UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 74-ii

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

WELSH AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

 

 

WELSH PRISONERS IN THE PRISON ESTATE

 

 

Tuesday 28 November 2006

MR PAUL TIDBALL and MR EOIN LAWRENCE

MR ROD MORGAN, MR PAUL BOWERS and MS SUE WILLIAMS

MR JOHN TREW

MR DAVID FRASER and MR BRIAN LAWRENCE

Evidence heard in Public Questions 323 - 428

 

 

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Welsh Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 28 November 2006

Members present

Dr Hywel Francis, in the Chair

Mr Stephen Crabb

Nia Griffith

Mr David Jones

Hywel Williams

Mark Williams

________________

Memorandum submitted by Prison Governors Association

Examination of Witnesses

 

Witnesses: Mr Paul Tidball, President, and Mr Eoin Lawrence, Assistant Governor, HMP Swansea, and member of Prison Governors Association's Executive Committee, gave evidence.

Q323 Chairman: Good morning. Welcome to the Welsh Affairs Committee. For the record, could you please introduce yourselves.

Mr Tidball: I am Paul Tidball, President of the Prison Governors Association.

Mr Lawrence: I am Eoin Lawrence, on the National Executive Committee of the Prison Governors Association.

Q324 Chairman: Thank you very much for your written evidence. Thank you for coming before us this morning. Perhaps I could begin by asking you this question: How does the rising prison population affect the ability of prison governors and their staff to manage prisons? What is the effect of this on prisoner welfare and prison rehabilitation?

Mr Tidball: In prisons nationally, and indeed in Wales, the policy of the Director General of the Prison Service is not to accept any more overcrowding of cells than has existed for several years. That is why Operation Safeguard has been put into place as an option to take the overcrowding factor. The Director General has been successful in resisting any attempts to increase the operational capacity of prisons throughout the estate. Having said that, to meet the population explosion, unprecedented, which we are experiencing at the moment, the Prison Service has agreed - and possibly private contractors have as well, I am not too sure about that - to put in extra accommodation blocks in existing prisons. The prisons that usually have the space to accommodate the new buildings are often more usually in very remote parts of the country. Rutland, for instance, has a thousand prisoner places but not many of the prisoners that are in the Rutland prisons are from Rutland. It is not just Wales that is disadvantaged by people being very far from home. For the Prison Service properly to maintain and continuously improve the accommodation in old prisons - many of which are the Victorian buildings with which you will be familiar, the ones that are usually in city centres - for them to have any progressive maintenance programme, funding allowing, you need some headroom in the estate, which is not there at the moment. The thing that matters most to us as an association is that, even if there is space in an existing prison - which there is not in Cardiff or Swansea or Usk, for instance - to put in new accommodation blocks, they can be put in pretty quickly. The quick-build units that can be put into prisons these days can be assembled and put in place in a matter of weeks or months but the support facilities, in terms of employment, education - any sort of regime activities which are about purposeful activity - take a lot longer to put in. That is a sort of flavour of the pressures that extra population causes us.

Q325 Hywel Williams: We have heard evidence that information on the origin of prisoners within the estate in England is difficult to establish and this in turn makes it difficult to know how many prisoners come from Wales in the prison estate in England. Can you tell us how these arrangements work at present for collecting this sort of information on origins and how it can be improved in your opinion?

Mr Tidball: We were warned to expect that question. From where we are sitting, that is the one that I feel unable to answer. I do not have any knowledge of how we arrive at that. NOMS certainly would have that information.

Mr Lawrence: A part of NOMS is a unit called the Prison Management Service. They would have that information because they plan the location and transfer of prisoners throughout the country.

Hywel Williams: Thank you.

Q326 Nia Griffith: The Committee has heard some evidence of poor treatment of women prisoners and also of poor coordination which has led to a lack of opportunity for welfare organisations to access and work with those women. What in particular can prison governors do to improve access by welfare bodies to prisoners?

Mr Tidball: If that has been evidence you have received, I would accept that, but I am not aware of that being a problem. Certainly anybody who wants to visit a prison has to do so during core days - whatever the core day is in that prison.

Q327 Nia Griffith: Have you ever had difficulties - perhaps, for example, because of staff shortages - in being able to meet those welfare bodies and arrange for them to meet the prisoners? Is it an issue of lack of staffing on your part? Is it that sometimes it is difficult to provide the staff to coordinate that opening up and arranging of the meetings? - because obviously it does take staff time.

Mr Tidball: I am pretty confident that does not apply to prisons in Wales. The prisons in Wales, certainly the public sector prisons, have no problem recruiting staff and no problem retaining staff. They are very fortunate in having almost 100% of their staffing potential available at any one time. In other parts of the country where there may well be Welsh prisoners, particularly London, where salaries are not very competitive, prisoners can struggle to have enough of their staff on duty to provide a full regime every day. That has always been the case. There may be prisons where events or activities are cancelled on a particular day because of a lack of staff, yes.  

Nia Griffith: Thank you very much. It was in fact when we were talking about Welsh prisoners in prison in England. I accept what you say about prisoners in Wales.

Q328 Hywel Williams: You said earlier on that the hard work of building prisons, building the blocks and so on, is not a problem but it is the softer side, the recruitment of prison officers and governors as well as employment opportunities, which is lacking. Does that not imply that prisons should be built where staff are potentially available, such as they are in Wales?

Mr Tidball: Yes. In a way it is a surprise that Cardiff prison manages to recruit more than enough staff because it is not a low income area and there is not an unemployment problem. I think there may be other reasons why Cardiff manages to recruit staff but, yes, I take your point. In terms of getting a prison up and running or additional accommodation at an existing prison, staff recruitment is an element, in terms of when it is going to happen and when it is going to be effective.

Mr Lawrence: It is interesting that in Swansea, again, we do not struggle to employ any staff at all; however, in Bridgend, where the private prison is, their staff churn is quite substantial. I do not know the reason for this. Whereas Swansea and Cardiff keep the same staff for many, many years, we find that in the private sector there is a much bigger churn of staff.

Q329 Nia Griffith: Are there any specific ways you would like to mention in which governors can ensure that prisoners are treated with dignity and respect?

Mr Tidball: There is no doubt whatsoever that Martin Neary's time as Director General of the Prison Service took forward the decency and dignity agenda at a pace. His successor, who was his deputy, Phil Wheatley, Director General of the Prison Service now, has continued that. Some of the darkest prisons, shall we say, the largest Victorian prisons in the largest population centres, which might have had a bad reputation in the past, are improving the way that prisoners are treated across the piece. Occasionally, there will be inappropriate misconduct by staff of individual prisoners but that is dealt with quite firmly these days.

Q330 Mr Jones: Mr Tidball, you have already touched upon the difficulty of ascertaining how many Welsh prisoners are in the Welsh prison estate. Could we turn to the Welsh language, particularly those prisoners who might be Welsh speakers and more comfortable with speaking Welsh language rather than the English language. You have already heard that, again, there is poor information as to how many such prisoners there are. Do you have any suggestions for how this could be remedied?

Mr Tidball: In terms of knowing what is the first language of prisoners coming through the gates, that should be readily available, because prisoners are asked as part of their reception procedures what their nationality is and also what their language is. That information should be easily obtained.

Q331 Mr Jones: The Prison Service would record those prisoners whose preferred first language is Welsh?

Mr Tidball: They should do. I do not see why that cannot happen.

Mr Lawrence: Speaking on behalf of Swansea, we do have a Welsh language policy whereas if any prisoner would like any documentation provided in Welsh, then we will supply that. We do have the means for doing that. We have translators. When they do come in, as Mr Tidball says, that would be recorded if their first language is Welsh, or whatever their language is.

Q332 Mr Jones: You have just touched on my next question. How confident are you that prison governors in prisons generally are sensitive to the needs of those whose first language is Welsh or, indeed, any other language?

Mr Lawrence: I am quite confident that governors are aware and adhere to the foreign national prison policy that we have. As you are aware, there are a lot of foreign nationals within the Prison Service at the moment. We do have policies that ensure that these foreign national prisoners' needs are met and met correctly.

Q333 Hywel Williams: In your evidence you say that the Welsh Language Board can be surprisingly unresponsive to your needs and that there is a case for more pro-active support from the Welsh Language Board. Could you tell us what kind of support would help you to meet the needs of your Welsh speaking prisoners? What would you like from them?

Mr Tidball: I have evidence from the governor of Shrewsbury, for instance, who has a very good handle on how many Welsh prisoners he has; he knows how many Welsh speaking prisoners he has. He has asked for advice from the WLB - and possibly the Assembly in some other way - but certainly he is not readily getting the advice he needs about translation, technology and that sort of stuff. As governor of Cardiff, I know that there were very, very long time lapses between us asking for our draft policy to be checked out by whoever it was at the time in the Welsh Language Board. That was a little surprising, we thought. In a prison like Cardiff, where at any time there are very few first language Welsh speaking prisoners, perhaps we need a bit of encouragement to take them on, whereas in somewhere like Shrewsbury there are so many Welsh speaking staff and prisoners that that has its own momentum and that takes whoever is the governor at the time along with trying to provide the best facility.

Q334 Mr Crabb: The Committee has heard evidence of the problems faced by Welsh prisoners being held in English prisons, particularly in relation to family contact and resettlement. Some witnesses have argued that this has forced a need for the provision of new places in Wales to hold the prisoners. What is your view on that?

Mr Tidball: Given current sentencing patterns and that there are large numbers of Welsh prisoners in England or a distance from home, whether they are in England or not, it is impossible to deny that there is not a need for more prison places in Wales. As you will have gathered from our evidence, we cannot get very enthusiastic about it because we think it is a matter of great regret that Britain is such a great locker-up of offenders. There are alternatives with the minority of minor offenders, who are taking up prison places, which ought to be looked at in parallel with providing extra prison places in Wales. The first thing that could be looked at - which I put in my evidence and I gather is not in anybody else's - if you wanted to provide cells for women in Wales, for instance, is that Usk Prison is a sex offender specialist prison, where over half the population are not Welsh, and so it would be an option - it would not be welcomed by the Prison Service, who are desperately trying to get people into any spaces where they exist, so it would be in the difficult box at the moment but over time it would be possible - to change Usk Prison into a pretty reasonable women's prison, except that it could be occupied 100% by Welsh women. Yes, the evidence seems to be that all categories of prisoners from juveniles and children through to women and adult males have a shortage of facility in Wales.

Mr Lawrence: We have known people contacting Swansea asking for Usk prisoners to come back for local release. It is all very well for prisoners coming back to Wales and coming back to Swansea, but Swansea is a small local prison and we do not have the regime. To go hand in hand with the prison places, we also need regime as well. If there is no work for them to do and no way of addressing their bad behaviour, all we are doing is locking up.

