House of COMMONS












Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 119




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Oral evidence

Taken before the Committee of Public Accounts

on Wednesday 24 March 2010

Members present:

Mr Edward Leigh, in the Chair

Mr Richard Bacon

Angela Browning

Mr Paul Burstow

Keith Hill

Mr Austin Mitchell

Dr John Pugh

Mr Don Touhig


Mr Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General, National Audit Office, gave evidence.

Mr Marius Gallaher, Alternate Treasury Officer of Accounts, HM Treasury, gave evidence.



Examination of Witnesses

Witness: Mr Phil Wheatley, Director General, National Offender Management Service, Ministry of Justice, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Good afternoon. Welcome to the Committee of Public Accounts. I would like to welcome some overseas visitors. We have visitors from Anguilla, Portugal and Swaziland, who are taking part in the Public Administration International Programme, Alternatives to Custody, so their presence is particularly relevant to us today. We welcome back to our Committee to discuss this Report from the Comptroller and Auditor General on Managing Offenders on Short Custodial Sentences Phil Wheatley, who is the Director General of the National Offender Management Service. You are shortly to retire and it is therefore your 13th and final hearing before this Committee.

Mr Wheatley: I understand so, yes.

Q2 Chair: We can both enjoy our last time together, Mr Wheatley.

Mr Wheatley: Yes, I understand it is yours as well, probably.

Q3 Chair: Obviously it is reassuring to read in the Report that most of these offenders are kept safe and of course keeping them in custody does perform one very useful purpose and that is to stop them offending back in the community. However, I am not convinced that it achieves a great deal else and that is what I want to question you about, if I may. If we look at the summary on page five, paragraph six, we will see that although you have succeeded in reducing the frequency of proven adult re-offending by 10% between 2005 and 2011, despite that, there is a 3% rise in re-offending by those released from short sentences. Have you developed a coherent plan as to how we can make the time in prison for these people useful so they do not re-offend? Have you a plan?

Mr Wheatley: We have a plan to make some improvements. I am very wary of saying we have a plan that, with this group, will make a really significant reduction to the rate at which they re-offend. The group we have managed to reduce re-offending with has mainly been the longer-sentenced prisoners, with whom we have been able to work for a greater length of time, do offending behaviour programmes, train them and increase their literacy because we have had the time to do it. We have concentrated resources on that group quite deliberately because it includes the most risky. People after all normally get long sentences for very serious offences and I think the public rightly expect us to work with those offenders. For the shorter-sentenced prisoners, just the sheer practicality of making a difference, even on a six-month sentence with HDC with no more than seven weeks in custody is very difficult. We have a strategy which aims to do some of the thing that this Report identifies, not to duplicate assessments, to have an assessment that is an IT assessment we can pass between departments and between prisons, a basic screening tool, to deal with immediate, pressing needs, to try not to damage some of the protective factors, so to try to make sure they keep housing, that they do not necessarily lose their job. We do what we can do to help them maintain their job, but we do not think we can do much by way of intervention in the limited time available, particularly as lots of them have drug problems and are actually detoxing during the first couple of weeks in custody.

Q4 Chair: We can talk a bit about that but it is a bit of a depressing answer. You are saying that really, within current resources, given they are only spending perhaps six weeks in prison, there is not much more you can do. Is that what you are saying?

Mr Wheatley: I think that is realistic. There is more we can do but not a complete answer for this group. We will reduce the frequency of re-offending a bit, but I hesitate to say we are going to make a giant step forward with the existing resources.

Q5 Chair: It rather begs the question why prisons are not better prepared and resourced to try and provide the kind of useful short courses immediately available for these prisoners that might make a difference. If we look for instance at paragraph 3.10 on page 28 or figure 12 on page 29, you can see that the waiting times for some of these courses are often longer than the time they spend in prison. If that is the case, they are simply being locked up. They are not going on any courses and there is a sort of merry-go-round of them coming out of prison and then re-offending. Why do you not try to have the kind of short courses immediately available? Six weeks is quite a long time for a course. Can you not have a more pro-active system for getting people trained in some sort of way?

