Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. I understand that. Where you have something that looks almost like it is cast in stone for 25 years you are in a limited situation. I was looking at the list on pages 52 and 53 of prisons that are providing effective work with prisoners, unless I have misread it, there seems to be three private prisons, Rye Hill, Dovegate and Forest Bank which are not listed. Are they specialist prisons? Has there been any particular problem getting them to adopt this regime?
  (Mr Narey) I had not opened Dovegate in the period of this Report. I do not know why Forest Bank should not be there, Forest Bank was certainly open and so was Rye Hill. They are just absent from this table I am afraid.

  61. Does absent mean they are not doing it?
  (Mr Narey) They are doing it. I would be very happy to supply those figures.[7]

  62. That would be helpful. Thank you very much. You made a throwaway comment which was rather interesting, because it reflected into policy areas outside the Prison Service, when you said something like 75 per cent, I may have misheard, of the young offenders you were dealing with had been permanently excluded or they maybe re-offended and had been permanently excluded from school. Was it 75 per cent?
  (Mr Narey) Typically 75 per cent, in some places more. On the juvenile site at Feltham, according to figures produced by David Ramsbotham last year, 90 per cent of the boys there had never been to school beyond the age of 13.12 per cent of the boys in Stoke Heath had never been to school beyond primary school and, overwhelmingly, they have never got a qualification in their life.

  63. So one does not draw a wrong conclusion from this, clearly it would not be sensible to say, therefore, if they were not excluded from school this might not happen. If you cannot cope with them it is hard to see how a teacher with them in the middle of 30 other children could cope. Does it not possibly raise the issue of whether we should reconsider something like the special needs units, which were abolished in most schools, which used to concentrate—my wife used to work as a volunteer in one—on helping youngsters with literacy problems to reach minimum standards. Do you think the frustration of being outside the education loop contributes at all to this or are these malfunctioning youngsters anyway?
  (Mr Narey) I do not feel qualified to comment on educational policy and how these young people should be dealt with. I do know if you are excluding a young man from school—and overwhelmingly we are talking about young black men here—you may as well give them an appointment to come into custody,because that is where very many of them come in. I think the Prison Service gets properly criticised sometimes for not doing enough with these young men. The burden that is inherent when every other agency has failed is simply immense. I can take you to institutions where parents come in to prize giving, to where we present people with certificates, it is the first qualification they have ever earned, the first time their parents have ever heard anybody say anything good about them and, frankly, it is very moving. We should not have to face that deficit and start putting things right only when people get sent to prison.

  64. Something needs to be done, it is not as simplistic as saying, let them stay in school because they disrupt all of the other children.
  (Mr Narey) I do understand that. We are literally captive, and we have very small class sizes, our literacy and numeracy classes are typically no more than six or eight strong. Sometimes with very, very difficult young men we do not put them in classrooms at all we put them in the gymnasium and we teach them numeracy almost surreptitiously by teaching them how to compute how to use the weights, and so forth, we have had some success with that with some of our most difficult young men. I am not suggesting that schools can do it, I realise the problems they face are immense. The problem is that the deficits facing us when people come into custody with the lack of education qualifications, their addiction and the general chaotic lives they lead make our challenge sometimes overwhelming.

  65. I can understand that. I go back to the days of National Service, I remember friends who went to the Army in the education branch who said they were astonished with the gratitude they came across from youngsters, young 18 year olds, when they could finally begin to read a bit. I know the reality of what you are considering. Does it not seem a bit absurd—I know there are not all that many places available, I will come on to them—to maintain the rule as referred to in paragraph 3.8 on page 29, that prisoners who maintain they are innocent of the offence for which they have been convicted are excluded from these programmes to help ease the re-offending problem just because they will not admit their guilt? That seems a nonsensical situation.
  (Mr Narey) It is not completely the case. There are programmes which address cognitive skills and thinking skills, such as ETS, and all prisoners can do those programmes and are accepted on to them. Participation in the sex offender treatment programme, which is the area of the greatest controversy here, requires the offender to admit his guilt, it is focused very much on his own offence, his motivation behind it in a group with other people. It means that sometimes somebody can deny a particular offence of which he has been convicted but if he accepts he has previously committed sexual offences he might still be able to participate. Generally speaking because programmes are focused on the offence of the individual, and research is very, very strong on this, you cannot impose these courses on people, you cannot make people change if they do not want to. If somebody will not admit their guilt then sadly we do not have a programme which we think will be effective in reducing their dangerousness.