Mr Tidball: Having been a governor for six and a quarter years of a women's prison which happened to have a fair number of Welsh women in it, my personal experience of many, many of the women in the population was that they were hundreds of miles away from home - 150 miles I think was the extent of it - for offences "no worse" than multi-shoplifting to feed a drug habit. I very much believe there is a bit of a gap in the market between non-custodial sentences which amount to nothing much more than doing community work or reporting to a probation office and custody at the other end of the spectrum. If only there were more halfway house opportunities, residential rehab units. You may have the evidence that the average cost of prison places is 35,000 a year per prisoner. If the prisoner is lucky enough to have a drug rehabilitation unit, that is on top of the average cost of 35,000 per year. If those rehab units were more prolific out there in the community, the women and often men as well would not need to be away from home, not benefiting from domestic contact, and being dealt with rather expensively.

Q335 Mr Crabb: I was going to ask you about the alternatives to custodial sentences. Do you feel you covered that in your previous answer or is there any more you would like to add on the kind of approaches? In your memorandum you said, "Wales has the opportunity to take an alternative approach, and to bring initiative and flair into non-custodial sentences." What would that mean in practice?

Mr Tidball: You might have experienced on a visit to Cardiff Prison something which is run in-house there - though it is in the early days - something called SORI, which is about restorative justice. You may hear about it from later witnesses, in fact. That is something where prisoners are encouraged to confront witnesses or confront the results of their offending. It is early days, but it seems to be having a substantial effect on the prisoners who are subject to that particular programme. I formed the impression from the fora I used to attend that those are not very common yet out in the community, but that is one example. As I say, some sort of residential provision, some sort of hostel provision - which used to be more common than it is now, in fact - particularly for those women who are not quite up to, in terms of personal resources, running their own lives without the assistance of residence or - I think I might have used the term - a drop-in centre, where, while they are serving their probation order or whatever is the disposal the courts have allocated, they can have a constant, day-in, day-out source of advice. These centres do not exactly cost a fortune to run and set up.

Q336 Mr Jones: I do not see, Mr Tidball, how Wales could take an alternative approach, given that criminal justice is not a devolved issue.

Mr Tidball: No, it is not currently. Just accepting things as they are, even with the organisation the way it is, with it being undevolved, it is still open to NOMS or the Assembly to foster and sponsor, and indeed for the National Government to use Wales as a pilot to alternatives to imprisonment, particularly when the alternative to imprisonment means that minor offenders do not have to go excessively long distances to prisons way the other side of the border. It is not such a big issue for me that Welsh prisoners have to go over the border as it is for prisoners from anywhere - and I quote the prisoner from Cornwall, who, if she is a woman prisoner, still has to go to the same prison, 160 miles away or more, as the Welsh prisoner. I do think there are opportunities. The sort of partnership arrangement initiatives that there have been in Wales, between the agencies, to work on crime reduction/reducing re‑offending are probably further advanced than anywhere else in the country. I think there is a will and there is a big team there that is ready, given the resources, to go further with looking at alternatives to imprisonment. There is a little background there already.

Q337 Mark Williams: You have mentioned some of the alternatives available, potentially at least, particularly for minor offences, but your memorandum says, "... if all Welsh women were housed in and restricted to a Welsh prison, they would be disadvantaged by not having access to the diversity of regime provision." Could you elaborate on what you mean by diversity of regime provision?

Mr Tidball: Yes. That is an interesting one which came from a member of mine who is governor of a women's prison and has been for nearly ten years now - which is an exceptionally long time. She said it is not as simple as having a prison near home is the answer and then everything is okay. At least, at the moment, a positive of women having to fan out from Wales to various women's prisons from the North West of England down to Eastwood Park is that as they progress through the longer sentences they can move from prison to prison to take advantage of whatever regime, whatever activities, whatever courses, whatever training is available for them in individual prisons. If you had, say, a prison for 200 women in Wales, realistically there is no way that one prison could offer all the spread of regime activities that half a dozen prisons can between them.

Q338 Mark Williams: Does that not raise other implications about the relationship of women prisoners with their children and access to their families?

Mr Tidball: Absolutely. On balance, I would go for having a spread of low security, residential facilities for women, whether they are called prisons or not, but from low security residential hostel support through to high security women's prisons, and, at the lower end, having access to activities in the community rather than within the residential centre concerned. But, yes, it is an interesting variation.

Q339 Mark Williams: What is the obstacle to achieving those different options within Wales?

Mr Tidball: A reason why Wales has a particular need that could be addressed here is that I imagine the Committee are having some difficulty with the arguments, if there is a new prison, where to put it. An understatement, by the sound of it! At the moment there is no provision for north and mid Wales but there is an even greater need statistically for the location being in south Wales, in terms of pressures of numbers. I would have thought that was an extra reason to look at alternatives to a "big bang" big prison, however efficient that would be, and look at putting in small establishments which are very much a part of their local community, so that it would draw in the activities on temporary release that exist in the local communities.

Q340 Hywel Williams: Are you saying that in order to provide a variety of services to women prisoners you need critical mass? Or is it that, because of the way the system is organised at present, specialist services are available in the north of England, the south of England or wherever? Is it an organisational thing or just that you need more than 200 together to justify providing these services?

Mr Tidball: I think there is a cost element to it. If a prisoner is serving a sentence of any length, it is a realistic and practical option for them to move from one prison to another to take advantage of whatever facilities there are in prison. But I do not see that in a closed, secure prison, if there are a small number of prisoners, it can conceivably be possible to have the space and resources to provide more than a limited regime. Having said that, we know - and you will have heard from other witnesses - that there is a lot of interest out there in the provision of activities in prison by outside agencies.

Q341 Mark Williams: We have heard evidence that prisons in the private sector have a greater capacity to meet individual need and bring in innovative ideas. Does this not strengthen the case for more private sector provision in Wales?

Mr Tidball: Of course I have not seen the evidence you have seen.

Q342 Mark Williams: What are your thoughts on that?

Mr Tidball: The private sector will normally provide whatever they are paid to provide. You might have seen inspection reports which refer to a private prison that does not provide toilet seats because they are not in the contract. That was one example in the last year by a major private provider. As an association, we remain opposed to the private sector managing whole prisons. Not many of them will have had the experience, but, if you have had the experience of turning the key on someone and/or having the key turned on you, imprisonment is the most severe punishment that this country is able to award. To have that in the hands of private contractors, to have in the hands of private contractors and the staff who work for them (whatever the company is called at any particular point in history) something that is proposed in the current Management and Sentencing Bill, making decisions about solitary confinement, is something that we find disturbing and uncomfortable. Given that the private sector exists and realistically it is going to continue to exist, we have to look back at the fact that bringing the private sector into play in the first place did act as a wake-up call to public sector providers, but it is now the case that inspection report after inspection report shows that public sector prisons are in fact performing better and in fact possibly more than private sector establishments now. Similarly, given that private sector involvement is likely to continue, the current proposal is that if a public sector establishment persistently fails to perform well - and usually they are prisons which are beset by difficulties which are beyond shifting, such as city centre/London traditional Victorian prisons - it is reasonable to let somebody else have a go. The only time a prison has been offered up in that way, no one in the private sector wanted to run it anyway. That was a prison not very far from here, just south of the river. In terms of flexibility, certainly the private sector can respond more flexibly than the Prison Service to demands on it. For instance, in working up a bid to provide something additional, they are a lot slicker than we are because we have not long been in the business of making bids. In the last sentence of my memorandum, I referred to the fact that the Permanent Secretary, very conveniently, within the last fortnight has referred to the Prison Service as being "brilliantly managed". We consider ourselves to be that good. It is rather unusual for any public service to be described as "brilliantly managed" these days, but we are pretty proud of the way we deliver at the moment.

Chairman: On that positive note, could I thank you both for your written and oral evidence. If you feel there are other points you wish to raise with us that we have not covered today, we would be pleased to receive a letter from you. Thank you very much.


Memorandum submitted by Youth Justice Board for England and Wales

Examination of Witnesses

 

Witnesses: Mr Rod Morgan, Chairman, Mr Paul Bowers, Director of Service Delivery, and Ms Sue Williams, National Manager for Wales, gave evidence.

Q343 Chairman: Good morning. Could I ask you, first of all, to introduce yourself for the record, please.

Mr Morgan: I am Rodney Emeris Morgan, Chair of the Youth Justice Board.

Ms Williams: I am Sue Williams, Head of the Youth Justice Board in Wales, based in Swansea.

Mr Bowers: I am Paul Bowers, Director of Service Delivery for the Youth Justice Board, and my responsibility is for commissioning secure accommodation and management of placements.

Q344 Chairman: Could I begin by asking you a question about your memorandum. It states that the percentage of young offenders from Wales held in custody more than 50 miles from home increased from 31.9% to 40% between April and October 2006. Could you explain the reason for this increase? Is the situation worse for young offenders from north and mid Wales?

Mr Morgan: We have had responsibility, as you will note from the memorandum, of commissioning provision since 2000. We inherited an infrastructure that does not fit the demand. That means, if I could put it this way, that there are import areas and export areas. One of the export areas is Wales. We have a target which has been reiterated in the Home Office five-year plan published in March this year to reduce the proportion of young people in custody. At the moment we are unfortunately going in the wrong direction. Numbers have significantly increased. Because there is a misalignment between the establishments for juveniles across the country and the demand pattern - by definition, the closer we are to the headroom (if I may put it that way), the closer we are to capacity - then the reduced likelihood here is young people being kept within 50 miles of home. Wales makes proportionately greater use of custody than does England - marginally: it is about 7.4% compared to 6.2%. As the numbers have risen during the summer months, so have they also for Wales. Because, as you will have seen from the memorandum, our provision in Wales is modest, then, by definition, that extra number has had to be increasingly housed in England, which in most cases, though not in the case of Ashfield - which you will see is just north of Bristol and within 50 miles of, for example, young people from Cardiff and Newport - it does mean that the proportion has increased, as you have noted.

Q345 Mr Jones: What is being done to ensure that juvenile offenders are able to maintain contact with their families?

Mr Bowers: A number of things really. When a young person goes into custody - and we have three different sectors that we work with - that young person is allocated either a person officer or a key worker who will follow the young person through their spell in that particular institution or establishment. One of the things we look for from that key worker is to establish contact with family. We encourage them to attend things like sentence planning meetings, which determine what happens to the young person while they are in custody and also starts through the process of planning post release. In terms of practical financial assistance, we also run assisted visit schemes. For those boys in young offenders' institutions, they are linked into the Prison Service system visit scheme and we have our own which primarily covers secure training centres and some children who are in secure children's homes.

