Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. Unable to attain the level of educational ability that would make them a commodity in our very competitive marketplace where they would become employees.
  (Mr Narey) Yes.

  81. We do not safeguard these individuals in our society.
  (Mr Narey) That is right. But we can make a difference. I met a young woman at Low Newton Prison two or three weeks ago, she was a drug addict when she came in, she had never worked. It was clearly beyond her and she no longer thought that she would get work. Her parents had not worked, she did not work. We got her off drugs, we got her some education and we have a mock-up call centre in that particular prison and she was going out to a job in the MFI call centre in Sunderland. Her life had been transformed. She was not stupid, she had just never had the schooling to give her the qualifications to do even the most menial job.

  82. So we can work with some of them and get them out of the culture of crime and back into work providing our society and some employers recognise that they need the stability and a job to work with.
  (Mr Narey) There is a limit to what you hope people can do in terms of whether or not they go back to crime but it seems to me to be self-evident that if someone has already committed sufficient crime to get sent to prison, if they are leaving our custody and are still unemployable, they are going to go straight back to crime.

  83. The next group I want to look at is the alienated ones within our society and within the Prison Service, the ones who very often have been self-excluded from school, who feel that society is against them, they feel bitter, alienated and they will not work with any institution. How many of these would you say is a percentage of your client group?
  (Mr Narey) It is difficult for me to put a number on it but suffice it to say I meet very many of those young people who are very bitter and very aggressive. What is interesting is even with those young people, even though they might feel everything, they do not seem to be a lost cause when we have the time to work with them. A lot of those young people are in the under 17 age group and where I have had very significant investment from the Youth Justice Board to afford a decent standard of care with sufficient teaching staff and prison officers to really make a difference then we have found that even the most difficult young man is amenable to improvement. I do not think I am being naive but I am optimistic about the capacity for us to turn around alienation and reintroduce people into society and take away their social exclusion.

  84. I have some figures with regard to youngsters, I do not know what is in this report, which show that of young girls within the young offenders institutions I think it was two-thirds had been abused or sexually abused and some of them had been abused in institutions, and a quarter of young men. No wonder they are alienated.
  (Mr Narey) I would not dispute those figures at all, I am sure those are right, particularly for young women.

  85. That is the sort of group we are dealing with, those who are being victimised by our society as they see it and it is very difficult to re-engage them back into training programmes.
  (Mr Narey) It is difficult but it is not impossible. We can do it and I think we have demonstrated we can do it. Nowhere near enough, and I accept the criticisms in this report that we have not done enough, but I think we have done quite a lot in a short period of time. I believe we can do much more and we can make a huge difference to offending and do a much better job of protecting the public.

  86. A lot of the young people I met were in prison as a result of mixing with the wrong groups or being led astray by their peer groups, they had done something silly or daft and they just progressed on from that point of view and they were locked into a cycle. These are the ones we have got a lot of hope for if you can break them out. It was said one of the ways you could get them away from crime was to take them out of their environment, provide them with accommodation and jobs in a different part of the country so you break this association with their groups. Do you find this a worthwhile track to take?
  (Mr Narey) I would say for those under 17 prison is providing that at the moment. It should not be the only way of providing that but I think that taking a young man from a typically chaotic life in which drugs is the predominant determinate behind his behaviour, resulting in him committing a huge amount of crime to supply his drug habit, then you can make a dramatic difference. As I speak to sentencers, and this should not be the case, I know some sentencers use custody now because they have more faith that we will be able to get someone through detoxification and into drug treatment when they are literally captive than them being able to do that successfully in the community.

  87. One of the problems we have got with that is that a lot of people think prison is a university for crime, it is drug ridden, you can get drugs easily in prison, and you can maintain your habit in prison. When I think about reoffending I ask you how is reoffending measured because when they come out they are much better at avoiding being caught than before they went in?
  (Mr Narey) Prisons can, of course, be universities for crime, I am not suggesting for a moment that some young people will not learn more about crime and become more proficient criminals while they are inside, but I think you should not be too naive about what happens to young men when they are on Community Service or other sentences as well, they are still going to be with a group of people who are linked together perhaps by their offending. I think the important thing is you try to counteract the negative influences and do things to get young people's lives in order. Most young offenders particularly are leading utterly chaotic lives, very frequently have not been to school, very frequently have been thrown out of their homes, and they have very, very little chance of putting that right. I do not want people to be sent to prison in any more numbers than we have them already but I do believe that prison has the potential, otherwise I would not be in this job, to make a radical difference to those people.

  88. I am getting short of time, unfortunately. One of the things that they say throughout the Community Service programme is the reoffending rate is lower than prison. Why?
  (Mr Narey) The reoffending rate for Community Service is almost exactly the same as prison actually and sentencers would argue that rather more difficult offenders are being sent into custody. That is not me suggesting prison is more effective. I think if public protection allows, I would much rather people served sentences in the community rather than in prison.