Mr Wheatley: The answer to that is we can make it more pro-active. The queuing - and there is queuing for courses - is a result of there being less supply of interventions, useful things to do than there is need in prisons. At no point in my time in prisons have I ever seen the amount of need there is stacked up with prisoners, who often come from very strange and damaged backgrounds, matched by the resources available. We have always had to prioritise people. It does reflect that. In our planning we are trying to make sure we have more short courses but really short courses often do not make the difference. If you want to get a persistent offender with a drug problem out of crime, there is no short answer. You have to motivate them to want to be different in the first place. It is not just simply a question of giving them a course. They have to really believe they could be different and then you have to make quite a substantial difference to their whole mindset.

Q6 Chair: How long are these courses, if they had got on them?

Mr Wheatley: The thinking skills course as an example would probably take about a month to do. The sex offender treatment course will be a six-month course. The violent offenders' course is another very long course. To change people, to make people completely different in the way they behave, is quite a venture. It is not something you can do in a quick way.

Q7 Chair: Are you even trying?

Mr Wheatley: We are trying, particularly with education courses so we have pick up and put down courses. You can join them at any point, so we are trying to have the sort of organisation of education that allows people to join rather than have to wait until the end of a course, thereby avoiding queues. We can produce and are producing some short courses on drug treatment which are not bad courses, although for the really persistent drug user a short dosage course is probably not going to make a substantial difference.

Q8 Chair: There are some things we can do. For instance, we read in paragraph 3.14 of this Report and we see at figure 14 that 43% of prisons hold interviews - this is for resettlement - two weeks or less before a prisoner's release. "For prisoners spending more than a few weeks in custody, this is unlikely to maximise their chances of sorting out accommodation or employment problems." You can say that again. Should you not be getting them in, planning for when they are going to be released, getting them if you can on some kind of short course, which is better than no course, and getting an interview or some help with their resettlement before they leave? Otherwise, they are coming out without a home or anything and it is not surprising they go and immediately commit more offences.

Mr Wheatley: Again, in terms of what we are doing and the changes we propose, we are interviewing all prisoners on reception and we are proposing a standardised screening, very much what is recommended in this Report. We have trialled it. It is working in Yorkshire and Humberside. I have no reason to believe it will not work in other parts of the country. We hope to be in a position to roll that out in an IT form in April. That will become available. That will improve the early screening. We do have to think, as we get close to somebody's discharge date, where are they going to live and actually the sort of accommodation that our prisoners are likely to go into you do not book months in advance. It is a question of which hostel has a vacancy and those decisions are taken fairly close to the wire. That is one of the reasons why, looking at housing where you have to find accommodation for somebody near to the town they are going out to, most of the places we are dealing with will not hold places for a long period. The other thing is we are never absolutely sure, until we have assessed for HDC, when prisoners are going to go out because there is the discretionary element of Home Detention Curfew, with that decision being taken on the basis of information about the home which you have to get, as well as the nature of their offence and length of their sentence.

Q9 Chair: One part of your work that seems to work reasonably well is drug services and liaison with them. We read in paragraph 3.15, "With the exception of drug services, short-sentenced prisoners are frequently released without being put in contact with the community services they need." Many of these people have an alcohol problem. Why can you not be as good with helping people with alcohol problems as with drug problems?

Mr Wheatley: I would be enthusiastic to have the same sort of service we have for our drug offenders. You have taken evidence recently on the provision of follow-up for those who have substantial drug problems. The National Treatment Agency, in my view, is doing a very good job. There is national coordination. There has been substantial investment and that provides a much more joined-up service than in areas where there has not been the same central investment. The investment that has gone in - it is obviously a political decision - went in because of the very clear links between drug use and crime. I suppose, although I know there is a very strong link between alcohol use and crime, lots of us round this table probably take alcohol from time to time. None of us I hope is taking drugs. The fact that alcohol is a more legal substance has probably meant that we do not have quite the same fear of it, although it does lead to quite a lot of particularly violent crime.

