Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
19 JANUARY 2010
Q124 Chairman: I welcome everyone
to this evidence session of the Select Committee on Home Affairs.
We are holding two sessions this morning: the first is about the
government's approach to crime prevention and the second is about
the DNA database. Mr Wheatley, thank you for coming to give evidence
to us today. I start by asking you about re-offending rates. Have
they gone up or down? Are you meeting the government's targets?
How does this help with the overall approach to crime prevention?
Mr Wheatley: At
the moment we are meeting the targets set for the agency. Since
2000 the rate of re-offending has dropped by 20.3% for adults,
which is a reasonably substantial achievement. I also keep an
eye on the older measure which compares actual with predicted
re-offending on the basis of whether somebody re-offends in a
year's follow-up period rather than the rate of re-offending.
That is interesting from my point of view because you can predict
the rate at which people will re-offend but you cannot predict
the rate of re-offending. You might get low offending because
you have dealt with lots of people who have a very low probability
of offending, that is, the police have taken a lighter-weight
group of offenders, whereas comparing it with the prediction means
you can see whether you are adding value. Comparing it with prediction,
the evidence shows that we are adding value. The best results
are being seen with the longer sentenced prisoners where we can
spend more time with them. Because they are serving longer sentences
we can put in more effort. For the four years and over group in
2000 the actual re-offending rate was 23.4% and in 2007 it was
17.6%, so there was a real drop. The predicted rate was 25.1%
in 2000. That rate had gone up; it was a heavier-weight group
of offenders in 2007. Therefore, we are reducing offending on
all measures and that rate of reduction in re-offending appears
to relate to the rate at which we put in new resources.
Q125 Chairman: The Committee is conducting
this inquiry to examine the statement made by the former prime
minister that the government would be tough on crime and the causes
of it. For how many years have you been involved in this area
of criminal justice?
Mr Wheatley: Forty and a half
Q126 Chairman: It may not be fact
but I am seeking your opinions now. What do you say are the causes
Mr Wheatley: Crime has not changed.
Crime is tempting to lots of people. Obviously, many people are
attracted to breaking the rules if they can gain from it. Most
of us are restrained by moral training by our parents, schools
and social contacts, in the sense that if you engage in crime
it will be the end of your career and nobody will want to pay
any attention to you. It would be a tremendous thing to do. If
you are at the bottom of the heap where you lose a lot less by
engaging in crime, particularly if you are surrounded by people
who would be supportive of crimeit is what happens round
therethe restraints are considerably less. The restraints
are considerably less in a deterrent system if you are not very
good at thinking ahead. All the Members of this Committee will
be very good at thinking ahead. If you have a mental health problem
you probably are not good at it. A lot of young people who are
not brought up in very consistent homes are not taught to think
and will have difficulty thinking ahead and crime flows from that.
Q127 Chairman: As far as concerns
our criminal justice system do you think we pay enough attention
to causes rather than the consequences which you deal with in
the National Offender Management Service? You deal with the end
product; you cannot do anything about it once they get to you
because they have already committed their crimes. Have we paid
enough attention to dealing with the causes?
Mr Wheatley: It is a very difficult
question to answer. How do you deal with people who have offended?
We could still do more. If somebody gave me more money I would
spend it fruitfully in this area, but there is not endless money
and I do not make that bid. It is obvious that resources are always
constrained. As a society we have lots of choices. Some societies
have very low crime rates, of which Singapore is a rather good
example. It is organised in a quite different way from our society
and it has a different culture with different policing and sentencing.
The atmosphere of the place is wholly different. With the freedom
we enjoy to make choices also comes the freedom to choose to commit
crime. It is a difficult question for you as politicians rather
Q128 Bob Russell: Last week I witnessed
a presentation of research undertaken by the University of Exeter.
It indicated that the majority of people who entered prison at
some stage in their lives had suffered an acquired brain injury.
Are you aware of any evidence to that effect?
Mr Wheatley: I have heard people
make that statement but I have seen no consistent, hard evidence
from sufficiently large samples to convince me that is the case.
My position is based on scepticism rather than disbelief. Certainly,
it is not something that I feel is right from what I have known
in the past, and I have not seen evidence to suggest that is right.
Q129 Bob Russell: Bearing in mind
that the National Offender Management Service delivers a range
of accredited programmes should there be an investigation into
the percentage of the prison population who have experienced an
acquired brain injury some time in life?
Mr Wheatley: I am all for having
more researchthat costs money and we must be careful about
how much we dothat gives us a better background as to why
people offend. I believe it is highly unlikely that that will
be a fruitful area. I see lots of people entering prison who have
shown no sign of a previous brain injury or an inability to think
but who perhaps have chosen a life of crime.