  89. You have a reduction target of five per cent and five per cent from these, I should say, very high totals, because I am not sure the reoffending programme, with the best will in the world, is any more effective than growing up because young people go through a phase, almost an age, of when you do grow up and when you get responsibility, you can alter and change, so a 17 year old in the life of crime by the time they are 27 years old may have completely changed. How much do we know if it is a reduction programme or really growing up that has had an effect? How do we measure it?
  (Mr Narey) I think the truth is that we do not, Mr Jenkins. There is a maturation process and it is true that young men appear to grow out of crime but I think we can give them a help along the way and a lot of the people who will grow out of crime are those who are never going to be able to be part of society because they are never going to get a job. So if we can do things to make people, for example, more employable then the chances are that they might grow out of crime a little earlier than otherwise.

  90. In one of your answers you did actually say to save you "from the madness of the prison population hurtling towards 70,000". One might tend to agree with you, but what is the alternative?
  (Mr Narey) I think there are a number of alternatives available to the courts. What I know is that the prison population has increased very significantly in recent months and years. It has made managing the prison population very difficult. We now have a population which is nearly 3,000 higher than I was told it would be as recently as last May. A lot of those people in prison are serving longer sentences for offences such as criminal damage and for which there is no explicable reason why they should be getting longer sentences and I know that I am not doing very much to make them less dangerous. On the other hand, I know that the proliferation of short sentence prisoners, the way it is overwhelming prisons, the way it is reducing access to programmes, means that we are unable to do as good a job as we can with those for whom a prison sentence could be really beneficial.


  91. Thank you, Mr Jenkins. Your answers are very interesting and it has been very interesting hearing you. You will appreciate my colleagues are time limited so please make your answers as crisp as possible.
  (Mr Narey) Of course.

Mr Bacon

  92. Mr Narey, could you say what you think would be the single thing which would do the most to reduce reoffending when people leave prison? Plainly there are a wide variety of different things but what single thing would be the most significant?
  (Mr Narey) The simplest and most single thing would be a significant investment in education to attack the unemployability of our population. I recognise I am only playing at the edges at the moment.

  93. Do you use volunteers? Mr Jenkins mentioned that he worked as a volunteer. To what extent do you use volunteers on an education programme?
  (Mr Narey) To a very significant extent. At Feltham, for example, the literacy and numeracy programmes for some years have been run by a body called SOVA. They are at Wetherby also, one of our juvenile establishments. We use volunteers from outside and increasingly now we are trying to develop the use of prisoner volunteers, prisoners who can read and write, being used as tutors to do one to one work with prisoners who are illiterate.

  94. You mentioned Feltham, what about the rest of the adult prison service? What proportion of the prisons have the benefit of volunteer helpers?
  (Mr Narey) I can write and give you a full answer but I would suggest that volunteers are involved in one way or another in probably more than 90 per cent.

  95. I am talking about literacy and numeracy specifically.
  (Mr Narey) For literacy and numeracy I do not know. I would think a very large number but I do not have it to hand.

  96. How long has that been going on now, that you have had volunteers involved in literacy and numeracy on a substantial scale?
  (Mr Narey) On a small scale for ten years or more, on a substantial scale that is only beginning to grow in recent years.

  97. If you could write to me and let me know.
  (Mr Narey) I will be very happy to.[8]

  98. I once tried to volunteer to do literacy in prison because I heard a thing on the radio that people had difficulty in finding a job on leaving prison because they couldn't read or write. I spent a half a day on phone calls to the Home Office and I gave up because no-one knew anything about literacy programmes. This was years ago.
  (Mr Narey) Yes. I promise now you will not be refused.

  99. Can you tell me a bit more about accreditation? The question was raised earlier about the fact that only 6,100 prisoners benefit from accredited courses, which is obviously scratching at the surface. I think Mr Williams mentioned this. You denied that you placed too much emphasis on accreditation. When I phoned up and offered to help the first question was "Are you a trained teacher?" and I said "No, but I speak English quite well and I might be able to help because I worked as an English teacher". Is it possible that you are placing too much emphasis on accreditation and could you be placing more emphasis on the list of attributes that Mr Steinberg mentioned in his question, such as education, obviously both literacy and numeracy, motivation, finance, addiction and employment, without necessarily placing the emphasis that you currently do on accreditation and yet achieve better results?
  (Mr Narey) I do not think we are. I think we have a three pronged approach. We have got the accredited programmes which we believe change behaviour. We have got programmes which lead to outside accreditation: educational qualifications typically. There were 60,000 of those last year alone.

8   Ev 25, Appendix 1. Back

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