Q346 Mr Jones: Developing that, you indicated in paragraph 10 of your report the varying costs of those types of custody. For boys 40,000 per annum if they are held in a young offenders institution; 150,000 for secure training centres and 200,000 for secure children's homes. Could you explain to the Committee the difference between those types of accommodation? Would you say that the parent provision is about the right mix?

Mr Morgan: Could I first of all correct one of the pieces of information to which you have referred. In fact the cost of keeping a young person in a young offenders' institution is rather more than stated. It is anything between 50,000 and 55,000 rather than 40,000. The other two figures are broadly correct. The majority of young people in custody are 15, 16, 17. The majority of young people in custody at any one time, 85%, are in Prison-Service-run young offender institutions. Relatively small numbers, roughly 250 in each category, are in local authority secure homes or in STCs. We have published a strategy to which reference is made in our memorandum for the future of the secure estate and it is our view that there are significant numbers of older adolescents (that is, 15, 16, 17) who, for various reasons, are vulnerable and either cannot cope or should not be expected to cope with mainstream provision in the YOIs. Part of our strategy in the future is to provide smaller, more intensively staffed housing units for that population. They could be vulnerable for a variety of reasons, to do with the nature of their offence, their stature and so on and so forth, but we acknowledge that we need greater provision than we are able to provide in the STCs and the local authority secure homes for this population. It is roughly right, but either within an STC sector or within the YOIs we need some accommodation of a different nature than that which we typically are able to provide in the YOIs we have inherited, where the accommodation units are typically about 60 beds. We need small units and that will be part of our planning, is part of our planning.

Q347 Mark Williams: Turning now to education provision, the Welsh Adult and Young People's Strategy to Reduce Re-Offending highlights the low levels of educational attainment. There are startling statistics: 70% of young offenders in the community and in the secure estate have a reading age that is below their chronological age; 15% have special educational need statements. The report also highlights the need to provide suitable education and training courses, particularly for those in custody. How are those startling statistics being addressed?

Mr Bowers: They are major issues for us. Might I talk about what we have done in custody. The arrangements for each sector are slightly different. If you look at the secure children's home, the local authority that the children's home is in provides the education in the establishment. For the secure training centres, we will specify for each of our secure training centres, which are all run by private sector providers, the education standards we want. They are governed by the secure training centre rules, which are established by Parliament. There are minimum standards of around 30 hours a week of education, a focus on offending behaviour work, and a whole regime built around that. For boys in young offenders' institutions - and girls, indeed - contractual arrangements have recently changed, so that the responsibility for commissioning education in those establishments has moved to the Learning and Skills Councils. We then work with them to establish what the operational requirement is: the sorts of things that they should be looking at building into their specifications for education provision for young people. The sorts of things we have talked about in England, for example, are adopting the 14-19 year old curriculum: more flexibility around the use of vocational training, which, for this particular group, is something we would strongly recommend as a way for effective learning and setting them up for realistic job opportunities for the future. We have also started some work with the Welsh equivalent in terms of where they are seeking to go for 14-19 year olds. I know there is some early work being done with Parc around what that might mean. If I could come back to the vocational training side, one of the things we have done is to help to build up some of the facilities that are available to young people, because, historically, provision has been basically classroom-based, certainly for under-18s. For example, we are expanding our juvenile provision in Parc and, as part of the expansion programme, there will be some more educational and vocational facilities developed.

Q348 Mark Williams: In terms of the basics, particularly literacy and numeracy, how much of that work, which you said is classroom based, is individually tailored to specific educational needs?

Mr Bowers: When a young person comes into custody, the educational attainment levels are assessed.

Q349 Mark Williams: How do you assess those?

Mr Bowers: The education staff on site will carry out that assessment.

Q350 Mark Williams: Is that a written test?

Mr Bowers: There will be a series of tests, mainly focusing on literacy and numeracy and any information that the youth offending team has been able to provide prior to the young person going into custody. Depending on what facilities the individual establishment has available to them, they will put together an educational training package for that young person. Part of that is also geared to the amount of time the young person is likely to be there. One of the problems is that a lot of young people are either on remand or on short sentences and what you can realistically hope to achieve in, for example, a three-month period. That can determine quite heavily what sort of programmes you put together. Within the establishments they have a range of programmes; at one end of the extreme dealing with those who are there a short amount of time, with some longer programmes for those on longer sentences. In terms of the balance between classroom and vocation, that really depends on what services the individual establishment has available. You will find in the STCs and the secure children's homes it tends to be more classroom based because the children tend to be younger and the way they have been developed has been on more of a classroom based system.

Mr Morgan: If I could reiterate a key point here, a very high proportion of the young people in custody have not been attending school, not just for days or weeks but for sometimes months or years, so typically they have a numeracy and literacy age which is three/four years below their chronological age. The idea that you put such young people in a classroom and expect them to respond positively to that experience is frankly facile. Although we do what we can, we are intent on trying to build up more vocationally oriented programmes to secure their motivation and then try to deal with the literacy and the numeracy skills on the back of the motivation. We are trying to shift the centre of gravity as to what we provide.

Q351 Mark Williams: That is why I asked the question about individual need, which has resource implications in terms of staff.

Mr Morgan: Absolutely.

Q352 Mark Williams: And provision, as you say, the facilities to develop those educational skills.

Mr Bowers: I shall give you one example. In terms of teacher:pupil ratios, the maximum number of young people in custody you see in the classroom is eight and very often in the children centres it is down to four. There is also learning support assistance available. The chances of a young person getting a more specialised service may well be greater than in many schools.

Q353 Mark Williams: My next question is on the Welsh language. How many Welsh speaking juvenile offenders are currently held in the secure estate? Fundamental to that: how are their language needs being met?

Ms Williams: We do not keep specific records on our placements' database about children's first language. We could roughly estimate it from information drawn from youth offending teams and different establishments, but I do not have a figure that I can give you.

Q354 Mark Williams: How are the needs of those people met?

Ms Williams: We require youth offending teams in Wales to use a standard comprehensive assessment tool called Asset. If I tell you that in its paper form it is 15 pages long, it is very comprehensive. We would expect them under headings of family background, circumstances and school and education to pick up - and if that was done properly it certainly would pick up - what the child's first or preferred language was. We would expect that to be communicated to the establishment, when a child received custody, under general good assessment practice that we monitor. Although we do not require a specific question about it, it should be known what a child's first language is and what their preference is. In terms of the provision, I think it is fair to say that does vary between the establishments that mainly hold Welsh children, establishments which by definition are mainly in England. The four main establishments are Parc, near Bridgend, Ashfield, near Bristol, Stoke Heath in Shropshire, and Eastwood Park which holds women. Actually, there are five, because there is Hillside Secure Children's Home in Neath. They would all run the curriculum that is not a Welsh medium curriculum; it is a curriculum which tries to take account of Welsh cultural background using Welsh examples within general teaching and with Welsh language and Welsh relevant resources at their disposal for the teaching and learning. In term of Welsh medium provision, I think it is fair to say that there is very little provision of that. It would certainly be provided in Hillside Secure Children's Home on demand and I would be 100% confident that they would pick that up, but there is some way to go in provision in other establishments. We currently have a draft Welsh language scheme which is out to consultation. In that scheme we do provide for the future. We look at what we say in our contracting specification, if you like, for future services that are provided in Wales to Welsh children, what we say about the Welsh medium.

Q355 Mark Williams: In your initial assessments of linguistic need, particularly in the English prisons, do you ever detect a reluctance from those youngsters to disclose their mother tongue? Would you use that initial assessment to gear where people come from and what their needs might be?

Ms Williams: Youth offending teams' services are run out of local authorities. They would be bound by their local authority's Welsh language scheme as well as any demands that we make on them. We ourselves do not provide the assessment or services in establishments, but I know that does happen. I think it is true to say that some children, particularly from North West Wales, do encounter problems. It is a very difficult environment for them to display their Welsh language preferences, particularly as they have been sentenced to custody. It is very hard for them to come out and say that and I know one or two of the youth offending team managers from North Wales has some concerns about that.

Q356 Hywel Williams: The census shows that about 20% of the population generally speaks Welsh; 30% of the population who are younger speak Welsh. That is more pronounced in the South East rather than the North West of Wales. It is more of a south-eastern urban phenomenon. Can you account for the disparity there between the reports of the percentages of Welsh speakers as far as the census is concerned and the evidence you have just given us about the apparent complete lack of Welsh-speaking services for people within the estates?

Ms Williams: I do not think the system as it is currently set up is capable of providing a service in the language of somebody's choice. I do not think it is capable of doing that. I think it is just about capable of picking up when Welsh is genuinely somebody's first language and they have less fluency in English - which is the case for about 30% of the children seen by Gwynedd and Ynys Mon youth offending teams. I think there is partial capability but I do not think the system can offer a genuine option preference for people. I would not say that was fair.

Mr Morgan: Although the majority of Welsh children are not held in Wales, if the Youth offending team were to identify Welsh language issues in their initial assessment in the way that Sue has described it, they should communicate that to our placement section - which is the only operational function, incidentally, which the Youth Justice Board provides: the placement of young people assessed by the YOTs and who the courts have committed to custody. We would normally expect that if they could not be held in Wales they would be held at either Ashfield or at Stoke Heath, both close to the Welsh Border, where there is some provision for both Welsh language and Welsh children. It may not be as good as it should be, but there is provision.

Mr Bowers: If I could just add to that, where young people are placed outside those establishments in other parts of England - dealing just with the young offenders institutions - what the prison governors are very aware of in those establishments are boys or girls from outside their catchment area, and we have a process of enabling young people to transfer back to their home catchment area when places are available. If you look at the secure children's homes and the secure training centres, the level of supervision that a young person gets is such that if they were struggling for language reasons the unit would actually be onto our placement service and suggest that that young person transfer somewhere more appropriate.

Q357 Hywel Williams: The impression I get is that in terms of the Welsh language the attitude is both reactive and "problematises" the language in that it says if there is a problem we will do something about it, and of itself that makes the language unusual, it excludes it to that extent. I do not know if that is a fair assessment, but can I ask you is the service the same in respect of any other important feature of young people's identity or their needs, or is the Welsh language peculiar in that respect?

Mr Morgan: I am not quite sure. If I could put it like this, there is a particular issue in relation to Welsh children, both culturally and in some cases linguistically, but that is a problem in terms of discomfort at being out of area, which is experienced by many young people. We do not want to have young people with a Birmingham accent in an establishment where there is predominantly a Greater Manchester or a Merseyside accent, because our experience is that that tends to lead to tensions. Generally speaking, if young people cannot be within their area of origin we would try to group them. It is fair to say that our provision for the Welsh language in particular has been more reactive than proactive in the past, but it is becoming more proactive.