Q130 Bob Russell: Perhaps we can
revisit that on another occasion. How have resources allocated
to reducing re-offending in the Prison and Probation Services
varied over the years, if they have?
Mr Wheatley: They have varied.
We have always worked to try to reduce re-offending but in terms
of investment we have had a substantial additional investment
since 2000 as new money comes in. Before coming here I looked
at base information. Going back to 1998-99, we were spending £745
per prisoner per year on reducing re-offending by way of offending
behaviour programmes, drug treatment programmes and education.
By 2008-09, the last year for which I have full information, that
had gone up to £4,300. That is a big increase in resources
specifically spent on drug treatment, offending behaviour programmes
and education. There has been a similar increase in resources
on the probation side. There has been a 40% increase in money
going to the Probation Service since the start of the national
service. I believe that has produced a reduction in re-offending.
I am less sure I can tell you precisely which of the things we
have put in has made the biggest difference.
Q131 Bob Russell: That is my next
question. Linking that answer to the area of questioning with
which the Chairman started this session, where do resources make
the most difference in terms of preventing re-offending?
Mr Wheatley: In prison we deal
mainly with people who have either done something dangerous or
horrendous or are persistent. There are not that many first-timers
unless they have come in for horrendous offences. People get out
of offending because somebody convinces them that they could be
different. That needs a persuasive individual who understands
the person's problems, who is not a soft touch and can convince
him that the world can be different for him and he can really
make that stand. Once that has been done you have to stack up
behind it some practical things to help people: you have to get
them de-toxed if they are using drugs; you probably have to help
them get accommodation that is not with other criminals. They
will do much better if they can get work, particularly work that
gives them some social standing and is not mindless and boring
which carries the danger of making the individual think that a
straight life not what it is cracked up to be. If you can put
those things behind them and keep them motivated they will give
up crime. You need a combination of things; it is not a single
factor, and it is best to target the riskiest group. Obviously,
if there is only one in a hundred chance of certain people re-offending,
a lot of money is invested in it and you make a 20% reduction
in a very large group it will not result in a big difference.
If I can target people who have a 60% or 70% chance of re-offending
and get a 20% reduction that is quite a lot of crime prevented.
Q132 Tom Brake: On the subject of
research, you said that pre-2000 £745 was being spent per
Mr Wheatley: That was the figure
Q133 Tom Brake: We are now up to
£4,300. Are you aware of any research done to show that for
every pound spent on trying to address re-offending you save the
Prison Service x pounds by people not going to prison?
Mr Wheatley: Not in quite that
way. Using results published each year I can show you the first
quarter's releases. The first quarter's releases are a tranche
of offenders including those who are on community sentences, so
it is both prison and probation. They are followed up for a full
year with a proper gap to make sure we have all the convictions.
The results are published showing the rate and frequency of re-offending
by sentence, age and sex. There are lots of data. That is changing
over time. The research techniques needed to work out which things
make a difference are incredibly complicated. You would normally
need to do random controlled trials in which everything else remained
static. Take an individual prisoner who is greeted in reception
by a particularly powerful officer who is able to persuade him
to be different. Then he undertakes an offending behaviour programme
and education. In the mean time he is de-toxed and comes off drugs.
The Probation Service links the individual to a group outside
to support him in coming off drugs, find him accommodation and
supervise him. How do you work out which of those things has made
a difference? It is very complicated. It may be the reception
officer, the Probation Service at the end or the drug treatment.
It is probably a combination of all of them, but it is not easy
to do and I would be foolish if I said I had a pat answer to that.
Q134 Mr Winnick: What is the prison
population as of today, yesterday or whatever?
Mr Wheatley: Friday's figures
which are published show there were 82,761.
Q135 Mr Winnick: As I understand
it, the Ministry of Justice will increase capacity to somewhere
in the region of 96,000 by 2014.
Mr Wheatley: That is the plan.
Q136 Mr Winnick: In 2002 the Social
Exclusion Unit said that the current balance of resources did
not enable the Prison and Probation Services to deliver beneficial
education and rehabilitation programmes to "anything like
the number who need them". What has been the position since
Mr Wheatley: Probation and prison
resources for reducing re-offending per head for the people we
are looking after have gone up substantially. It has tripled for
education and gone up 15 times for drug treatment. Looking at
the data, my maths are not good but an increase from £745
to £4,300 is more than a quadrupling of resources. One has
to take account of inflation. There has been a substantial increase.
