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Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)



  160. You have now got to the point where you need extra money in is what you are saying?
  (Mr Narey) I need extra money in. Although we can make the service more effective, and indeed we have made the service so much more effective that the public sector has recently started to beat the private sector in competitions for prisons, which is unique, I believe I need more investment if I am going to transform the prisons in the way I want to.

  161. So how has the budget for education in prisons varied over the last ten years?
  (Mr Narey) I think until about 1998 spending remained static or even fell a little in that period. It has been ring-fenced since about 1998 and has now been transferred to the Department for Education and Skills and is set to rise by about 21 per cent over the next two years.

  162. And has that risen in line with the population? No, presumably not. I think you said earlier that your total budget was up by 29 per cent over the last few years but the numbers in prison had risen by 45 per cent.
  (Mr Narey) In very recent years education spend has risen and will, over the next couple of years, rise pretty significantly. Since the early 1990s, for example, I know educational spend has not kept pace with the rise in population.

  163. I was interested in the question of non-completion of courses. It appears that you do not have any data even for those you transfer about how many courses are not completed. Is that correct?
  (Mr Narey) I do not have data to hand. I can find the data. I am confident that we transfer very few people who are in the middle of offending behaviour programmes or drug treatment programmes. We will regrettably transfer a lot of prisoners who are on education programmes.[12]

  164. Paragraph 3.20 says "The Prison Service has no data on how many prisoners are transferred whilst on courses and therefore unable to complete them." That is correct, is it not?
  (Mr Narey) I am confident nevertheless from the two key courses that we transfer very few prisoners. One of the reasons I am confident about that is we task our governors and area managers with reaching some pretty hard targets for getting people through those programmes and our performance has increased very significantly.

  165. To what extent are your courses modular? You keep coming back to this point that it is very difficult for the short-term prisoners because they go out of your care before you have had a chance to get them through a course but you also tell us that a lot of them then come back. It seems to me there ought to be a case for saying the first time they come in they do parts one and two, the second time they do part three and the third time parts four and five. If you get them several times you ought to be able to carry on that course.
  (Mr Narey) Sadly that is the case with education. We do get some prisoners who through a number of sentences improve their education sentence after sentence to a point at which they become quite able. You can do that, you can do that on a modular basis. With offending behaviour programmes and with drug treatment programmes, the courses are run very much on a group basis. They require the stability and membership of a group. There is a great deal of work within the group discussing offending and it is important to try to keep the group stable for the whole of the course if it is to be effective.

  166. Can I ask you to turn to figure 20 on page 35. You have the average number of prisoner hours spent per week on purposeful activities over the last few years. The target for the average number goes up until 1996-97 and then falls very dramatically in 1997-98. When did you suddenly decide that you did not need people to do so much useful activity?
  (Mr Narey) It was before my time, I am not absolutely sure. I am pretty certain it will be because during that period in the Prison Service, although the population was increasing significantly, there was no accompanying investment in regimes. For example, we put lots of new wings in prisons in the mid 1990s but there was no increase in education provision. I think the second reason is that we are now much more confident about our data from about the late 1990s onwards than we were previously.

  167. Somebody actually decided to build more prison wings knowing perfectly well that would mean less purposeful activity?
  (Mr Narey) That was the reality of the expansion of accommodation up until about 1998. I am glad to say that we are not building any additional accommodation at the moment without the accompanying investment in regime activity whether in workshops or education or treatment programmes.

  168. It is horrifying to hear you say that. It is in the past now, there is little one can do about it. When will you be introducing targets for time spent on activities to reduce reoffending specifically rather than just on useful or purposeful activities?
  (Mr Narey) We can already separate the time spent on activity which will reduce reoffending. I have to say, as a demonstration of the fact that I believe we need much more investment, the number if we produced it now would be very small indeed per prisoner, probably fewer than five hours per prisoner per week. My personal view is the purposeful activity measure remains a useful compromise between time out of cell, which is another very helpful measure, and constructive activity. I think in addition to work on offending programmes, it is important that you measure the time that prisoners might be spending in the gym, at visits and so forth.

  169. That may be a useful measure as well but what I was asking was when are you going to introduce targets for the time spent on activities specifically to reduce reoffending?
  (Mr Narey) We have no plans to do that at the moment. Clearly that would be a matter for my ministers.

  170. Really? Why can you not do that?
  (Mr Narey) Because I agree my key targets with ministers on an annual basis.

  171. Is there any reason why you should not decide that is a target which you want to set?
  (Mr Narey) As I have described, I can already measure that and I have given you an indication of how low that is at the moment. I am tasked to try to meet the purposeful activity target while increasing the proportion of that which is for work which will reduce offending.