  66. Would that then exclude them from the other courses, drug rehabilitation, and so on?
  (Mr Narey) Certainly not, neither drug rehabilitation courses or education or the thinking skills courses. It is the sex offender treatment programme and one other course.
  (Mr Newcomen) CALM, which is an anger management course which works under the same assumption, which is that research is very clear that if we do not have prisoners who have come to terms at least with was recognising an offence has occurred that we have very little to work with and there is simply no research at an international level that allows us to move forward with a prisoner who refuses to accept guilt.

  67. I will tell you what came over to me reading this report—you referred to Swansea in my constituency—was the feeling that for so long the attitude has been one stage off lock them up and throw the key away, you do not really have to do anything much to or for them. It refers in the Report to the resistance from some members of staff to the introduction of courses, how widespread is that? Does the POA, Prison Officers Association, cooperate with you in encouraging members of staff to cooperate in these schemes?
  (Mr Narey) Yes, they do. There has been some resistance and we are trying to affect a cultural change in the Prison Service. I have seen prisons which are radically better than when I joined. Swansea is a much better prison than it was two or three years ago.

  68. It has just had a major investment in a new building as well?
  (Mr Narey) Yes, it has and it has a charismatic Governor, and staff who are very, very keen on making improvements. We are trying to change the approach. I remind the Committee, it is only a few years since the mantra was that prisons should be decent but austere. There was little or no investment in offending behaviour programmes. We increased the population, that is the number of prisoners, without any investment in regimes. In the last 10 years my annual budget has risen by 29 per cent, the population by 45 per cent. There has been a rebirth of optimism relatively recently, that is what I joined the Prison Service for nearly 20 years ago, proper investment and proper management could become decent and constructive places where you can give people another chance, some staff have found that difficult, it is easier for prisoners to be treated as some sort of subspecies and not to be considered as people you can help. The Service is changing fast and there has been no opposition in recent years amongst the POA to the sort of programmes we are introducing.

  69. We recognise there are some beyond salvation in any form whatsoever, some because of IQ and some because of psychological problems but to find that still, according to paragraph 2.17, it says, at least 6,000 prisoners a year are being put through accredited programmes. 6,100 is out of 68,000, that is 1 in 11. It really does help to underline the degree to which you referred to the neglect of the equal role of punishment, the equal role of trying to reclaim people and how it has been neglected for a long, long time?
  (Mr Narey) It has been neglected, 6,000 is not enough, it is seven times higher than the figure some seven years ago. The growth in drug treatment programmes and education shows a similar very, very significant increase in recent years. I would like much more, I believe passionately that prisons can be decent and constructive places, but I need the investment and I need some end to the madness in the prison population, which is hurtling towards 70,000.

  70. I agree entirely with the views you are expressing and I applaud them and wish you well with them. Looking across that page do you see at the very top of the next page, the tail-end of paragraph 2.18 we know, I think it is something like three quarters of young offenders are reconvicted, it is far higher than the general figure amongst prisoners, it about 50 per cent in general and 76 per cent amongst the young offenders. Here we find that the Prison Service is also developing programmes to meet the specific needs of young juvenile offenders serving detention and training orders, that is almost a misnomer of what I think we were getting in the past. The Service does not expect these programmes to be accredited until 2003 or 2004 at the earliest, that is pathetically slow, is it not?
  (Mr Narey) The programmes will be up and running and they will be having an impact. I am not suggesting that we are going to make a huge adjustment to the reconviction rate. There are things which determine whether somebody re-offends which are way beyond my control. The current reconviction rates are based on prisoners who were released before we had any of this investment. I believe that the accumulation of what we are doing on education, drug treatment training, and so forth will improve that reconviction rate. For those serving detention and training orders I think that is a demonstration to anyone who visits a prison of what we can do with what is still relatively modest investment. I would welcome anybody to visit any of the 13 institutions holding those aged 17 and under, we spend a fraction of the money which local authorities spend on that age group or secure training centres run by the private sector, a fraction of the money. I am very proud of the work going on there. Even in places once notorious, like Feltham, the Youth Justice Board are full of praise for what has been done with young people. I think we can do that with all prisoners with the right sort of investment.

Mr Jenkins

  71. I was listening to your answers Mr Narey and I find it very interesting because historically the transfer of prisoners was used as a method of control, was it not, rather than allocating for accommodation, as you nicely put it?
  (Mr Narey) That is correct. Difficult prisoners were moved on and on in what was called the roundabout, they were moved every 28 days as a means of controlling them. That no longer happens.

