Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
19 JANUARY 2010
Q189 Chairman: Thank you very much
for coming to give evidence. From what you have heard so far I
am sure you know why we are conducting this inquiry. Thirteen
years ago the government said it wanted to be tough on crime and
on the causes of it. You at Reading deal with a number of those
who have committed crimes and ended up in the young offender centre.
You know Mr Salter who doubt will declare his interest, not as
an inmate at Reading but a visitor to it. A number of your prisoners
have taken part in the National Grid young offender programme.
What is their re-offending rate and how successful do you believe
that programme has been?
Mr Barber: It is quite difficult
to quantify in the sense that when they leave the establishment
sometimes we lose sight of them because they then go into the
Probation Service. What I can say to you is that since the programme
started 66 prisoners from Reading have been through it and I am
aware of only four who have come back in. That does not mean to
say they have not gone into other establishments; they may have
gone over our age threshold and gone into an adult establishment.
I know that National Grid did an evaluation at one stage and said
that its re-offending rate was about 7% of prisoners from all
the establishments who had gone through its programme.
Q190 Chairman: The witnesses have
between them years and years of experience of the criminal justice
system. Ms Bryant, how many years have you spent in the system?
Ms Bryant: I have spent 23 years
in the system starting at Holloway. The past six years have been
spent at Reading. Before that I was at Aylesbury which is a young
offender institution but is concerned with longer-term offenders.
Mr Barber: I have spent 35 years
in the system starting with long-term dispersal prisons.
Q191 Chairman: Combined you have
over half a century's experience. What do you believe are the
causes of crime?
Ms Bryant: Speaking for the lads
we have at Reading, they have a very low educational attainment.
Entry level three which is about ages nine to 11 is the general
consensus. A lot of them come from areas where they have been
excluded from school and have problems within the family. They
are not so much prolific drug-users because we have huge alcohol
problems among some of our young offenders. That is their background.
Q192 David Davies: What proportion
of inmates would be eligible for release under the programme?
Mr Barber: We are a young offender
establishment and we have a mixed population inasmuch as probably
two-thirds of the population are remand prisoners and about a
third have been sentenced. As for release under temporary licence,
which I think is the question you ask, only those prisoners who
are sentenced are eligible. There are certain other criteria.
For example, if they are high risk or have a further charge down
the line they are ineligible for it.
Ms Bryant: To quantify that, Kennet
unit holds about 20 prisoners. We accept up to 24 year-olds and
we struggle to fill it with prisoners who are of a risk low enough
to release them on temporary licence.
Q193 David Davies: Yesterday there
was an article in the papers about an individual who had helped
to murder a young woman. Within three years he was out on an early
licence scheme and supposedly doing work placement, but it seems
that he was night-clubbing and had found another girlfriend in
the interim. Many law-abiding people would be horrified by stories
like that. Can you assure us that that is not happening in Reading?
Ms Bryant: Absolutely. They are
not eligible and obviously we do not even consider them. They
have to be eligible to go out in the first instance and with those
sorts of numbers we consider very carefully beforehand the risk
to the public and any victim issues. Usually, they have gone out
on a placement first, perhaps to something like a charity shop,
before they go on to work. We have a very high success rate with
any prisoners who have gone out.
Mr Barber: All of our prisoners
who are released in the morning come back in the evening after
they have finished their job or training.
Q194 Gwyn Prosser: What about those
inmates who do not meet the criteria? They are not left to wither
on the vine. What do you do to help them with training?
Mr Barber: When they first come
into the prison they have all sorts of issues. We have to get
them through de-tox; some have quite prolific self-harming as
an issue. In a sense coming into prison is another problem they
have to face. Initially, sometimes it is about stabilising those
individuals and dealing with them through our safe custody team
in terms of self-harm monitoring and also in terms of drug-related
issues, putting them through de-tox, getting them to engage initially
with our drug counsellors at work within the prison and from that
induction there is a series of assessments for education. We also
give them information about what we do in the prison and how they
can access that. They are seen by people with various functions
working within the prison to assess them. From that they are signposted.
If they have literacy or numeracy deficits obviously there is
education. It may be a drug programme or a cognitive thinking
skills programme that we operate at Reading. If they have a very
short-term sentencewe have some for only a couple of weeksand
they have accommodation it may be as simple as ensuring that the
landlord is aware of where they are and trying to make sure they
do not lose it. If they do not have accommodation it is a matter
of trying to find them somewhere to go on release. There is a
whole raft of issues. It is very much tailored to the individual
and his circumstances.
Q195 Gwyn Prosser: In general what
is their attitude to education and training? Do they look upon
it as just another chore and soldier on or do they welcome it?
Mr Barber: Having worked with
National Grid and other employers, prisoners are aware of the
Kennet unit in the prison and it is something to which they aspire.
If they want to change but cannot read or write clearly that will
limit them in getting a job or even doing things like going to
some of our workshops, the gymnasium or reading some of the safety
notices. Within the prison what we do is not purely education.