I do not expect these increases to continue but I expect to be
able to maintain what we are doing at the moment. The resources
for reducing re-offending have substantially increased and produced
a measurable result.
Q137 Mr Winnick: I do not question
what you have just said but, however true that is, is it not a
fact that a prison population of 83,000 means that the prisons
are hopelessly overcrowded?
Mr Wheatley: They are not hopelessly
overcrowded because we will not overcrowd them more than we think
we can safely do, and we take that operational judgment carefully.
They are crowded.
Q138 Mr Winnick: To say the least!
Mr Wheatley: Having said that,
the capacity in the system is over 86,000. Currently, I have available
86,000 places and we are now looking after under 83,000 prisoners.
This is a time of year when the numbers are always low. There
is seasonality in the prison population caused by Christmas. Nobody
can quite work out why that is, but I can speculate without giving
a straightforward answer. We have spare capacity at the moment
and we are not hopelessly overcrowded. We are slightly less overcrowded
than we have been and we will not overcrowd to a level that we
think makes prisons hopeless.
Q139 Mr Winnick: Therefore, reports
about the difficulty in finding accommodation for prisoners and
all the rest of it do not really reflect the situation?
Mr Wheatley: We have been very
near to maximum capacity on a number of occasions over the past
seven or eight years, and before that. This is not a new problem.
At that point we are moving prisoners around from prison to prison
to make the maximum use of the estate. That is difficult and I
do not try to minimise it. At the moment we do not have to do
that. There is some seasonality in it. But the government is building
so we can contain the population without being in a hopeless position.
Q140 Martin Salter: I may have misheard
you, but did you say at one point that the Ministry of Justice
planned to increase the capacity of prisons to 96,000?
Mr Wheatley: Yes.
Q141 Martin Salter: Is that not predicated
on the assumption that people choose to commit crime and receive
Mr Wheatley: It is based on the
predictions of what the prison population will be which certainly
includes some estimation about what offending will be, how the
courts operate and police efficiency. It is an attempt by statisticians
using all available past data to forecast the future. As with
any forecast, the future is a little different from what people
think it might be.
Q142 Martin Salter: You are telling
us that re-offending rates are going down and yet the prison population
Mr Wheatley: Not only that but,
looking at the national data, re-offending is going down and offending
is reducing. What is primarily driving the increase in the population
is an increase in the number of prisoners serving very long sentences.
To go back to 1969 when I joined, the average life sentence was
about nine years; now it is about 16 years.
Q143 David Davies: You made a very
interesting point earlier. I wonder whether you can confirm that
the longer the prison sentence the less likely it is that the
prisoner will re-offend.
Mr Wheatley: The lowest predicted
rate is for long-term offenders. That is probably related to the
fact that in the long-term population there are a number of offenders
who have committed some horrendous acts on the very first occasion
and have a very low probability of re-offending. What I can tell
you, which I believe is the point you pick up, is that in percentage
terms the actual versus predicted results show we have made the
biggest reductions in offending with long-sentence prisoners because
they are the people to whom we have been able to devote the most
Q144 David Davies: That is the point
I want to get on the record. I have done some research into the
figures. Correct me if I am wrong, but even if you remove sentences
for murder, where in a lot of cases an individual has killed another
in a bout of temper or something, you find that somebody serving
a 10-year prison sentence is only about 30% likely to re-offend
in two years, whereas somebody who has served less than one year
is 70% or 80% likely to re-offend. My figures may be a little
bit out but I think it is of that order.
Mr Wheatley: That is roughly right.
The predicted rate for the four-year and over group is 25.1%;
for the 12-month and over group it is 42.1%; and for very short
sentences it is 51.2%. Some of that arises because the people
who pick up short sentences are very often drug users who do a
lot of shoplifting.
Q145 David Davies: Do we agree that
with people like that the longer we can keep them in the more
help we can give them?
Mr Wheatley: It is not really
a product of time. With very short sentences it is difficult to
do anything with them. Realistically, you do not have time to
work with people who do only a week. For longer sentences we are
able to devote more resources. We also have targeted resources
for our riskiest offenders.
Q146 David Davies: To put it on record,
there is a strong argument, is there not, for saying that even
when a persistent offender commits what may be seen as a relatively
trivial crime it may be the 50th time he or sheusually
a hehas done it and there should be a mandatory six or
12-month sentence, not to victimise him but to help him get off
the ground to deal with his other problems and give him some sort
Mr Wheatley: If you wanted me
to work more in prison with anybody you would have to give him
longer than a very short sentence. That would give rise to a substantial
public expenditure implication. They do not have to get a four-year
sentence. The gains that we have been able to make show a 17.2%
improvement in results for the 12 months and over group and 29.5%
for the two to four-year group. Therefore, we have achieved that
for the shorter sentence groups.