Q10 Chair: Others can expand on that if they want to. If you are going to make a difference you have to have the right sort of information. If we read these paragraphs between 12 and 17, we will see that there are huge holes in your information. For instance, NOMS does not know the cost of its work with short-sentenced prisoners or NOMS does not know how many short-sentenced prisoners are having accommodation and employment needs addressed. We read this again and again. Should you not have better information systems, better screening, so you know what their needs are and whether you can help them at all?

Mr Wheatley: We should and we are developing them, bearing in mind we are a relatively new agency. In our specs and benchmarking programme - it sounds a rather a grand phrase - what we are trying to do is have precise specifications about what goes in an induction programme, what goes in a resettlement programme, with benchmark costs, clarity about what we are trying to buy to avoid there being too much variation between areas. I accept that there is quite a lot of local variation. I do not want to have a giant, centrally run service, but clarity about the costs of doing things. That programme is now proceeding well and we are getting full costing across the whole range of our activity in prison and probation. It has been and is still a big and detailed piece of work. It is difficult to get really good evidence on what the effect of different interventions is simply because it has been methodologically very difficult to untangle the effect of lots of different things. Was it the drug treatment, the caring officer, the very good prison doctor, or was it the fact that their wife now is standing by them that made the difference? Trying to untangle which of those it was is very complex.

Q11 Chair: This is your last hearing so you can let your hair down a bit. I want to ask you really a policy point which may be a bit unfair, but I have long thought it, ever since I was a young barrister practising in the criminal courts. I think that short sentences are largely pointless and ineffective. If you get sentenced to 12 months, you get released automatically after six months, so with anything less than that you are only in prison for a very few weeks and it is virtually impossible to get any screening, any course, any help or anything. Should we not just scrap sentences under 12 months and replace them with community service?

Mr Wheatley: Going forward, if we are looking for a treatment effect with very short sentences, I doubt even if you threw lots of money at the National Offender Management Service whether we would deliver very effectively with very short sentences. If you are looking to punish people and say to those who have very often failed on community sentences or not cooperated, "There is a price to pay. Punishment", we punish effectively and we keep people safe while they are punished, that is all we do. I would not claim any more than that and I have always been careful not to claim more than that with this group. It depends what we want to do. I have sympathy with the court faced with a repetitive offender who has had lots of community interventions, who has very often failed them or not cooperated with them, thinking what do we do with this person, particularly when they have obvious problems that really are very difficult to deal with without cooperation from the offender themselves.

Q12 Chair: There may be something in having a minimum custodial sentence of a year.

Mr Wheatley: There may be. You would need to model through the cost of that. Was anybody making that proposal making sure that we could accommodate that? I have always taken the line that I am a jailer. I do not try and sentence people.

Chair: You are a very nice jailer anyway, Mr Wheatley.

Q13 Mr Touhig: We see on page 12, paragraph 1.9, that you are trialling new intensive alternatives to custody. What are these alternatives?

Mr Wheatley: They are part of a standard variety available to the courts. What we try to do is make sure, in areas where we have put in additional funding, that the courts have a wider range of things that are funded and available to them so you can put together tagging with an offending behaviour programme alongside drug treatment, so you build in what is now available to the courts as part of the menu but you make sure that they can do complex orders that appear to meet the needs of offenders and offer some tight control of them. We are hoping that by running that, if we find that the courts have a greater take-up, we may be able to move money out of prisons into probation, but it will save money in prisons if we do not have to expand at quite the rate we currently expect we will have to. They are only pilots at the moment.

Q14 Mr Touhig: How long have you been trialling these?

Mr Wheatley: I cannot tell you. I would have to write and give you precise details.

Q15 Mr Touhig: Have you reached any conclusions so far?