We map it across to other things we do in the prison that is more
on the vocational side. They may attend a Duke of Edinburgh course.
We will map communication across to that as well so that at the
end of it they are doing a presentation to parents or visitors
who come in. There is a whole raft of ways to get round it. Let
us take the example of numeracy. If you have weights on the end
of a bar you need to be able to count them. It is a question of
mapping it across not just purely in terms of education.
Q196 Martin Salter: If the witnesses
have found it inconvenient to come here it is my fault but also
their fault for inspiring me in the work they do and some of the
things they have told me. I wanted you to be able to share that
with the Committee, for which we are grateful. Are you still using
the musical instruments provided through the Jail Guitar Doors
programme and is that still working?
Ms Bryant: Yes, with a caveat:
we have had to silence them so they do not disturb everybody else.
We choose a time when they can make a noise with other noisy classes
rather than disrupt anyone who is trying to learn how to speak
English, for example. There are some limitations to the rather
noisy musical instruments we received via yourself.
Q197 Martin Salter: I want to explore
one matter we talked about previously both at Reading and in discussion
with the other witnesses: the appalling literacy rates. The figures
we have show that the average reading skill is that of an 11 year-old
child. Ms Bryant, I think your experience is that it is as low
as nine. For example, in order to put together an effective literacy
programme in an institution like yours how long a period of time
do you need? How often do you find yourself with young offenders
who are moved around the prison estate so even though you may
want to put them on a three-month programme you have them for
only a few weeks?
Ms Bryant: We have tried some
innovative ways to engage people in key skills. We have a multi-skill
workshop which is one of the things we tailor for remands. We
used to call it the Planner Kitchen. When prisoners came in we
made sure we engaged them in education that could interest them
and throw in with it key skills. For example, we would get them
to measure up an area of a kitchen. They would make the kitchen
and cost it; they would build the kitchen and do simple plumbing
and electrical work. It was a four-week course. At the end their
families would come in. It would give them experience of work
and practical skills to move them on. Once we have convicted prisoners
we tend to move them on. Our two main places are Onley and Portland
because we do not have the facilities. We have to service the
courts at Reading. A very small group goes to the Kennet unit
and also works outside, so there are issues about being able to
keep people for that specific length of time. We worked out that
the average stay for prisoners was about 12 weeks which is clearly
not long enough. If you are to engage in any sort of programme
with prisoners you need to have more time. Our four-week courses
are taster courses form which move on to something else. We have
tried to dovetail our courses to things that are going on in Portland
and Onley afterwards so that whatever they start with us they
can pick up at other prisons and have continuity. As long as people
have sentences of perhaps over 12 monthsin other words,
they are serving at least six monthsyou can do some serious
intervention work to make a difference, but you must have them
for six months; you have to give them the sense that they want
to do something, and all of that takes a little bit of time.
Q198 Martin Salter: This is important
to us and may be reflected in our recommendations. To be absolutely
clear, are you telling us it is difficult for the prison estate
to do anything meaningful in terms of training for sentences of
less than six months, and even if you are required to move them
on there needs to be joining up between the young offender institution
and the host prison?
Ms Bryant: Yes.
Q199 Martin Salter: We talked previously
about perverse performance indicators. Such indicators apply across
a whole range of public services, but clearly they can have perverse
and unintended consequences. Can you give us some examples of
where you have performance indicators that might prevent you from
delivering other objectives, particularly in terms of trying to
Ms Bryant: I am struggling at
this particular juncture.
Q200 Martin Salter: Are you required
to do one thing which then inhibits your ability to do something
else? You can always write to us later.
Ms Bryant: We have an operational
capacity which suggests that we should have a certain number of
prisoners in there. We are unable to meet that because of the
risks posed by some of our prisoners. We are constantly unable
to meet targets in that sort of fashion. Some of the other ones
are related to employment, training and education. While we can
probably attain some of the employment targets, and have done
successfully, we are not attaining all of the training targets
because we have not got people there long enough or they are being
released from Reading. Some of them need to be tailor-made to
the prisoners, but I am not quite sure about the other targets.
Did you have anything in particular in mind?
Q201 Martin Salter: I recall a conversation
that you and I had a few months ago.
Ms Bryant: That is probably where
Q202 Martin Salter: Perhaps you can
follow that up with a letter to us.
Ms Bryant: Yes.
Q203 Bob Russell: Ms Bryant, in response
to Mr Salter's questions about prisoners moving on with their
rehabilitation and education programme to the next place you said
"We have tried that". I got the impression that that
was not necessarily a roaring success.
Ms Bryant: We have a head of learning
and skills. We have gone out to Portland and Onley and tailored
some of the courses we offer so people can continue with our taster
course at the next prison. It may be plumbing or something else
in that vein. It is a growing area. It was recognised by Ofsted
last June when it visited us that we were doing a lot of work
at an embryonic stage to address the needs of young offenders.