Q147 David Davies: The costs to the
public purse are a lot less than your figures suggest, are they
not? The vast majority of people who are in that category are
in receipt of a range of benefits when they are outside anyway,
so even if you leave out the cost of investigating any crimes
they commit the net cost to the public of putting somebody into
a category D or C prison is not that much greater than the cost
of housing them and keeping them on benefits outside, is it?
Mr Wheatley: I cannot say; I do
not know enough about the costs to the benefit system and the
fact that they normally leave relatives outside who may go onto
benefit because they are not able to work.
Q148 David Davies: But most of them
are not working nine to five in well-paid jobs?
Mr Wheatley: Some will be, but
I would not like to speculate; I do not know enough.
Q149 Chairman: Remind us of the cost
in England and Wales of keeping somebody in prison.
Mr Wheatley: It is about £3,200
a month, so the annual sum is under £40,000.
Q150 Chairman: Is that broken down
to the daily rate?
Mr Wheatley: No. I have just divided
the annual figure by 12.
Q151 David Davies: That is the average
Mr Wheatley: Yes.
Q152 David Davies: It is very important
we remember that category A prisoners are far more expensive than
Ds and Cs, so if you take an average across-the-board cost that
includes the cost of category A prisoners.
Mr Wheatley: It is an average
cost. There are a small number of high-security prisons which
drive up the costs. I cannot give you the categories C and D average;
I have not brought it with me.
Q153 Chairman: It would be helpful
if you could write to us and tell us the cost in each category.
Mr Wheatley: We can do that.
Q154 Gwyn Prosser: I want to ask
about the prolific and priority offender programmes to some elements
of which you have made reference. What recent research is there
to show the impact of those programmes on reducing re-offending?
Mr Wheatley: I am aware there
has been some research, mainly action research, ie people looking
at how the process has worked. There has not been a sound two-year
criminological follow-up study. Certainly, the evidence I have
suggests that the PPO scheme has been effective. Probation services
are working very closely with the police to target the most prolific
and some local anecdotal evidence suggests that it is making really
big reductions in re-offending. Some of the police evidence I
have seen suggests that they are very pleased with the reduction
in re-offending by some well-known prolific offenders as a result
of the intervention.
Q155 Gwyn Prosser: We are told that
the effectiveness of it depends very much on the co-location of
the parties involved in it, but that does not happen in all areas.
What is your view on that? What are the barriers to further co-locations?
Mr Wheatley: There are no legal
barriers. I am keen on co-locating probation staff and police
staff where that is possible. There are some practical considerations
such as whether there is space. Can we get office space in the
right place to do that? There are barriers on the two systems
sharing IT. Obviously, the police have some very sensitive data
about intelligence that they would normally not share openly with
other agencies. The more we can share base information the better
this works. The very best co-working involves the two agencies
crossing over in their work rather than saying this is the police
bit and that is the probation bit, but even where we cannot get
complete cohesion it is better than two silos operating quite
Q156 Tom Brake: In the past year
the government in its Cutting Crime strategy announced
the "new, single, comprehensive prolific offending scheme".
Can you explain what that is and whether any work has started
on implementing that new scheme?
Mr Wheatley: I would not like
to do so because it is not my area; it is mainly a Home Office-led
piece of policy. We are working with prolific offenders in an
increasingly joined-up way with other agencies. Prolific offender
schemes also play a part in the integrated offender management
initiative which a number of areas are driving forward with lots
of the work being led by local authorities at crime and disorder
partnership level. I have just reorganised the Probation Service
so that its leadership lines up with the BCU police command unit
to match the overall strategy which allows local variation to
take account of local factors, which is one of the major improvements
in the way we have been working.
Q157 Tom Brake: Am I right in thinking
from your response that if a "new, single, comprehensive
prolific offending scheme" is in the process of being introduced
it does not appear to have hit your desk?
Mr Wheatley: I do not think that
is entirely accurate because what I am describing is our bit of
it. That is the bit I need to know about, but apart from knowing
that we are delivering the things the Home Office want us to deliverbecause
we still work in an integrated way with the departmentI
would not like to comment on what is a major area of policy for
Chairman: Mr Wheatley, thank you so much
for coming to give evidence today. If you would be kind enough
to write to us about the pieces of information we requested we
would be grateful.