Mr Wheatley: At the moment they look promising but they are quite expensive and my ability to roll them out across probation also depends upon availability of resources. What I have to watch is, if we use less imprisonment, because we are so overcrowded, the effect of having slightly fewer prisoners is not to produce a lot of cashable savings. All I really save is the cost of feeding people and a bit of heat and light for them rather than being able to close a prison and therefore make cashable savings.

Q16 Mr Touhig: Have you a time frame when this is going to end? This year, next year or whenever?

Mr Wheatley: To give you a tight timescale and be accurate about it I would like to write but it is not in the immediate future.

Q17 Mr Touhig: You will have gone?

Mr Wheatley: I will have gone, which is why I do not have it in mind. It is a longer term programme. It is a sensible programme and so far promising but getting cashable savings to fund it will be a challenge.

Q18 Mr Touhig: In the Report the Comptroller and Auditor General tells us on page seven, paragraph 18, that one in three short-sentenced prisoners said alcohol abuse was connected with their offending; yet the resource that you put into treating people with alcohol problems is far less than the resource you put into treating people with drug problems. Why is this?

Mr Wheatley: Mainly because the money that has arrived and is given to us has come from Government, ring-fenced for use with drugs. The Government has taken decisions to fund drug treatment, NTA and drug treatment in prisons as part of that. The National Health Service has also funded detox because they now supply our health in prisons. It is not my funding that supplies health in prison. A similar investment has not been made in alcohol. Within our own resources we are trying to make some available and the National Health Service is also now much more alert to the alcohol problem and is also beginning to develop additional resources or skewing resources for use with those who have alcohol problems, which is a significant number, as you were saying.

Q19 Mr Touhig: One in three. Without wanting to ask you to comment on policy, you will surely influence Government policy and how it develops in this sort of way. You mentioned perhaps we all take a drink and we do not take drugs. Because most of us will have a drink and we do not drink to excess, we do not think alcohol is a problem. Most of us do not take drugs but we do think drugs are a problem. It is the perception that is a huge difficulty there. Society as a whole has a greater problem with alcohol misuse than drug misuse. I am sure the prison population reflects that. Do you not really think, notwithstanding that it is not entirely within your orbit to decide policy, that a proper alcohol strategy is very important and more important than a drug strategy?

Mr Wheatley: I think lots of substances are capable of being abused and, when they are abused, they cause problems. I would quite like a strategy that addressed substance abuse, whether it is sniffing lighter fuel or whether it is drinking too much or using drugs. In all my career I have seen people who have abused a variety of substances which have led them into crime, sometimes alcohol, sometimes hard drugs, sometimes modern designer drugs. I would rather we viewed substance abuse as the main issue and then tried to deal with those who have those sort of out-of-control behaviours.

Q20 Mr Touhig: I believe that alcohol is a bigger problem. All the figures show that alcohol is the bigger problem.

Mr Wheatley: Alcohol is heavily related to ---

Q21 Mr Touhig: Domestic violence?

Mr Wheatley: Violence, yes.

Q22 Mr Touhig: It is a huge problem. I remember in a previous incarnation when I chaired the All-Party Group on Alcohol Misuse asking a Government minister why the Government was putting more emphasis on drug misuse than alcohol misuse. I was told that they did not think that alcohol misuse was such a problem and, if we had a problem with school children, the advice we were given by the minister was to tell school children to go and talk it over with matron. I did not think that was a good idea in Newbridge Comprehensive School. The point I am trying to get across is you do influence Government policy. You do see that one in three people in prisons have a drink-related problem. Do we not need a really big resource, a strategy, with which we can tackle it?

Mr Wheatley: I have consistently said that the main problem is abusing substances, which include alcohol. We should be dealing with substance abuse. In defence of spending money on drugs, the one thing I do know about drugs that is not true of alcohol is, because it is an illegal trade, it is not only the use effects; it is also the effects of the dealing, the importation and all the crime that goes with that. Drugs bring in their wake a whole other group of crimes. When I met an armed robber who I knew from yesteryear, he told me all the money is in drugs nowadays and only mugs do armed robbery. That relates to that trade, which there is not in alcohol. Alcohol is a legitimate trade and the only people who make money are legitimate companies.