  72. In fact they could be moved so often that parents in the case of youngsters found it difficult to know where they were, like the Prison Service had lost them, and they would not be told where they were. Is it not the case today that we still have an element of people in the Service who believe that the only way you can maintain control of prisoners is to make sure they do not build up networks, you move them on.
  (Mr Narey) We are doing much better now. We still move prisoners a lot because of the population pressures. Today we have been trying to fill a few vacancies we have in open prisons, there are about 150, and that will mean cumulatively the move of about 600 prisoners as we move people down a category to fill every bed. I desperately wish I did not have to do that but I have to otherwise I would be locking out, which is something that I cannot countenance. The practice which was the case of routinely moving prisoners as a means of ordering control, which was only done for a small number of badly behaved prisoners we no longer do that, we have much more successful methods of retaining order and control, not least rewarding good behaviour as well as punishing bad behaviour.

  73. I think I may be the only one on the Committee who has done time in a prison. I have done numerous programmes with prisoners in prisons but I have done them with the more able and I found they were the only ones put on a programme, allowed on a programme in that day.
  (Mr Narey) When was this?

  74. A while ago.
  (Mr Narey) It does not surprise me. When I served in prisons in the North-East, 15 or 16 years ago, it was entirely typical that the education block would be full of the more able prisoners, typically terrorist prisoners doing a second degree in international relations, and the illiterate would be in the laundry and we have completely turned that around now.

  75. The Prison Service were very proud they got somebody through a degree course but they completely ignored the 80 per cent who could not get to level one.
  (Mr Narey) We still have degree courses and we still do a lot with Open University and we have a very exciting course called Autobiography, which was developed for us by the Ruskin College at Oxford, which prepares prisoners for Open University or for university offers entrance on release. The main emphasis has been to attack the reality that most of our prisoners are unemployable and there is no chance of them going straight unless we do something about that.

  76. One of the things that always comes to mind, I am sure you have the figures, maybe you do not have them to hand, I did ask a question at one time about former care in the community patients, when they were released from one institution, spent some time on the streets, then were re-established in another institution and when they were released from there completed a crime because they thought they could not live outside an institution. How many people do you have in prison who were formerly in the Care in the Community programme?
  (Mr Narey) I can answer it in this way, which I hope is helpful. Since the introduction of Care in the Community the proportion of my population—not the number, the proportion—who suffer from medium or severe psychosis has risen seven fold.

  77. These people, no matter what the programme is, are going to feel so insecure when they leave prison that the only place they can feel secure again is back in prison.
  (Mr Narey) Sadly, we are sometimes getting people sent into custody because the courts despair of anywhere else to send them. Frequently these poor people are desperately ill and while in our care they get worse. For example, those who are mentally ill in psychiatric hospitals can be medicated against their will; they cannot be medicated against their will in prisons and if they do not co-operate with medication there is nothing that we can do. At any one time I have 300 men and women who are waiting for a bed in a secure psychiatric hospital and some of them, as I have witnessed myself, I have spoken to them, are getting desperately worse and they should not be in the Prison Service.

  78. It has been estimated that 25 per cent of the prison population does not belong in prison but belongs in some form of mental health institution. Would you think this figure is approximately right?
  (Mr Narey) I certainly think the levels of mental illness are so high as to suggest that there needs to be a radical shift in the way people are cared for and it is, in my view, a direct consequence of the closure of the large psychiatric hospitals which are no longer there. Beyond the mentally ill, my personal view, although it is not for me to say, I am not a sentencer, is that I also believe that there are too many people who are sent to prison for very short sentences where we cannot do anything constructive for them but those sentences are sufficient for them to lose their tenancies and their jobs.

  79. I was going to come on to the next level. We used to refer to them as "educationally sub-normal" and now they have become special needs youngsters who would not and could not succeed at work, become unemployable and finish up once again as your clients, in effect. What percentage do these make up of the prison population?
  (Mr Narey) A huge percentage, Mr Jenkins. About two-thirds of my population are essentially ineligible for about 96 per cent of all jobs. Crucially there is no evidence, and you used the expression "sub-normal", which is an old-fashioned expression but I think it is the right one, there is no evidence that they are sub-normal, they are just uneducated. That is why investment is so worthwhile in this group of people.

7   Ev 25, Appendix 1. Back

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