Q358 Chairman: On the question of the draft Welsh language scheme, when do you anticipate that being in place and could you put on record whether that scheme applies to the staff as well as to the children, and would it obviously apply to those young people from Wales who would be outside Wales in other centres?

Ms Williams: As far as who our Welsh language scheme would apply to, because we do not run any services ourselves - community services are run by youth offending teams based in local authorities so they are bound by their local authority's Welsh language scheme. Our role and involvement with the provision of secure places for young people is that of commissioner of the places, which we would do through a service level agreement, either with the Prison Service or in the case of PFI establishments that is done through a contract then between the Prison Service and the private sector provider. What our Welsh language scheme says is that where we have a commissioning contractual role for services that we might be requiring or grants that we might be giving in Wales, we will set down what we expect in terms of Welsh language provision from those providers. That is basically the situation.

Q359 Chairman: When do you anticipate the scheme being in place?

Ms Williams: I am not sure of the exact date but it must be imminent because it has been out to consultation for several months.

Q360 Mr Crabb: I was interested in the comment you made about people with different regional accents, the Birmingham accent not mixing with accents from Greater Manchester. Would that approach apply to racial and ethnic diversity in your estate?

Mr Morgan: No, it is much more to do with cultural provision. If I can illustrate it - and this is an unfortunate illustration - due to the high numbers that we have experienced this summer, and the fact that we have been close to capacity, the biggest increase has been the increase in the number of young men from the South East. We do not have sufficient provision in London and the South East so many young people from the London boroughs, for example, are in custody, and we do not have spaces for them within the London area. There are currently over 100 young people from the London area who have been sentenced in Staffordshire, in an establishment, within a particular wing; we group them there. They are a considerable distance from home, which we do not regard as desirable, but rather than distribute them generally we have concentrated them because, frankly, our experience is that the regime is likely to be less destabilised and calm relationships will best be preserved if we group them rather than distribute them.

Q361 Hywel Williams: Can I just clear up something that Ms Williams said a moment ago. You said that service level agreements in Wales specify issues around the Welsh language; do you not specify for young people held in England as well?

Ms Williams: We currently do not specify it for anybody, but our Welsh language scheme says that in the future we will do. I have the wording of it somewhere and it does actually say "for services in Wales", it does not specifically say for services to Welsh children held in England.

Q362 Hywel Williams: The 1993 Welsh Language Act actually says it applies to services provided from without Wales into Wales, which is why large public bodies in London, for example, publish stuff in Welsh. Indeed, there has been an argument that prisoners held in England from Wales are being provided with a service to a Welsh person, as it were, and in that respect the Welsh Language Act applies to someone held in Altcourse in the same way as it applies to someone held in Cardiff Prison. Are you familiar with that argument?

Ms Williams: Yes, I am.

Mr Bowers: The arrangements around Ashfield are probably a good example. They have been strengthened, and when you look at the Welsh language provision there it is probably the strongest we have got outside Wales. There is more work to do around Stoke Heath where there are probably fewer, but it is something we are conscious of.

Chairman: Mr Hywel Williams has a question on healthcare and substance misuse.

Q363 Hywel Williams: Thank you. Your memorandum says that there have been improvements to healthcare and substance misuse services by yourselves and your partners to the secure estate since 2000, that things have improved. How much progress has been made in addressing the mental health needs of Welsh juveniles in the secure estate?

Mr Bowers: If I can take our general approach, it has been in line with developments in the relationship between the Department of Health and the Prison Service where responsibility for prison health transferred from the Home Office to the Department of Health two or three years ago, and we were quite heavily involved in that transfer in relation to juvenile establishments. In terms of mental health provision our work has been around working jointly with the Prison Service and the Department of Health to identify the needs of young people in custody and really to get the DoH to start looking at investment in some key areas for us. The child and adolescent mental health services are a key one for us and, certainly, they have put new money into that service over the last two or three years. I still think it is patchy around the country depending on how the local community provision is. In terms of substance misuse in one of the previous spending rounds - I think it was 2002 - we got 30 million over three years for substance misuse in custody and we have developed a programme. We developed a national specification for young people in custody for dealing with substance misuse issues; we invested a significant amount in prison facilities, one to accommodate the staff that were taken on and, secondly, for group work or one-to-one work with young people. Probably the biggest part of it was invested in new staff across the estate: for the young offenders institutions they were directly provided with staff and for the children's homes it was linked in with local drug action teams so it could be co-ordinated with community provision. What you are seeing now is that virtually all young people coming through are assessed to look at their substance misuse needs, we have a far greater range of activities and interventions that we can offer in custody and, probably equally important, is the link back into the community so that those interventions can carry on. One of the things that we introduced was a rehabilitation policy so that there was a group of workers recruited to work with young people in custody and followed them out through, so that the programmes of work we started could continue through release. The programme is being evaluated at the moment, we are looking to see what impact it has had, but all I can say is that anecdotally it is significantly better than it was, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

Q364 Nia Griffith: If we can move on now to new provision, you mentioned about an additional 28 places to be provided in Parc, but you also mentioned other options that yourselves and the Welsh Assembly Government are looking at; could you tell us a bit more about those other options?

Mr Morgan: If I could just introduce this, we anticipate that the additional 28 beds at Parc will be available from February onwards, so whereas currently we have 50 beds in Wales, which accounts for just under a third of all the Welsh children at any one time, after February we will have 78 beds which is more like half at any one time. We are exploring with the Welsh Assembly Government a number of options as to how we can increase provision within Wales of different types. We cannot say much more than that at the moment because those discussions are partly based upon funding options, which are far from clear, and various proposals that the Welsh Assembly Government are coming up with which, for various reasons, cannot be discussed in public. We are committed to trying to increase provision in Wales, but I have to say to you that when it comes to younger children there are not local authorities queuing up to open secure units, so trying to increase provision in that area in particular is very difficult.

Mr Bowers: If I could link to that, we have a series of contracts for the 15 local authority secure children's homes. They are due to run out in 2009 and we are going to start the procurement process for the renewal of those contracts probably next year to give time for new entrants and some changes to the balance of provision we put into place, because one thing that we do want to see is a better balance between regional supply and demand in England, and obviously Wales has the same issue there. It will then be up to providers to come to us with proposals, and I know the Welsh Assembly Government has been talking to some providers, particularly around some increased provision in South Wales and also some sort of provision in North Wales where there is nothing at the moment.

Q365 Nia Griffith: You mentioned in the press recently the need for collaboration between the 22 authorities having come from the original eight authorities; would you see that as very important if you are trying to set up something like a secure unit because there would be more than one authority perhaps sharing the provision?

Mr Morgan: That is always a possibility. None of the 15 local authority secure units with who we currently contract are shared facilities, they are provided by a particular local authority. Incidentally, we used to call them local authority secure homes but that is technically incorrect because one of those decided to sell its provision in London to a commercial provider. That is a local authority decision and that is part of the fragility of local authority provision, that if they decide they do not want to run it any more, they want to sell it off, there is nothing we can do to prevent that happening except discuss it closely with the Department for Education and Skills as we did in relation to that particular establishment.

Q366 Mark Williams: You have answered my first question, but where are we in this timetable in terms of the National Assembly and their desires?

Mr Bowers: What we have said to the Assembly is our existing contracts come to an end at the end of March 2009. That gives us two years to go through a procurement process, and the advantage of starting that process early is that if somebody has to identify a property, refurbish, whatever, it will give them time to bid and have it in place. We will be putting out our specification and our invitation to tender, probably some time around the Spring, and we will work alongside the Assembly so that they know the timetables we have got. I know they have already made contact with a number of organisations, I believe, as potential suppliers.

Mr Morgan: If I could say that our relationship with the Welsh Assembly Government has now matured, it is now very good; we have regular joint meetings, I meet regularly with Edwina Hart, we have regular meetings with the Welsh Assembly Government and we place great importance on joint planning.

Q367 Mark Williams: How much importance do you place on new custodial provision for girls and young women in Wales? How much does that feature in these discussions?

Mr Morgan: As you will know from the memorandum and our published strategy for the secure estate, we gave an undertaking that we would remove 17 year old girls from provision where it was shared with adults, that we wanted them separate, and we have spent substantial sums over the last 18 months so as to create five relatively small units for 17 year old girls. This is quite a difficult terrain because the numbers of older girls in custody at any one time is pretty volatile - it has fluctuated in the last year between 60 and over 100 - but we will have, when we open the last one later this year five units for girls which we hope will be adequate to cope with all the 17 year old girls in the country. Girls of 16 and below are already absorbed within the existing provision, including provision for mothers and babies where you have younger adolescents.

Q368 Mark Williams: What is the capacity of those units?

Mr Bowers: There are 91 places in young offenders institutions. If you look at the number of girls in the country in total it is probably about 200; the rest of them, the younger ones, are all in secure children's centres, secure training centres, and there are a number of dedicated units around the country as part of that provision.

Mr Morgan: We would hope that in most cases a 17 year old girl from Wales would go to Eastwood Park which once again is in Gloucestershire.

Q369 Chairman: Thank you very much. Could I finally make one request? We are very appreciative of your written evidence and your oral evidence but if you could send us the draft Welsh language scheme and also if you could try to find out the number of children and young people who have the facility of the Welsh language, we would appreciate that information.

Mr Morgan: Certainly, we will provide you with what we can.

Chairman: Thank you very much.


Memorandum submitted by Victim Support Wales

 

Examination of Witness

 

Witness: Mr Jon Trew, National Officer for Wales, Victim Support Wales, gave evidence.

Q370 Chairman: Good morning, welcome. Could you please, for the record, introduce yourself, Mr Trew?

Mr Trew: My name is Jon Trew, I am the national officer in Victim Support Wales.

Chairman: Mr David Jones, could you begin, please?

Q371 Mr Jones: Good morning, Mr Trew. As the national officer for Victim Support Wales you co-ordinate and represent the five Victim Support charities throughout Wales. Are there any particular regional issues that you have identified in this role?

Mr Trew: By regional you mean within Wales?

Q372 Mr Jones: Yes, varying within the various regions of Wales.

Mr Trew: The biggest problem for us, I would say, is actually getting around Wales. I was listening to the debates earlier about whether Welsh prisoners should be in Wales, but actually for me to get from my home in Barry to our office in North Wales is a five-and-a-half hour car journey or train journey, whereas I can get to London in two hours, so the actual transport links in Wales are a particular issue. Another issue for us as well is that there are four police authorities, and that means four lots of negotiations to have about how they inform us about how we get in contact with victims of crime. That is replicated four times.

Q373 Mr Jones: I had a meeting recently with your North Wales branch and I understand that there is some pressure for an all-UK or just an England and Wales charity to replace the current individual charities; is that right?