Q23 Mr Touhig: Yes, they do. The only way to hit them is to hit their profits. Have you collaborated with Alcohol Concern in any kind of strategy?

Mr Wheatley: We have collaborated. The main contacts we have in alcohol are with the NHS, who are taking alcohol seriously so we are getting increased investment and interest from our Primary Care Trusts and from Alcoholics Anonymous, which is the group that we have worked with for years who have produced some of the best support for offenders consistently over the years.

Q24 Mr Touhig: Can I move on in terms of the assessment that you do and so on when people are in prison for short periods? We see again from the Report that there is a lot of wasteful repetition when people are moved from one prison to another. What can you do to try and avoid that repetition? I remember dealing with a case some years ago when youngsters were statemented and every time they moved from one area to another they had to be re-statemented. I said, "Why cannot we have a statementing passport?" Is there not some way in which ---?

Mr Wheatley: There is. It is a very fair criticism. The majority of these offenders we try not to move as they are only serving very short sentences. Traditionally, they have served them in a local prison but, as we have got more crowded, we have tended to move them to make room for the next day's reception, so the velocity of movement through the system has probably gone up recently. The answer is a standardised tool that is available on our intranet, that is part of our IT system, that means once you have entered the data everybody can see it. You do not have to redo it. It is the answer. We are within a month of rolling that out.

Q25 Mr Touhig: This repetition costs money but you do not seem to know how much it is costing you.

Mr Wheatley: I do not by its very nature because, unlike the ICT tool that I am about to produce where I will be able to count it up, I cannot easily count up what governor X has done which has amounted to bits of staff time, different grades done in different prisons in a different way. I would have to have a fairly substantial data collection exercise to give me that information which would probably cost more than it is worth.

Q26 Mr Touhig: Am I right in thinking you are going to pilot a simple custody screening tool later this year?

Mr Wheatley: We are.

Q27 Mr Touhig: It would be a good idea to know what the present system is costing you and what waste is in the present system to make sure it is not built into the new system.

Mr Wheatley: What I am doing in the piloted establishments, which are Yorkshire and Humberside establishments - it includes Hull and Moorland for example, where one of my directors has recently been - is looking at what they used to spend versus what this new tool does. That is giving us the information in the piloted sites and that will allow us to compare it.

Q28 Angela Browning: Why is it that seven and a half years after you accepted the recommendation of this Committee that you would be able to monitor and identify whether you were actually helping to reduce re-offending with these short-term prisoners, you are still not able to measure your success?

Mr Wheatley: The answer to that is the complexity of the research task. That is the real difficulty. I can measure accurately whether we are reducing re-offending in this group. The annually produced statistics which give us the re-offending data, the last ones produced on 18 March, last week, do tell me whether we are reducing re-offending in this group or not. At the moment they say in this group we have made some reductions in the very high rates of re-offending versus what we thought would happen, the predicted rate, but they are still doing worse than the predictor. I have information on that. Working out precisely which intervention has which effect is, in methodological terms, really the devil and no criminologist has effectively found a way of isolating enough of the other factors to be sure that the one you are looking at is the one that you are really measuring.

Q29 Angela Browning: You are not going to give us any hope today that you might be able to resolve this problem?

