this Report, one has the general impression
that these young men are put in there and the key is thrown away.
(Mr Narey) I do not think we are setting the standards
too high. We may have found something which might work. I can
speak separately about drug treatment programmes and education
programmes where we can do more for short-term offenders, but
in terms of offending behaviour programmes, we think we have found
something both for general offenders and sex offenders which will
work. However, the research suggests not only that programmes
have to be intensively and meticulously delivered, it also suggests
that sloppily delivered programmes or programmes which do not
adhere to the "what works" learning may have a detrimental
effect. They can teach offenders pat responses, help them to deal
in future occurrences in a way which might suggest they are complying
with offending behaviour programmes when they are not. We are
trying to prevent this, trying to do it properly and we are trying
to make it work.
5. I hear what you say but other colleagues
can come back. Can we now refer to these very important figures,
Figures 15, 17 and 18, which I suppose are at the heart of the
Report on Pages 30, 32 and 33. You will see that the provision
of all the programmes that we will be talking about this afternoon
varies very, very markedly between prisons, between regions. Can
you explain to me why these discrepancies on all these programmes
have arisen and what you can do about it?
(Mr Narey) We have only really started any sort of
serious investment in any of these programmes in the last few
years. With offending behaviour programmes, for example, although
the distribution of them is still uneven, since 1993 there has
been a seven-fold increase in the number of programmes which we
have successfully delivered. Originally when we got the first
money to expand programmes in 1998 we were very much putting them
into places where the ground was fertile, where we already had
psychologists in post for example and where we thought we could
demonstrate that it could work. Essentially we were piloting them.
6. If you go to Figure 33, I found in the Report
that it was appalling that at one prison you are spending as little
as £89 a year on education for prisoners. I think that is
just extraordinary. I found that on paragraph 12, page 8. There
seems to be such a difference in levels of expenditure between
the highest and the lowest. It beggars belief really. You will
see there it says, if you look at the bottom of that paragraph:
"Similarly, annual average expenditure per prisoner on education
varied significantly within prisons of the same category, ranging,
for example, from £89 to £1,493 amongst male open prisons."
Do you not think that a sum of £89 is just so low as to be
(Mr Narey) Yes I do, I think it is very low. There
is some explanation for that which partly explains it. First of
all, funding varies greatly because in the 1990s prisons grew
in size very fast indeed without there being any further investment
in education, so the spend per head was very much reduced. Some
prisons have always specialised in full-time work and very little
in education whereas others have specialised largely in education.
Open prisonsand I notice the £89 is for an open prisonand
some of our resettlement prisons do spend very little on education
but a lot of their prisoners go out to FE colleges and study outside.
So although the range is very wide, and we have got a comprehensive
review to try to balance that, I think some of the outliers are
explained by the nature of the prison and the fact that the prisoners
may not study inside the prison. In Latchmere House in London,
for example, nearly all the prisoners in education go out to local
FE colleges. If that is safe for prisoners to do that is very
much the best place for them to be.
7. Alright, others can come back on that. Can
we look at prisoner transfers on page 34 now. If you turn to page
34 you will see there in paragraph 3.20: "In 2000-01 there
were at least 60,000 transfers amongst the prison population of
65,000. The Prison Service has no data on how the prisoners are
transferred whilst on courses and therefore unable to complete
them." Again I find that an extraordinary figure. It is going
to make it very difficult to have any idea of what is going on,
how well the prisoners are performing, to give an opportunity
to prisoners to do programmes. What can you do to address this
problem of prisoner transfers?
(Mr Narey) First of all, Chairman, I do have data
on the way we have successfully expanded these programmes in terms
of offending behaviour programme completion, in terms of a huge
increase in educational qualifications and a massive increase
in prisoners on drug treatment programmes, which have exceeded
our targets, but there is a very real problem with transfers and
I have to say right at this moment the problem is acute. The prison
population has grown by 1,300 in the past fortnight during a period
in which my statisticians advised me the population would not
grow at all. The population has reached another record high today.
I am shipping people up and down the country to wherever there
is a bed. We are trying extremely hard while seeking to protect
people on offending behaviour programmes and on drug treatment
programmes, and I think we do that pretty successfully. We cannot
offer the same protection to those on education programmes and
many prisoners' training and opportunities for a decent and constructive
time in prison are being significantly disrupted by the population
pressure, which is simply overwhelming.