Mr Trew: That is the case, yes. At the moment the majority of the Victim Support charities are based on or are co-terminus with the police authorities, and that has been the case for some years now; before that there were lots and lots of charities based on local authority boundaries and co-terminus with those. There was a decision taken in principle, first of all by the chairs of the Victim Support charities in Wales to move towards one charity in Wales, and then England caught up with our thinking and they decided that they wanted to move towards becoming one charity. At the moment, therefore, we are exploring becoming one charity with one board of trustees, but we are looking at the status of Wales within that structure and perhaps setting up the equivalent of what they call in the commercial world a wholly owned subsidiary, so it would be a separate company with its own board of trustees but a decision of the national board could overturn one of their decisions in theory.

Q374 Mr Jones: Could you help the Committee by telling us what is the reason for this pressure to become amalgamated?

Mr Trew: The reason is to improve services to victims and witnesses. What we find is that there are examples of very good practice going on in Wales, but there are also very poor examples as well and there is no consistency of services. In order to do that we believe that we need some kind of hierarchical structure where a local board of trustees could say we do not like that policy in this area, we decide not to implement it. It also means that there would be consistency about training, about the service, and we also believe that there are savings to be made, particularly on the administration side of it rather than having five separate people doing wages or purchasing or computer support, that we could concentrate that into one person or one body.

Q375 Mr Crabb: The Home Office code of practice to which you refer in your memorandum says that the police are required to positively promote the services of Victim Support to victims of crime; can you tell us whether you think this works in practice in Wales and, if so, how does it work?

Mr Trew: Let me give you an example. I was recently a victim of a burglary and the police officers came round and they looked at my house. The burglars actually broke into my house when my family and I were in bed; I was not asleep so I came down and disturbed them and they ran away. The police officer said "You don't want Victim Support, do you?" "No." When I actually told him who I was he - but what that is is how police officers talk to victims. The problem often is when they ask them; I will be honest with you, at that point I did not want Victim Support, I wanted the police to catch the person who did this and it is rather like somebody going into accident and emergency with their leg hanging off and the people saying would you like physiotherapy? I would say "No, I would like you to stop it hurting or stop it bleeding." That is the same thing with Victim Support, victims are being asked when the investigating officer comes round and normally the phrase they should use is "We will pass on your details to Victim Support, but if there is any reason you do not want us to do so, please say so." It is a bit of a mouthful unfortunately and, with the greatest respect, some officers often forget that and when they get back to the station I believe they tick the box saying no because if they tick yes and they have not asked the question then it is likely that they would be asked "Why did you give these people my information?" There is a big issue about how data protection actually is not working in the interests of victims and witnesses. There has been some movement with the Metropolitan Police whereby all victims of crime have their details passed on to Victim Support and then we have approached them; if people do not want our services then they simply say no.

Q376 Mr Crabb: You said there were some examples of good practice within Wales. Is there any relationship between any of the individual police forces in Wales and good practice? Is there any correlation there or is it equally patchy throughout the four police force areas?

Mr Trew: I do not know that I want to comment about the police but in terms of Victim Support which is co-terminus with the police, one of the items of good practice that I can comment about is our colleagues in North Wales. They have been working with the Court Service and they have persuaded the courts and the CPS to regard all victims of domestic violence who go to court as vulnerable, intimidated witnesses and enable them to have special measures. Special measures can be things like the use of screens or being able to speak over CCTV, and that is something that our colleagues in North Wales have negotiated there with the courts. That does not happen throughout Wales but we are hoping to promote that; that is one example of good practice.

Q377 Hywel Williams: You have described in your memorandum that you have a victim service and a witness service, and the victim service takes up 75% of your work. How are the resources split between the two services?

Mr Trew: That is a good question. There is no split in terms of the money that comes to each of the Victim Support areas. There is a grant of around 30 million given to Victim Support by the Home Office but it is not specified which part of that is for the Witness Service and which part of that is for the services to victims of crime. What we try to do in some of the more rural parts of Wales is actually to bring those services together, so we have a generic worker who covers the Witness Service in the mornings when the court is sitting and does victim work in the afternoon. Obviously, in places of higher population we are able to separate these functions in terms of staff, but off the top of my head I would not be able to give you the figures. What I would say is that the Witness Service is notionally fully funded by the Home Office, though we are not convinced of it.

Q378 Hywel Williams: You said that at the moment the grant is around 30 million.

Mr Trew: Yes.

Q379 Hywel Williams: About how much of that is spent in Wales, do you think?

Mr Trew: Unfortunately, the money is not split by the Barnett formula - I wish it was. They use a formula where they look at the number of crimes committed in a particular area and then each area gets the amount of money that relates to those crimes, but also there is a modifier built-in that takes account of sparseness. If you look at the number of crimes in the UK we do better actually than our colleagues in England; however, my argument to that is that Wales is a lot less densely populated and therefore there are more difficulties as a result of that.

Q380 Hywel Williams: Sometimes it is wiser not to poke about in the Barnett formula too closely. You say that you have 83 staff.

Mr Trew: Yes

Q381 Hywel Williams: How are these distributed around the regions within Wales?

Mr Trew: We have four staff in Dyfed, about six staff in Powys, in North Wales and Gwent we have about the same amount, which is an area manager ---

Q382 Hywel Williams: Could you provide us with a breakdown of the figure?

Mr Trew: Yes, certainly, I can provide that later if that would be okay, to give you more accurate figures.

Q383 Hywel Williams: That would be useful. You have also said that you have 700 volunteers.

Mr Trew: Yes.

Q384 Hywel Williams: How are they recruited and trained?

Mr Trew: In terms of recruitment, one, we use word of mouth and we go to colleges, universities, local volunteer bureaux. We often write to victims of crime when we have finished working with them, so to speak, when we have ended the case, and one of the things it says in the leaflet is that if you would like to help Victim Support in some way by raising money, donating money or becoming a volunteer yourself, and we often find that for victims of crime themselves part of moving-on is becoming a volunteer. That is basically how we recruit volunteers. Amazingly, when I first started this job I thought that that would be a particular difficulty, but that does not seem to be the case throughout Wales I would say. There might be small patches here or there, but generally the number of volunteers that we have, they seem to stay with the organisation for a long time. Every volunteer for Victim Support, before they can do any work with any victims, must go through our core training, which is a four-day course, and then they must shadow an existing volunteer for a number of weeks until they are fit to practise. They are also police-checked as well, so we do not take everyone.

Q385 Hywel Williams: It is often thought that informal and word of mouth means of recruitment do not pick up black and ethnic minority people effectively. Do you monitor the number in Wales who are from the black community or the ethnic minority community, and if so do you have a figure that you could give us?

Mr Trew: Yes, we do, I can happily provide that. Once a year we ask everybody within the organisation to not only talk about their ethnicity but also their sexuality as well, and I would be able to provide you with those figures.

Q386 Chairman: Could we move on now to restorative justice. We visited Cardiff Prison recently and met the director of the SORI programme; could you explain your involvement in that programme?

Mr Trew: Certainly. Over a year ago I was approached by Julia Houston-Clark who is one of the prison chaplains in Cardiff Prison to see whether we would co-operate with a programme of restorative justice there that they were running in the prison, and they called it the SORI programme. I must admit that initially I was very hesitant about being involved in that programme. We had in the past been involved in restorative justice programmes involved with young people, and there were some serious shortcomings with that programme, I must admit, from the point of view of victims' involvement. Those programmes were very time limited; they had to be completed between the charging and sentencing of the young person, so within 50 days, and the whole process seemed to be towards stopping that young person re-offending. Whilst that was fine, it seemed that the interests of the victim were not the prime consideration really and there were some problems where we found that victims' expectations had been raised and the agreement had not been followed through. In one instance I can think, an old gentleman who was the victim of a distraction burglary had taken part in the programme and as part of the process they said they were going to do some gardening for him, but it never happened. He said "I have been hoodwinked twice", so there is a real risk of that repeat victimisation. To come back to the SORI programme, when I went to see Julia at the prison I was quite sceptical of the process in terms of its benefit to victims, but there were distinct advantages with the system that they were using in Cardiff Prison. First of all, they were doing something called indirect restorative justice and that meant matching prisoners with victims of similar crimes, not trying to identify the victim and the offender. For us that was a particular advantage because we know that in only about 3% of crimes does the perpetrator ever go to court, let alone get sentenced and go to prison, so what that meant was that if there were victims who felt that this process would be helpful, it did not matter whether the perpetrator was in Cardiff Prison and wanted to take part in this process. The other advantage was that the prisoner decided of their own free will to take part in this programme; there was no advantage to them in terms of early release, reduced sentences, all the people taking part in the programme had done so because they wanted to do something about their offending. I must admit that I was converted to the whole process. The way it works ---

Chairman: I am sorry to interrupt, but you may be anticipating lots of other questions. Mr Stephen Crabb.

Q387 Mr Crabb: You have covered my question about the contribution that the SORI programme makes, but in what way does the programme help "enable the resettlement and reintegration of offenders ... to be embraced more positively", as you state in your memorandum?

Mr Trew: It is a difficult one, to be honest with you. In terms of the prisoners we do not really know yet because the majority of the prisoners who have taken part in the SORI programme are still in prison, they have not been released. Most of them are on longer term sentences, some of them were serving life sentences - murderers, people who had committed serious drug-dealing offences in wholesale quantities.

Q388 Mr Crabb: That comment is an aspiration rather than an outcome.

Mr Trew: It is an aspiration. What I would say from the point of view of victims though is that it enables lots of victims who took part in the process to come away and draw a line under it, get a lot of answers and see the perpetrators as real people rather than as folk demons.

Q389 Mr Crabb: Do you anticipate that the programme will be extended to other prisons?

Mr Trew: It all depends on funding. At the moment the SORI programme is not funded by the Home Office, it is done with the goodwill of the prison chaplaincy and the governor of Cardiff Prison. The money that Victim Support has got to promote this work - and that means training up our staff to explain about restorative justice - we have got the money from the Alan Lane Foundation, the Penguin publisher, so no money has come from the Home Office or the Probation Service for this project, which is a shame.

Q390 Nia Griffith: Would you perhaps anticipate that in future it might?

Mr Trew: We hope so. We have put in a bid to NOMS to employ a worker to promote restorative justice work amongst victims throughout Wales, but we were unsuccessful.

Q391 Mark Williams: You mention in your memorandum the international experience of Canada and New Zealand. How similar is the operation of the scheme in Cardiff to those international examples? You talk about the successes there and the "long proven strategy"; how similar is it?

Mr Trew: There are slightly different models throughout the world. I was speaking to some people from Belgium and they have recently set up a victim support project there, but in some countries there is not the culture of volunteering that there is in Britain and in some of those countries they have employed members of staff to deliver the support to victims, whereas in Britain we deliver much of that through the work of volunteers. Generally, the work that we do is pretty similar.