Q204 Bob Russell: I apologise. When
you said "We have tried that" it was a positive response.
I interpreted it as something you had tried but nothing had come
Ms Bryant: We continue to try
Q205 Bob Russell: It may be that
in due course there will be feedback as to how successful it has
been at other establishments?
Ms Bryant: Yes.
Q206 Bob Russell: When young people
arrive at Reading do their health records indicate whether any
of them have experienced acquired brain injury at some point in
Ms Bryant: I was intrigued by
that. I have not come across it.
Mr Barber: We have a mental health
team within the prison which sees all the new people coming in
and do an assessment. It is not something of which I am aware.
Q207 Bob Russell: The Committee may
need to revisit that at a subsequent separate inquiry. When youngsters
come in with appalling levels of literacy and social deprivation,
which is a damning indictment on society generally, are any of
them ever asked whether they have been members of a recognised
youth organisation at any time in their lives?
Ms Bryant: I do not think they
are asked that specific question but they usually come with some
antecedents and information. We have quite large numbers who are
affiliated to gangs but not other youth services. We are usually
aware of quite a good deal of their background via the police
Q208 Bob Russell: They are not asked
the specific question, "Have you ever been a member of a
recognised youth organisation?"
Ms Bryant: No.
Q209 Bob Russell: When is the critical
intervention point for offender rehabilitation, if there is one?
Mr Barber: We have a number of
interventions. It is probably the point at which we make a very
thorough assessment when they first come in so we can signpost
them to some of the facilities and programmes in the institution.
In terms of critical intervention I think one of the earlier witnesses
said that it could be any of a number of things that we do.
Q210 Tom Brake: Is there anything
in the current sentencing process that you would change to maximise
rehabilitation? You have heard from some of the earlier questioning
that perhaps there is a push from the right to ensure people spend
a much longer time in prison to maximise the rehabilitation potential.
Perhaps at the other end of the spectrum there is a demand for
tougher or more heavily supervised community sentences. What would
you change if you had a free hand?
Ms Bryant: I believe we have a
very good relationship with the Thames Valley Probation Service.
We get an increasingly better service in terms of offender management
from outside. All young offenders get at least three months' supervision
when they come out of prison, so they are addressing the needs
of young offenders probably better than they do adults who can
just fall out of the system and then move on. Certainly, community
sentences are increasingly more acceptable because people have
long since recognised that very short sentences in prison just
do not do any good. If anything, as long as the Probation Service
is able to address the needs of the offender and convince the
courts that interventions can take place outside that is the way
Q211 Tom Brake: Obviously, it is
not your area of responsibility but in terms of community sentences
are you happy that as far as you can tell they are being properly
Ms Bryant: I am content that they
are quite well supervised. In addition, quite a lot of work can
be done in the area. We are next to Forbury Gardens where some
people work. Some of our young prisoners have gone out into the
community and done community service projects that have been tremendously
successful. There has been some talk that perhaps some of our
prisoners can go with other community service offenders to help
them along and convince them that they really do not want to go
into prison, but I am not too sure; it could also cause problems
and would depend on the supervision. We can do a few things. Community
service orders for short sentences would be far better.
Q212 Chairman: A few months ago Members
of the Committee visited Feltham and spoke to some young offenders.
There was a view that though some had come in as a result of having
committed serious crimes they left with additional skills to commit
more crimes; in other words, for some these young offender institutions
was an education process. What are you doing to ensure that they
do not pick up new skills they did not have before and commit
further crimes when they come out?
Ms Bryant: We have a comprehensive
violence reduction strategy. We have had some problems with an
existing gang culture. Southampton has a particularly active gang
culture which quite surprised me. We have had quite a few problems
with other gangs that have come from overcrowding drafts from
the London area. The sorts of things with which we have most problems
are bullying, people being coerced by others to pass canteens
and the sort of behaviour they display. We address those with
a work book and we work quite effectively with prisoners who show
those sorts of tendencies. That is our biggest problem. Are you
referring to things like stealing from other people while they
Q213 Chairman: Maybe they come in
for burglary but go out knowing how to commit fraud; it is the
kind of place where they graduate with more criminal skills. Are
we conscious of this and are we doing our best to deal with it?
Ms Bryant: I would not be confident
that those are the sorts of problems we have particularly at Reading.
Q214 Chairman: The lesson of Feltham
is that you have to be extremely careful where you place young
people in terms of their accommodation. Presumably, we have learnt
all the lessons about that.
Mr Barber: Yes. We make the same
risk assessments that Feltham conduct and those have been adopted
nationally in the Prison Service.
Chairman: Thank you for coming to give
evidence today; it has been very helpful. If there are any other
issues that you think the Committee should look at in this inquiry
please let us know. If Members have the opportunity to pay a visit
to Reading they or Mr Salter will contact you.