8. I think Members will be deeply depressed
by this latest information that once again we are at a record
level of prisoners. There is no point in having ever greater numbers
of people in prison if, as this Report shows, nearly six out of
every ten you release will commit a crime again within a couple
(Mr Narey) Perhaps I can share with the Committee
a key statistic which shows the struggle we are having, not to
suggest we cannot do better. On purposeful activity we have increased
hours spent by prisoners in purposeful activity since about 1993
by 25 million hours a year but, because the population has increased,
the time spent in purposeful activity per prisoner has barely
moved at all.
9. Let's look at this purposeful activity. If
you now go back to page 33 and look at paragraph 3.15 you will
see this comment about Level 1. I think something like 76 per
cent of the prisoners you discharge fail to reach Level 1. Level
1, for those watching, in terms of literacy is the level of an
11-year-old. Do you not find this rather alarming, that 76 per
cent of your inmates are in prison with the literacy skills of
(Mr Narey) I find it very alarming that I am having
to provide a lot of young prisoners with the first education they
ever get. I find it astonishing that in some of my establishments
who care for those 17 and under, up to 75 per cent of the young
men there have been permanently excluded from school from the
age of 13. 60,000 educational qualifications were gained in prison
last year. We are on target to provide, in prisons alone, ten
per cent of the Government's target to improve the literacy and
numeracy of 750,000 adults. We could do an enormous amount more
and I would clearly like more funding, but we are attacking education
deficits in a way which has never been done before. As I visit
prisons, I meet countless individuals whose life chances by being
in prison have been transformed. That is not a call for more to
be sent to prison, I do not want a greater market share! I met
a young person very recently who had come to us both illiterate
and innumerate and was leaving with qualifications in literacy,
numeracy, parent craft and bricklaying and had written a book
which at the Koestler Awards this year won the Puffin Book of
the Year award.
10. How long had he been in prison?
(Mr Narey) He had been in prison for about two years
in Castington Young Offenders' Institution.
11. If you turn to page 39, let us see if they
are getting work experience that is useful to them outside. If
you look at paragraph 4.15 ". . . the Directorate of the
Home Office found that less than half its sample of 88 former
prisoners obtained work in the months following release, and in
only five cases out of the 88 did the work bear any relation to
their jobs in prison workshops." What are you doing to try
and equip your inmates for a useful job outside?
(Mr Narey) We are doing a number of things. First
of all, we have an absolute emphasis on improving basic education.
We have not only invested more money in education (although I
need more, I would argue) we have an absolute focus on improving
literacy and numeracy and IT skills. Secondly, we are trying to
realign vocational training. We have done a lot of research into
the job market. We know the four areas for which jobs are available
for typical discharged prisonersin the construction industry,
in catering, in leisure activities (work at leisure centres) and
I forget the other one for the moment,
and we are trying to realign our vocational training to train
in those areas. Our workshop work is as much to do, particularly
when we have a very, very large population, with giving prisoners,
particularly in overcrowded prisons, a break from the monotony
of being in a cell. In some prisons in Durham for example in Mr
Steinberg's constituency, we have intentionally had to put in
very low-quality work. We have had to balance the choice between
perhaps take a dozen prisoners and giving them things which will
really teach them skills and taking 50 or 60 prisoners out of
their cells for the afternoon packing charity bags. That is a
choice I wish I did not have to make. But there is a need to look
towards order and control and basic decency and get some prisoners
unlocked otherwise they are going to be in their cells for 23
hours a day.
12. That is another area colleagues can cover.
Lastly, can you look at page 38. You will see there it says that
the Prison Service has no national record of re-settlement activities.
What comes through again and again when you read this Report is
that so much of what has been achieved appears to be the result
of initiatives by local governors. There seems to be a dearth
of information you have centrally, a lack of central control to
try and get consistent standards throughout the Service in terms
of all the things that I have been talking about.
(Mr Narey) I do not think that is quite the case.
We are pulling together right now a full record of re-settlement
activity around the Service. We have centrally driven those programmes
which we know work in preparing people for release in the hope
and anticipation that they will offend less. Re-settlement has
been very much the theme of the past year in the Service, building
on for example the education and literacy programmes and trying
to get people into jobs, and we have agreed with the Home Secretary
a target to significantly increase the number of people who leave
us and get into jobs. I have to say from a point where we believe
the accurate figure for those leaving us and going into jobs in
the late to mid 1990s was ten per cent, we believe we have more
than doubled that already to about 23 per cent, and we plan to
increase it further.