Mr Wheatley: No. What we are doing at the moment, which I think will get us nearer to resolving the problem, is we have a really intensive piece of work on a tranche of offenders, a large group of offenders, on which we are acquiring lots and lots of detail, following them over time to see what happens to them, trying to relate the different bits so that we can make more sense of it. It is a long-term piece of research being done by the Ministry of Justice research statistics outfit, which is clever stuff. I think that will get us more information. There is another stream of information coming out of mainstream criminology, which is looking at offenders who have given up crime and saying to them, "Why did you give up crime?" and trying to understand not just why people go wrong but also why they give up. That desistance criminology, as it is called, is I think producing some real insights which say that the thing that changes people is being motivated to think they could be different. That often depends on really powerful, influential people working with them who do not necessarily have to be wildly professionally trained and may include their family or friends, but probably will be a member of staff who says, "Actually, there is something about you that means you do not need to live this sort of life" and them clicking and thinking they are right. Then you have to stack in behind them some practical help and not send them back to a house, sharing it with another four drug users, all of whom are thieving.

Q30 Angela Browning: Perhaps we could come onto that a little bit more in a moment. I would just like to talk about drug and alcohol offenders. Would it be right to say that those who get a short-term custodial sentence are people who are either not eligible for drug and alcohol treatment centres, as far as the courts are concerned, or have breached that award from the court in the first place?

Mr Wheatley: I am not sure because I cannot always get into sentencers' minds, but I think that is probably a valid statement. The courts will often use a short-term sentence with somebody who is not cooperating with other treatment options.

Q31 Angela Browning: Just picking up on what the Chairman said about should we really be considering whether these short-term sentences are effective or not, would it then be fair to say that short-term sentences are really for containment and that it is unrealistic for us to expect you to carry out rehabilitation?

Mr Wheatley: It is the same as the answer I gave to the Chairman really. My view is that it is likely with very short sentences - bearing in mind this is quite a wide spectrum, up to 12 months - and with the majority of them only getting sentences of three months or less that we will not realistically be able to make a big difference while they are inside. The most we can do is identify their problems and try to signpost them into other services. It is easy with drugs because there is a national service. It is less easy with housing and things like that, where there is lots of local provision and different views by different local authorities about how much they want to help this group.

Q32 Angela Browning: There do seem to be in this NAO Report exemplars of, for example, liaison with employment and housing. If we look on page 27 we can see how important having a job and having a place to live is in terms of re-offending. This is from the offenders themselves. Presumably some of these people are not actually sentenced in a prison close to their home, so for the prison to liaise with the charitable or voluntary sector or statutory services close to home I assume creates a practical problem?

Mr Wheatley: It does. We have been trying to encourage governors and probation officers because we are dealing with the same group. They may have done a community sentence one time and then they get a short-term sentence. We have been trying to encourage them to do local deals with local providers, local authorities, local charities, which is one of the reasons why we do not have a perfectly standardised product. That works best in the big unitaries. Most of our local prisons are in big crime-producing areas. I do not want to be rude about the big cities but that is where most crime comes from. It is much less easy to make links, shall we say, from Leeds Prison out with the wilds of North Yorkshire, although they will draw on North Yorkshire. It is much easier for them to make links in Leeds and Bradford where the majority of offenders will come from, so we are ending up with a fairly patchy service. The services we are trying to tap into are local services controlled locally with quite different views in different local authorities about how much they want to invest in giving things to what some of their voters might see as the undeserving poor.

Q33 Angela Browning: As I am looking at it, if somebody is in for six months and that is the period of the sentence, that is not very long to deal with people who very often have very, very complex problems, not just the obvious drug or alcohol problem but some of the issues that you talked about earlier on. In that six-month window that you have, I come back to this question: is it unrealistic to expect you to do more than give them a bed and some food? Is it really practical to expect you to do more? When I look at page 27, I see that in some prisons they have spent time training people to work in call centres and offered a scaffolding course. That comes straight back to the thing that was right at the top of the list on re-offending and that is having a job. If some prisons can do that, why are not those exemplars being spread out more widely among the Prison Service?