Q392 Mark Williams: Are you monitoring what is going on in Canada and New Zealand?

Mr Trew: There is a World Association of Victim Support Groups and the former chief executive of Victim Support, Dame Helen Reeves, is the chair of that international association. It is one of the good things that we in Britain have exported.

Q393 Nia Griffith: If I could just ask then about the other programmes that you have mentioned, would you perhaps be able to provide a list of those and very brief details of the other support programmes that you actually run involving prisoners?

Mr Trew: We do not do the work with prisoners, Victim Support does the work with the victims, and that is the beauty of the SORI programme. It is the prison chaplain service that does the work with the prisoners and we recruit the victims and explain to them about it, and we take them along to the victims part of the project.

Q394 Nia Griffith: That is the only programme that you are involved with in Wales.

Mr Trew: In Wales, yes, currently.

Q395 Chairman: Could I end by asking you a question about a ministerial statement yesterday from the Department of Constitutional Affairs on community justice? This was a pilot scheme in Liverpool and Salford and the ministerial statement says that this is going to be rolled out to other parts of the country including Merthyr Tydfil. One of the strands of this community justice scheme is "repairing harm and raising confidence" and it refers to "Victims and witnesses must be kept fully informed and supported from their first contact with the system until after the case has concluded." Are you familiar with this community justice pilot scheme in Liverpool?

Mr Trew: Yes, I am, Dr Francis. I spoke yesterday to the chair of Victim Support Merseyside who was involved in the setting up of the community justice centre in Liverpool. The model as he described it to me is rather like a one-stop shop for the justice sector, rather like a family centre is for children's services. This is a centre whereby judges, probation, Victim Support and a whole host of agencies involved with the criminal justice sector are all based together. What that enables is far greater joined-up working, particularly, the example was, when working with victims you can just pop next door and you can get advice from the housing worker, from Shelter, you can find out actually from probation what is happening with the offender, are they being released shortly, are they returning to the area that they have been living in. The trail of information that might take weeks can take a matter of minutes when you can just pop down the corridor or look in the next room; there is far more joined-up working as a result, so we are very keen. I understand the idea is that this centre will look at more low level crime, we are not talking about serious crime such as rape, murder, manslaughter, those kind of things, this is the lower lever, anti-social behaviour type of crimes. It is something that they have been very positive about in Liverpool.

Q396 Chairman: You anticipate that your work will relate to this scheme rolling out in Merthyr Tydfil?

Mr Trew: We look forward to working with it, certainly.

Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Trew, for your evidence, both written and oral. If you feel that there is anything you should add, please write to us, particularly in relation to community justice.


Memorandum submitted by the Campaign for Real Justice

Examination of Witnesses

 

Witnesses: Mr David Fraser, co-director, and Mr Brian Lawrence, co-director, Campaign for Real Justice, gave evidence.

Q397 Chairman: Good afternoon, could we begin by asking you to introduce yourselves, please?

Mr Fraser: David Fraser, former senior probation officer, former intelligence analyst with the National Criminal Intelligence Service and a co-director of the Campaign for Real Justice.

Mr Lawrence: Brian Lawrence, former deputy clerk to the justices, also co-director of the Campaign for Real Justice.

Q398 Chairman: Could you make sure that you raise your voices; the acoustics in this room are not brilliant. Could I begin by asking you a question about the prison population? Thank you for your memorandum; in your memorandum you state that prison overcrowding is based on a false premise, a false analysis.

Mr Fraser: Yes.

Q399 Chairman: And that the rise of the prison population has been misrepresented. Would you like to explain why you believe this?

Mr Fraser: Yes, what I am referring to there is that frequently the so-called prison overcrowding is used as an example to illustrate that the courts in the UK are sending too many people to prison, and that is what I am saying is false because the courts in the UK send very few offenders to prison. The numbers in our prison estate at the moment, when they are broken down into various groups, indicate this very clearly. There are large numbers of people in prison throughout the UK for whom there is no other choice; for example, if we take the prison population of about 80,000 or thereabouts now, we have something like 6,000 lifers, and no one can say there are too many of those because the law states that you must have a life sentence if you commit murder. There are something like 11,000 foreign prisoners, almost all of whom have committed very serious offences, usually drug importations, and one could also state that they are not part of the argument about how we deal with our own offenders. There are approximately 13,000 remands who have been remanded by courts who bend over backwards to bail almost everybody, so if they have remanded 13,000 it means that there was absolutely no choice from the point of view of public safety for those.

Q400 Chairman: You may be anticipating some of our questions; I apologise for interrupting, but could you pause there while Nia Griffith asks the next question.

Mr Lawrence: Could I just add one thing. David said we did not send many offenders to prison but I am sure he meant to say as a proportion of people convicted we send very few people to prison; that is the point that is always missed.

Q401 Nia Griffith: Obviously there is a difference of opinion between yourselves and the Howard League who talk about investing in prisons is investing in failure, whereas you say there are far too few prison places. What calculations have you done as to exactly how many prison places would be enough, and have you done any calculations about how much it would cost?

Mr Fraser: What I have to say to you really is not an opinion at all, I am simply speaking to you about the cold hard evidence which has been around for a long time now. We can approach it this way: there are 80,000 in prison at the moment and there are also approximately 150,000 persistent offenders who are placed back in the community every year by the courts as a matter of choice. We know from decades of evidence that those persistent offenders who are placed back into the community routinely on some form of supervision do not stop committing offences, they commit horrendous numbers of offences. The overall re-conviction rate for males, who are the majority under supervision, is 61%; that is a horrific figure by itself if you think about that in terms of its impact on members of the public. But it is actually far worse because that 61% re-conviction rate is only based on the tiny minority of crimes which are detected, somewhere between 5% and 6%. Therefore, what we have been witnessing for several decades is 150,000 persistent offenders being given licences to offend at a huge rate. To go back to the point of your question, therefore the evidence logically points to the fact that those 150,000, or the majority of them, should be in prison for the protection of the public. If you add 150,000 to 80,000 you get 230,000. What I am saying, therefore, is that the evidence - and it is not an opinion, off the wall, or something I want particularly - drives us to the conclusion that if we are to make the public safe, and that is what the criminal justice system should be all about, then the prison population should be approximately three times what it is now. Now for the costs. The Prison Service approximately costs 3 billion, so we are looking at the possibility of trebling that and making it 9 million. Investing large sums of money into a policy is a matter of political will and, compared with the amount of money which, as a matter of political will, previous governments have spent on other projects - let us just look at the three or four wars we have fought in the last few years, let us look at the enormous sums of money which have been poured into the health service, for example - that was an act of political will; it can be done. By comparison, 9 million is not a large amount but the pay-off for the public would be enormous because it would be much safer; that, surely, is the purpose of the criminal justice service.

Chairman: Could you pause at that point? Mr Hywel Williams wishes to ask a supplementary.

Q402 Hywel Williams: If we were to imprison about 230,000 people do you have any idea where that would place us in the international league tables of number of prisoners per head compared with, say, Denmark at one end and the United States at the other? Where would we be?

Mr Fraser: I do not wish to show you any disrespect but I do not care; that is my answer. What we should be concerned about is how we make the British public safe from British criminals and where we rank in relation to other people is neither here nor there and it should not be a question that weighs on the minds of politicians or decision-makers, it does not matter. What does matter is how we make British people safe from the persistent offender who will not stop offending.

Mr Lawrence: I was going to make the same point, with respect, that that is an irrelevant question. It is an unpleasant fact of life that Britain has the worst crime figures of any comparable country, and that factually is now starting to be realised. It was in either The Daily Telegraph or The Sunday Times within a fairly short period of time that certain people in this building had not appreciated that fact.

Q403 Chairman: Could I ask you, if you do not care why is it that you took the trouble in the memorandum to produce a table of international comparisons?

Mr Fraser: To refute the myth that we send more people to prison than others, that is why I did it. The idea that we send more people to prison than other nations is used by the anti-prison lobby as yet one more false argument to show that we are imprisoning too many people; it is a myth, it is not true. The reason - and this links with my answer to your colleague's question - is that the means they employ to do this is as follows: they compare the numbers of people we have in prison with our general population, but that actually tells us nothing beyond how many criminals we have, whether we have a very criminalised community or not.

Q404 Mark Williams: Can I just butt in there because that is my actually my next question; we have started jumping around a bit and we are coming on to re-offending and rehabilitation later. A couple of brief questions before we get on to the meat of re-offending and rehabilitation, you have provided the Committee with the evidence about international comparisons on the use of imprisonment per 100,000 recorded crimes. Why do you believe that to be a more accurate measure of the use of imprisonment rather than comparing the prison population with the country's overall population?

Mr Fraser: I will start again then. If you compare the number of people in prison with our general overall population, if you think about it, it actually does not tell you anything beyond how criminal a nation we have. If you want to find out how severe or how lenient we are in the use of prison in dealing with our persistent offenders, we must ask the question how many of our offenders do we imprison, or you can ask how do we compare the rate of imprisonment with our crime rate. Let us take the first one first: it has been demonstrated beyond argument that since, for example, the late Fifties/early Sixties our rate of imprisonment has plummeted as our crime rate, per 100,000 population, has soared. The other way to look at that is to compare us, on that basis, with many other European countries; i.e. how many of our offenders do we imprison or how much do we use prison in relation to our crime rate? I have produced a bar chart there which shows that when you compare this country on that basis - which is a proper basis for answering this question - with other countries, we are well down the list and it shows that we are in fact very lenient as far as our use of prison is concerned. I will just finish off by saying that this myth is one of the most successful myths that have been propagated by the anti-prison lobby because it has been driven deep into the thinking of the British public and parliamentarians as well, if I may say so, that we are profligate in our use of prison and send more to prison than other countries. It simply is not true, it is as wrong as saying we should build bridges with plasticine and plywood.

Q405 Mark Williams: If I could ask another question on the figures, in your memorandum again you talk about discounting foreign nationals, those serving a life sentence, remand prisoners and those recalled due to a breach of licence. You believe that would reduce the figure by 50,000 to 30,000. Again, why do you believe that figure, what is the credibility of that figure?

Mr Lawrence: What we are looking at now are the people for whom I do not think there would be any argument from anybody, even the Howard League, that we should not send them to prison - they are people who have got a life sentence because they have committed murder, the vast majority of the foreign people that we have in prison have been convicted of very serious drug offences. The people who are on remand, it is almost impossible to get remanded in custody before conviction these days and so there could be very, very little argument that any of those should not be remanded in custody. If you add all that lot up and you take them away from the total number of people in prison, you have a pretty small number, 30,000. We are really talking about those 30,000 people as being what the anti-prison people are saying, well, most of them should not be there at all, you should deal with them in other ways. That is how we come to those sorts of figures.