  172. What incentives are there for the prison governors and the staff to reduce reoffending?
  (Mr Narey) I think overwhelmingly that is why people join the Prison Service. Whether or not it is a naive belief, I think people join this service not just to lock people up, who on earth would want to do that, but because they believe they can contribute in a way to change people's lives. That is why, as I said to Mr Williams, despite suggestions that the POA might be antagonistic to this, the POA, who are very difficult in all sorts of ways, are very committed to this sort of work. It is the purpose of the service. We have to lock people up, we do that very, very well, but that is not enough.

  173. You have answered my question simply by saying that people want to do it. What I actually asked was what incentive is there for them? Is it just their own personal feeling that is what they want to do?
  (Mr Narey) No. I think overwhelmingly that is the answer. We need to recruit into the service people who want to do more than simply lock people up. I think that was the sort of person we used to recruit some years ago. We want people who are committed not only to treating prisoners decently but doing things to reduce crime. When you see that happen, when you see somebody leaving custody whom you really believe is unlikely to come back, that gives you a sense of great achievement, it can be very rewarding.

  174. I fully understand that although it has to be said, and there is some evidence, that here we are talking about some prison officers who did make life difficult in some of these rehabilitation programmes. I have to say that I am quite surprised that you seem to think that all those who are working in the Prison Service actually have this as an aim. It is certainly not the impression one gets when one hears about places like Wormwood Scrubs.
  (Mr Narey) I did not say all, and I do not think all, but I think overwhelmingly the Prison Service is undergoing some significant cultural change. I think there is a much greater commitment to these programmes. In recent years I have had very little opposition to the expansion of these programmes and the POA at national level, particularly, I accept there are occasional branches where they are difficult, have been very enthusiastic about the involvement of their members. For example, more than half of my tutors on offending behaviour programmes quite intentionally are prison officers. I want prison officers to be part and parcel of the different sort of approach which we are trying to engineer.

  175. Have you done any research on the difference in reconviction rates depending on whether you get a custodial sentence or whether you get a sentence in the community or a fine?
  (Mr Narey) Colleagues in the Home Office produce that data on a yearly basis.

  176. Figures are available?
  (Mr Narey) Yes, they are.

  177. Is it published?
  (Mr Narey) It is published every year.

  178. People sometimes talk about a short, sharp shock as being a good thing, a good way of turning people away from crime. Would you agree a short, sharp shock, because of what you have said about the danger of people losing jobs and tenancies, can only really work if you do use some sort of weekend prison system?
  (Mr Narey) I do not have much faith in so-called short, sharp shocks. I joined the Prison Service shortly before that was introduced when Willie Whitelaw was Home Secretary and the sad reality is that the handful of places where we introduced the short, sharp shock, we had young offenders absconding from other establishments to get there. It became a badge of honour in the North East for example to have been to Medomsley, which was a very tough, very military approach. We have tried it again more recently with the boot camp at Colchester. We found that had little effect on reoffending. I think it is doing constructive things with prisoners to change the life chances which makes a difference and regrettably, there is no research to suggest that running people around in non constructive activity will have any effect on their reoffending.

  Mr Rendel: Very interesting. Thank you.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. You are coming to the end of your sentence, one more questioner. Ian Davidson.

Mr Davidson

  179. Two purposes of prison, one is custody for which you have just about a 100 per cent success rate, the other is reducing offending where the success rate is considerably lower. I want to clarify the extent to which the two are in competition. There are difficulties between the two objectives that you have. Can you enlighten me on that?
  (Mr Narey) I think a few years ago it was the case that the first objective overwhelmed the second, particularly in the mid 1990s when there were some very controversial escapes from Whitemoor and from Parkhurst when Irish terrorist prisoners escaped. That led to the mantra of security, security, security and there was a significant diminution of what one might call constructive activity. That did not really begin to pick up until post 1997. 1997 was very important. The Government which then came into power had a commitment towards constructive regimes in the manifesto and that made somewhat of a sea change and has led to some of the investment which has followed. I think we have got on top of security quite dramatically. We had 230 escapes a year from prisons in 1993, last year there were 11 and from a much bigger population. Escapes this year will again be very, very low indeed. We are not taking the sight off security, it would be madness to do so, but I think we are on top of that and we are able to concentrate now in a way we have not been able to before on doing the second part of a job to reduce offending.

12   Ev 25, Appendix 1; and Ev 30, Appendix 1, Annex A. Back

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