Mr Wheatley: We are trying to spread the ideas. These are innovative ideas developed locally. I do not think everything is good that we develop at the centre. They have often been done in cooperation with other agencies that have put some of their money in to help deliver these things. It is one of the interesting things about what we have been succeeding in doing. We are spreading those. I have just been to a conference where we have been speaking about some of these really successful schemes so that other people know what is possible. They probably even then do not work with the very short-sentenced prisoners. I am using this term advisedly because your six-month sentence I only have them for three months. When this Report was being done, I had them for less than that because they were getting ECL, out 18 days before the end of their sentence otherwise, and they may also get Home Detention Curfew after a quarter of a sentence, providing they have served 30 days. In practice, what sounds like six months, in terms of time with me, is much less than that.

Q34 Angela Browning: Just coming back to the drug and alcohol situation, I think we see this all the time. Okay, it may be a policy priority to deal with drugs but both of these are addictions, are they not? If somebody is addicted to alcohol and that is part of their problem and why they were there in the first place, if the alcohol has created a violent situation which led to the sentence, you are actually going to be sending them out in no better a state than they came in, are you?

Mr Wheatley: No. We will have dried them out for a bit because they will not be drinking inside. We are quite good at that. We will have probably sorted their health out a bit. We do some practical things about that. We will have fed them properly. They will go out and the risk is they will go out and have a drink straight away. We will try to connect them with Alcoholics Anonymous. We will have looked for people who wanted to give up. Motivating people and following through on it in, say, the course of what in many cases is a two-month sentence, four weeks inside of which a week has been on remand when they were not actually convicted; they were innocent people awaiting trial, is very difficult. I do not want to claim more than is realistic.

Q35 Angela Browning: No. I am reminded that I have had case work of people who are addicted to alcohol, who are not in prison but are in the community, where relatives have tried to get that person on an alcohol treatment programme through their GP or the local health authority. The question always comes back, unless they themselves, the person who is addicted, are demonstrating that they are willing to be pro-active on the course, it is denied them. To a degree that is a chicken and egg situation, is it not? For someone who is addicted to something to be able to have the clarity at any given point in time to say, "No" or, "Yes, I will cooperate", is that not the complexity of alcohol? Is that not why both in the community and in prison it has been downgraded, if you like, because it is much more complex than it looks on the surface?

Mr Wheatley: It is certainly complex. It is very difficult to treat people who are not cooperating.

Q36 Angela Browning: I agree with you but if they are addicted ---

Mr Wheatley: We will dry them out. I can tell you, in terms of dealing with addiction, when we meet somebody who is deeply addicted to alcohol - and some of our offenders are; some are just problem drinkers. They can manage without it but when they drink they are a problem. They lose control and hit people - it is more difficult to detox somebody through an alcohol detox than it is getting them off heroin.

Q37 Angela Browning: You said it but that was rather what I was referring to.

Mr Wheatley: We do that. The medical detoxes are available and that is governed by the NHS. It is a different thing from saying then, "Okay. What services are available in the community, even when you have detoxed somebody, to support somebody with a substantial alcohol problem?" It is true that there is nothing equivalent to the National Treatment Agency for alcohol.

Q38 Angela Browning: That is what my experience in my constituency has been where I have seen it work successfully after the drying out period. People have then gone to a half-way house where there has been an extended period of rehabilitation to normal social relationships and normal living and they have then moved on from there. That is quite a costly and time-consuming process. That is why I just wonder if you can even attempt it in a short sentence.

Mr Wheatley: We will not get that follow-through in a short sentence. We probably cannot immediately match them into that provision in the community for the reasons you have just identified. In any case, the whole treatment process is expensive. It may not actually save money immediately, but it is probably the best way of getting a really addicted person off. Lots of the people we deal with are problem drinkers - ie, when in drink they do foolish, dangerous and criminal things and are dangerous to other people.

Chair: Thank God, Mr Wheatley, that we do not become institutionalised. Sometimes we do in this place. We are long-term inmates. Talking of which, Mr Mitchell?

Q39 Mr Mitchell: Still as charming as ever! This Report is pretty depressing to me. It is a story of failure really, is it not? I do not see that prison has any relevance except in so far as it keeps people off the streets for a period short or long, but it is certainly useless at redemption.