Mr Fraser: It was one more way, if I may add, of refuting this very successful myth that we send too many people to prison, that the courts are trigger-happy. We have seen this criticism time and time again; many senior members of the judicial system have said repeatedly - and what they have said has been reported in the press - that prison should be used less, that we should use community service more. Hardly a week goes by without a very senior member of the judicial system making that claim; we have all seen it. It is a myth, and when I see it I often think - when I read this in newspapers or hear it said on radio or the television news - do they believe it? Have they actually been so misled by their officials, or do they not understand? I do not know the answers to those questions.

Q406 Hywel Williams: Can I just go back to the international comparison question? You very helpfully reproduced a Home Office statistic from 1996, this bar chart on international comparisons in the use of imprisonment. This is just a factual enquiry: why is the United States not in there?

Mr Fraser: I do not know; I have no idea. The analysis which the Home Office carried out was based on those countries, and I do not know the answer to that.

Q407 Hywel Williams: Can I just turn now to the cost of prison? The Howard League, as you would expect, have told us that intensive supervision and surveillance programmes "are cheaper than locking people up"; however, your own paper says that "prisons are a bargain that we cannot afford to miss", and identifies the claim that community sentences are cheaper than prison as a "myth". Is this merely a difference of opinion, or is it more than a difference of opinion? How do you respond to that?

Mr Fraser: No, it is nothing to do with opinion. At the expense of repeating myself I shall again refer to the evidence; my whole case that I am bringing today is based on the evidence, which is undeniable, which is a mile high, and I will try to summarise it for you. I can think of a number of supervision programmes which the Government has insisted the Probation Service follow for the last few years, and I will try and think of them one by one. First of all we heard that the overall re-conviction rate is 61% for males on all forms of supervision, which is horrendous, and on that basis alone it should be stopped. We have had the imposition over the last ten years or more of drug testing and treatment orders; if I can take a minute of the Committee's time to say, the pilot schemes which were run by the Home Office to make it look as if they were actually going to find out whether these things worked first or not before they legislated for them, the pilot schemes for drug testing and treatment orders for offenders who were committing crimes and taking drugs were a dismal failure; the re-conviction rates were appalling but they were ignored and they were still legislated for. As a result, thousand and thousands of people have been victimised by these criminals who it was known would not stop offending. Over the last ten years drug testing and treatment orders - their name has changed but we all know what I mean - are still being run, they can run for ten years or more, despite the fact that their reconviction rates are known to be 91%. I repeat, that is based on a five point something detection rate, so in no way could anyone on this planet say that that was a success. They should be stopped - that is drug testing and treatment orders. Let us move on to the famous - or should I say infamous - works programmes that were introduce in this country 15 years ago or more. Again, these are group work programmes based on the idea that if you use a particular approach you can get an offender to think differently. It was utter nonsense from the beginning; those of us that said so were laughed at and shouted down; millions and millions of pounds have been spent on these programmes and, again, they have now been shown to be utter failures. The re-conviction rates are in the order of 84%. Those programmes which were run in prison failed to influence the re-conviction rates of all prisoners, those programmes that were run for offenders in the community were also a dismal failure, yet they are still being run. Why is that - that is works and drug testing. The other one I can think of is the intensive supervision programmes which the Government held up as a flagship system for a while - I believe I have the name right - intensive supervision programmes for young people. Re-conviction rates are 92%. They have all failed; I do not think I can make it any clearer than that and they should all be stopped.

Chairman: We do have quite a number of other questions.

Q408 Hywel Williams: Can I just turn back to the other part of your argument which is that prison works? Whether treatment in the community is a soaring success or a dismal failure is one thing, but you say that "prisons are a bargain that we cannot afford to miss". Would you like to differentiate between prison for some categories of offence or other categories of offence, or is it your contention that prison works and prison is a bargain? You will recall that what I asked you was whether this was a matter of opinion; that is a very broad opinion, is that where you stand?

Mr Fraser: Let me just try and link what I have just said with what I am going to say in answer to your question. What I have just said is not an opinion, I hope the Committee can accept that. I have not expressed any opinion, I have simply told you what the evidence says, and the evidence is overwhelming that community supervision does not work. In a similar way the evidence about prison generally - not looking at any particular offence now, although re-conviction rates vary a bit from one offence to another, but they are all horrendous - is that prison works, because the evidence tells us it does, it is not an opinion. The evidence is this: first of all the Home Office's own analysis showed - in the late Nineties I think - that the re-conviction rate for shorter sentences of one to four years was approximately similar to the re-conviction rate for those on community service, 60% or thereabouts. The re-conviction rate for longer prison sentences are remarkably and significantly better - the re-conviction rates for sentences of four to ten years for example are reduced down, according to the Home Office's own analysis, to something like 33%, which is a significant difference. The re-conviction rates for sentences of ten years or more, excluding lifers, is down to 27%, according to the Home Office's analysis; therefore that is a piece of very clear evidence which points in the direction that prisons have a very good track record in persuading prisoners to reform. That actually accords with my own experiences in the probation service, where I worked for 26 years, where I frequently met and talked with persistent offenders who had become physically afraid of the next prison sentence - "I can't do any more" would be a statement I heard many times. Some of these men would be shaking with physical fear, and the thought of doing another five year stretch or another six year stretch was too much for them, and so they stopped committing crimes, not because of anything the probation service did but because they reached that point where the advantages of their criminal way of life, which had been considerable, had become outweighed by the disadvantages, so the evidence accords with my own experience.

Mr Lawrence: If one needs proof that this country does not imprison a great percentage of offenders it is necessary to visit courts to see what happens. I often say this to people, if you go to a court and you spend the morning in a magistrates court you will not be surprised at how many people the magistrates send to prison, you will be surprised at how many people they do not, because the chances if you randomly went to a magistrates court and spent two or three mornings in a magistrates court dealing with criminal offences, the chances are very high that you would not see anyone at all sent to prison. There are magistrates sitting on the bench now that have never actually sat when anyone has actually been sentenced to prison and they are likely to go through their entire careers and see no one sent to prison. In the last few years when I was at work I was actually responsible for training magistrates and I always used to advise the new ones coming onto the bench that as part of their training they should go to a magistrates court, not their own, so dress down, put their gardening clothes on so they did not stand out like a sore thumb in the magistrates court foyer and just look and see what happened and watch for the defendants leaving the court, literally laughing in many cases at the derisory sentences that they received. Most of them did not really believe what I was telling them could be that bad and did not do what I said, but each year there would always be the odd one ore two that would take me up on that and did so, and I can tell you that in every case they were profoundly and deeply shocked, they just could not believe it.

Q409 Chairman: Can I refer you again to your memorandum; I want to ask about education. You say in your memorandum that "prison regimes work hard to persuade their inmates to go straight. Millions of hours of free education are supplied to inmates, in addition to a variety of work and counselling schemes designed to persuade them to give up crime." What is your view about the most appropriate and effective educational or other programmes in the context of that statement?

Mr Fraser: There is not, I am afraid, a shred of evidence to show that any of these schemes, which have been run at great cost in the prisons, have the slightest effect on the offender's propensity to commit crime; we now know that and it is beyond argument, they have had no effect at all. I spent seven years working in a prison for 17 to 19 year old, very criminalised, very persistent offenders, and part of my job was to build in many of these programmes, which I did with the help of the prison staff and we ran them for seven years. On the one hand they had no effect at all, so the answer to your question is that I cannot actually identify any programme that might be useful or effective in that way, because all those that we have tried do not work. On the other hand - and this may sound a bit of a contradiction - there may still be an argument for putting some kind of programmes into prison in an effort to go on trying to persuade offenders to change their way of life, to offer them help with practical problems, simply on a humane basis, but let us not do it thinking that this is what they need to stop committing crimes because that is plainly not true. The conclusion I was led to after years of experience, and watching the evidence of sentencing policy over the years, is this - and this goes to the heart of your question if I may say so - what we need to do inside prisons is to stop wasting the millions and millions of pounds that are spent on the social, therapeutic and other kinds of courses which are run in prisons, because we now know they do not work. I have been quoting you some evidence about that in previous answers to questions; they do not work, it is a waste of money and it should be stopped. What would make more sense, it seems to me, would be for the Government to lock itself into serious negotiations with the trades unions and if there are still any impediments there about prisoners working an eight hour day on proper work inside prisons, those impediments should be removed somehow. I do not know, but if a trade union still has any objections they should somehow be got over so that we can have prisons regimes whereby the prisoners work seven or eight hours a day on real work, for which they can get real wages. I am not arguing that they should be paid money, not personally, but the money can be credited to their account whilst they are in prison and, having earned a wage the prisoners can then pay for their keep. If they want their clothes pressed and cleaned they can pay for it; if they want a TV in their cell they can pay for it; if they want to buy a newspaper and so forth.

Q410 Chairman: We get the message. You do not mention anything about restorative justice or community justice; are you familiar with these?

Mr Fraser: Restorative justice, yes, I can make a comment about that.

Q411 Chairman: Does your organisation - I hesitate to ask you - have a view on it, but would you like to make a statement on either of these?

Mr Fraser: I have followed up as much of the research on restorative justice as I possibly could over the past few years, and it is the same story. The statement that it works, that somehow offenders are miraculously turned around as a result of sitting with their victims and apologising to them is false - the re-conviction rates make that clear beyond argument, it does not work. I have heard various claims about restorative justice and one is worth retelling. A JP who was busy organising a restorative justice scheme told me that she was inviting a judge who was known to be very cynical about restorative justice as a method of turning offenders round and invited him to come to a meeting where he could sit with and listen to a criminal speak with a victim and make his apology. The judge, apparently, was completely turned around and converted in his view about this, because what he said was "I discovered that the offender was a very nice person and spoke very nicely to the victim. He seemed a very reasonable chap, and therefore I know that restorative justice works." That is an example of the naivety which is beyond description. I need to finish this. Offenders can seem very good people, it does not alter the fact that they carry on offending.

Q412 Chairman: You are going off the point rather, you are giving evidence on the basis of anecdote and I must stop you at that point.

Mr Fraser: I will stick to the evidence; it does not work.

Q413 Hywel Williams: The Committee has heard evidence to suggest that we need more custodial facilities in Wales, particularly in North Wales where my constituency lies. The argument has been that this would make it easier for prisoners to resettle upon their release because they would be closer to home, amongst other things.

Mr Fraser: I see.

Q414 Hywel Williams: And that would reduce the likelihood of their re-offending, that is that prison would work more effectively if we had prisons in Wales and specifically in North Wales; do you agree?