13. I will let colleagues come in on that. I
just wanted to say that I felt very depressed by this Report.
I am sure that you are trying to and you are making progress but
at the end of the day everybody in this room has suffered from
crime. I have been burgled a couple of times. We have all suffered.
If we read this Report we find out that within two years nearly
six out of every ten released prisoners will be reconvicted; eight
out of ten admit to having taken drugs within a year of going
to prison; out of the 135 prisons rehab courses were only available
in 50; in some prisons, as I have said, as little as £89
was spent on education per person per year; 76 per cent of prisoners
were discharged with the literacy level of 11-year-olds; 60,000
out of 65,000 inmates move every year. In some prisons, Belmarsh
for instance, people work as little as 13 hours a week. This is
a deeply depressing picture and sums up the picture of our prisons
simply not working. That is my conclusion having read this Report.
(Mr Narey) If I may respond, Chairman, I would agree
with much of that in terms of my desperately wanting to do much
more. I believe that prisons can be decent and constructive places
and I think with the right prisons we can transform life chances.
There is a lot of evidence right now that we are giving people
an education for the first time, we are getting them off drugs
for the first time and into drug treatment courses, we are putting
them through offending behaviour programmes, we are making a difference
to some lives, but we have started from a very low base. The first
serious investment we had for drug treatment programmes was in
1998. Since then we have expanded the number of drug treatment
programmes very significantly and we now have 50. I would like
there to be many more. I would like much greater investment in
education. I understand your dissatisfaction with this Report,
but from the base at which we started a number of years ago I
think it shows that investment in the Prison Service could have
a dramatic effect on people's lives and can cut crime because
the people we are dealing with are volume offenders. We know that
when they are not in prison they are committing anything up to
30 or 40 offences a year. It is a hugely valuable investment and
I hope very much in the forthcoming Spending Review I will get
much more investment than we currently have because we have only
just begun to play at the edges of this; we could do so much more.
Chairman: I agree with everything you have said.
Thank you very much. Mr Gerry Steinberg?
14. You are obviously aware that I have three
prisons in my constituency, and I have a great interest in this
topic. To some extent what the Chairman has said I agree with,
but I think it is because of the way that it appears that you
are tackling the problem. Can I pursue what the Chairman was talking
about in terms of who takes these courses and the difference between
accredited courses and non-accredited courses. I understand that
the Prison Service has a system of sentence planning which is
to be updated in the very near future. Is that right?
(Mr Narey) We hope to replace the sentence planning
system with a joint system shared between us and the Probation
15. Will the new system be carried out on prisoners
serving less than 12 months, and if serving more than 12 months
have at least six months to serve?
(Mr Narey) At the moment we do not do sentence planning
for that category of prisoners and I will only know the answer
to that when the Government decides its firm response on the Halliday
Report. One of the things in the Halliday Report on sentencing
suggests that there should be a sentence of "custody plus".
If that were established that would involve a much closer working
relationship between prisons and probation and a short time in
custody followed by a much longer period of supervision in the
community, and sentence planning would then apply to that group.
16. So is it correct that 75 per cent of prisoners
do 12 months or less at the present time?
(Mr Narey) I think the figure is nearer 60 per cent
who serve 12 months or less.
17. My figure says 75 per cent. Whatever you
say, there is still quite a considerable number?
(Mr Narey) Table 10 suggests that it is 56 per cent.
18. Okay. Tell me if I am right: most accredited
courses are for 12 months or over?
(Mr Narey) Suitable for prisoners serving that sort
19. That has got to be a very small percentage
who are taking the accredited courses.
(Mr Narey) About 56 per cent of the population serve
more than a year. The reason why that may seem very high is that,
for example, if somebody gets a sentence of a year, they may have
done a couple of months on remand, after sentence, the sentence
is halved to six months, they get two months off on remand, that
is four months. If they get home detention curfew they are with
us for about eight weeks.
1 Note by witness: The fourth area for which
jobs are available is industrial cleaning. Back
Note by witness: Using receptions, for 2000, 71 per cent
of sentenced adult prisoners arrived to serve sentences of 12
months or less. Switching to average total population for 2000,
sentenced adult males serving sentences for up to one year accounted
for only 9 per cent of the total population (whereas sentenced
adult males serving longer accounted for 56 per cent of total
average population). Back