Mr Lawrence: I am sure there should be more prisons in North Wales, there should be more prisons everywhere. The prison system should be run for the convenience of the overall criminal justice system, not for the convenience of offenders. Three or four years ago I did actually visit a prison in Texas and they said to me that this was one of the few prisons that they had got in the whole country where they had got a hospital, because they realised that one of the biggest security risks over there was if prisoners got ill and they took them to hospital and they could escape. They had overcome that in Texas, they had a couple of prisons that they bring the prisoners to and then they treat them, they could not do major operations but 95%-plus. When I said to them - because Texas is three times the size of the UK - what about bringing prisoners hundreds of miles away and what about their family's position, they looked at me as though I was crazy or something, they had committed offences and if they choose to commit offences and they end up in prison hundreds of miles away from their home then that is their lookout. I would take the same sort of view.

Q415 Hywel Williams: Your contention that prison works has nothing to do with the location of that prison and the ease with which prisoners might be reintegrated into their home community.

Mr Lawrence: We need to differentiate exactly what do we mean by "prison works"? As night follows day there will always be crime, whatever you do there will always be a certain amount of crime. You could get it down to a lot less than it is now and if you followed the sort of ideas that we are putting forward I am sure there would be, so we are not saying - I do not think anybody would say - that prison would work in every single case, of course whatever sentence you pass some people would still come out and do it. I prefer to look at it from the point of view is it right that this person should go to prison or not? If it is right then they ought to go; if it not right then they should not go. I am not too bothered whether offenders are imprisoned near their homes or not; as I say I would run the system for the benefit of the country as a whole, not for offenders.

Q416 Hywel Williams: Prisoners themselves have identified housing, employment, stable relationships and parenthood - those sorts of issues - as being influential on them in not re-offending in the future. I do not know if you agree with that or not, but a stable family background probably contributes to not offending in the future, that is what prisoners say. I would like your comments on that, and what else could prisons be doing to promote successful rehabilitation if not those things?

Mr Lawrence: I would not disagree with that, but the bottom line is that an offender has to decide that he is going to rehabilitate himself, there has to be self-motivation. If an offender is not motivated to stop committing crimes there is very little in practical terms that anyone can do. It is a bit like giving up smoking; only you can give it up if you are a smoker, only you can do it. If you have got the willpower and the determination you can do it. Some people do do it and some people do not.

Q417 Hywel Williams: I am sure you would agree that it probably would be easier for a prisoner to get back with his wife or partner, to have better contact with his children, to find a job on leaving prison if he is held closer to home than, say, at the other end of the country.

Mr Lawrence: I will let David answer that.

Mr Fraser: The answer to that- and this may be a surprise - is that these factors are not significant in terms of whether a person returns to crime or not. The crucial factor is whether that person, that offender, has decided he is going to give up crime or not, whether he has chosen to give up crime. If he has not then whether he lives within a mile of his home or whether he lives within 100 miles of his home, whether he is given help or whether he is not does not make the slightest bit of difference. I am going to refer again to my experience, which I claim is relevant here. For seven years we worked with very criminalised offenders and all sorts of assistance was given to them, particular over the business of getting them back into the community - money grants, help with accommodation and so forth, job interview arrangements and so forth. It made no difference. We now know that these ideas that somehow or other these factors are crucial, are impediments which have to be removed or, if you like, provided for them, because without them the person will go on committing crime, is a myth. It is a total myth. An offender will give up crime when he is ready to and offenders commit crimes whether they have got work or not, whether they are given financial aid or not, and the criminal justice system must unhook itself from this idea that these provisions have to be provided because it is the lack of these things that has caused this person to commit crime. That is where the myth lies: it is not true. It is all down to the offender whether he wishes to offend or not. May I just say one thing more and then I will shut up before I am shut up by the Chairman: those factors that you have mentioned, I recognise them. I have read those in Home Office literature and they are called housing, relationships, jobs - the Home Office now call these "criminogenic factors". They have invented them; they now say that when an offender commits a crime he is expressing his criminogenic needs. That is beyond anything I could describe here in this chamber; it is a dreadful naivety, it is an invention, it is nonsense. If it were true we would have solved the crime problem years ago, but this is an invention by the Home Office as part of its anti-prison armoury, to convince those who want to be convinced that prison is to be avoided because it aggravates these factors. It is nonsense.

Chairman: I will take one supplementary from Mr Hywel Williams and then we will move on to women prisoners.

Q418 Hywel Williams: Very briefly, you would not say therefore that married men with children and jobs who are educated and who have somewhere pleasant to live are less likely or more likely to offend than people who have no jobs, no stable relationships, no money, nowhere to live. You would say that has no influence whatsoever?

Mr Fraser: You must turn it round the other way. The people who have stable lives, good jobs, a stable relationship, two children and have a mortgage are the people who have worked hard during their life, the people who have decided not to commit crime, the people who have decided that they will earn the money which they want to accrue. Persistent criminals make the decision fairly early on in life that they are going to take a shortcut; they want money and the goods that it provides without the hard work. Be in no doubt: crime is committed for gain, not for these trumped-up, invented, sociological reasons.

Mr Lawrence: You never find anybody arrested for stealing a loaf of bread.

Q419 Nia Griffith: If we could just turn to the issue of women prisoners, you have mentioned several times about the danger to the public. In our evidence session last week NACRO said to us that very few women posed a danger to the public; would you agree with that?

Mr Lawrence: It depends what you mean by a danger to the public. If by that you mean are they likely to go out and commit serious offences of violence, which I suspect is behind the question, then the answer is yes I would agree with that. On women prisoners it is often said that we send far too many women to prison, but what on earth are you going to do with those if you do not? I did read in the papers only a few weeks ago that it was being seriously suggested that nobody who steals from shops should in any circumstances ever go to prison: that is going to put all the prices in the shops up because that is just going to send out a message that you can go in and steal and get away with it. I can tell you from my many years of experience of working in courts that it is almost impossible for a woman ever to get sent to prison, and if you were to look at the previous convictions of any prisoner, apart from those who are convicted of murder or very serious drug offences - I checked this earlier and there are quite a lot of those- the people who NACRO are complaining about are in there for non-violent offences. If you look at the record of women's convictions then you have to say what other sentence could the court possibly have come to, other than to do that.

Q420 Nia Griffith: As we have been given evidence we have been told that 90% of women in custody are serving time for non-violent offences.

Mr Lawrence: That could be.

Q421 Nia Griffith: It contradicts slightly what you are saying there.

Mr Lawrence: That could well be so. I do not know what the percentage is off the top of my head but I imagine one would classify drugs smuggling as a non-violent offence, and I would hope that there would be very few people who would suggest that for that very serious offence - and I am talking about Class A drugs - offenders should not be given a lengthy prison sentence. I am sorry, I see absolutely nothing wrong in women who commit persistent offences, over and over and over and over again - and believe me it is over and over and over again - before they are sent to prison - it would be quite wrong if it was ever said that they should not be sent to prison. It has to be accepted that prison is voluntary for everybody; it is entirely voluntary and if you do not commit an offence you do not stand any danger of being sent to prison. People make the decision to go out and commit crime.

Mr Fraser: The trouble is that the way to view that question, as with all the others, I believe, is through the eyes of the public, and they need to be protected from female persistent offenders as much as male persistent offenders. I also think, having thought about your question, that maybe the implication is that because they are non-violent - because most of the offences they are sent to prison for are non-violent, and presumably that means they have not hit somebody over the head or they have not physically attacked somebody - is to deny the enormous, harmful impact of the crimes that they do commit on the public, and we should never do that. This whole process should be looked at through the eyes of the public. If I may just quickly add, in order for the picture not to get out of kilter increasing numbers of women prisoners have been sent to prison for serious drug offences, burglary, other forms of larceny and robbery. None of those, I suppose, are technically violent offences but, whichever organisation made that point, they are denying the harmful and violent impact of those offences on victims, and that should not be the case. We should look at all of this through the eyes of the public, so the sex of a persistent offender who will not stop is irrelevant to the question of whether they should be in prison or not.

Q422 Chairman: Could I end this session by asking you a question which perhaps we should have asked at the beginning. We normally ask all the various organisations who give evidence to us about their organisation. Could you tell me something about the Campaign for Real Justice; is it an open organisation? Can people join it? How is it funded?

Mr Fraser: The Campaign for Real Justice is an amalgam of two previous small research organisations. One was set up by me about eight or nine years ago called the Crime in Society Research Association, and the other one was called the Criminal Justice Association. Both had very similar views; they were set up by myself and a former senior probation officer colleague because we were advised that if we wished to get our research papers taken notice of, we really ought to write under the aegis of some kind of organisation. We got together a group of eight or nine patrons, whose names I do not have in front of me, but they are from the judiciary, parliamentarians and senior policemen and so forth and so on, who recognised and supported the aims of the organisation which were to bring to the public's notice the evidence concerning the fact that the sentencing policies followed in this country do not work, and that most of the information provided to the public by whatever means is false and propaganda. That was its purpose and that really is the purpose of the newly formed Campaign for Real Justice, as we are doing now, to bring to the public's notice in any way possible the evidence concerning whether sentencing policies work or not, and to challenge and refute the almost non-stop false propaganda of the anti-prison lobby which is very powerful in this country.

Q423 Chairman: How are you funded?

Mr Fraser: We are not; we are self-funded. Any expenses that we incur we pay out of our own pocket.

Q424 Chairman: If you have any documentation about the history of your organisation we would be very pleased to receive it, including the names of patrons and including the forms of support.

Mr Fraser: Yes, we will send it to you, we will certainly do that.

Q425 Chairman: I did ask - this is the final question - but perhaps it slipped off the agenda, about your views on community justice. There was a ministerial statement yesterday about the pilot scheme which exists in Salford and in Liverpool and is being rolled out across the country. Do you have any observation on this?

Mr Fraser: Could you say a little bit more about what community justice means because I want to make sure I have understood your question. What is community justice?

Q426 Chairman: It includes a number of strands. I will not list them all but they include: courts connecting to the community; justice seen to be done; cases handled robustly and speedily; strong independent judiciary; solving problems and finding solutions; working together; repairing harm and raising confidence; reintegrating offenders and building communities.

Mr Fraser: Yes, I thought that was what it was, thank you.

Q427 Chairman: We can give you the ministerial statement and perhaps you could send us your observations.

Mr Fraser: Yes. I can give you a quick verbal response - I thought that was what it was, but I was not absolutely sure. I would argue vehemently that all that you have read out - and they are not your words, you are reading somebody else's, I know - are red herrings; they are an avoidance of the real problem.

Q428 Chairman: It might be better if you give your considered views once you have read the ministerial statement which was only fresh yesterday.

Mr Fraser: Yes, we will do that.

Chairman: Could I thank everyone who has given evidence this morning. It has been a very interesting and illuminating day.