Mr Wheatley: Because you have asked the question about prison itself, prison for long-term prisoners is making quite a substantial difference to re-offending.

Q40 Mr Mitchell: But not for short-termers?

Mr Wheatley: For the long-termers it makes a real difference. For short-termers it does not. It may be depressing but it is a realistic and accurate Report.

Q41 Mr Mitchell: Why is that? You said in answer to Angela Browning that short-term sentences are pretty useless. Is it because of that, that it is really a useless way of treating people, or is it because the prisons are overcrowded and we do not spend enough money on them, we do not do enough in training and all the rest of it?

Mr Wheatley: I have never had enough money at any time while I have been in charge of the service.

Q42 Mr Mitchell: Which is the major cause of the problem?

Mr Wheatley: I have never had enough money to do lots of things with short-term offenders.--

Q43 Mr Mitchell: You never will.

Mr Wheatley: I cannot judge what would happen if I did. We have spent money in improving what we do with long-termers, the one year and over group, and made a substantial improvement. The very best results are with the four year and over group. I am comparing the eventual reconviction with what we expected would happen based on their age and number of convictions. I think it is a genuine treatment effect. I have not seen it with short-termers and I am fairly sceptical about whether we can achieve it with very short-sentenced prisoners, honestly.

Q44 Mr Mitchell: You said in a short period all you can do is kind of signpost their needs and assess their needs, but even that seems to fail because the rate of offending is very high. I see on figure 11 that Angela Browning has just quoted the main factors in stopping re-offending as reported by the prisoners themselves are, one, having a job; two, having a place to live, which are the areas where you help the least. You say you do a good deal on drugs but it is having a job and having somewhere to live that are the most important things.

Mr Wheatley: In terms of helping people to get into accommodation, we have made some substantial progress.

Q45 Mr Mitchell: But not enough.

Mr Wheatley: Something like 96%. The latest data suggests that they are going into what we call "settled housing". I would not want to rave about the quality of the places they are going to.

Q46 Mr Mitchell: You assess them too late there, do you not, because you have to get them on a housing list early, whereas it is often left until the last couple of weeks before they are out?

Mr Wheatley: We will not be getting them into local authority housing or anything of that quality. It will probably be bedsits, probably reasonable-quality bedsits. We have done some reasonable work there but I am not claiming too much. Although I think we have made some improvements there, this is a very difficult group to help. The reason why they re-offend a lot is because they have lots of previous offences. We would predict they would re-offend on the basis of having offended previously.

Q47 Mr Mitchell: The purpose in establishing the National Offender Management Service, we were told at the time, was that you could provide a through service, often supervised by one person, which would help them when they were in prison and help them when they came out. That has not been achieved.

Mr Wheatley: That is unfair as a criticism. Where we have that power, which is where we supervise people after release, which we do with all the 12 month and over prisoners, we are making a difference in re-offending and we can see that on the data. With this group, there is no follow-through because statutorily we have no power over them once they leave us; whereas with a 12 month and over prisoner we have the power to supervise them. Where we have that power, we are offering a better tie up between the prison and the community that is paying off. This is not an area where we have that power.

Q48 Mr Mitchell: The rest you are washing your hands of.

Mr Wheatley: Nobody has given me the power which I would need to follow through on them. What I think we are probably underselling - and this is not a claim I am making for me - is many local authorities working with the police are introducing what are called "integrated offender management schemes" where, although it is voluntary, they are getting sign up from offenders who are pleased to have the assistance and they are working with some of the riskiest people.

Q49 Mr Mitchell: I am glad to hear that. Can you quantify it? You said many local authorities. How many local authorities?

Mr Wheatley: No, I cannot tell you how many local authorities. I can tell you there are six pilots going on that the Home Office is sponsoring.

Q50 Mr Mitchell: We have more pilots in this Government than British Airways. Is it all pilots?

Mr Wheatley: These pilots are working! This makes sense and the police are very keen on it. It depends on local police forces. This is not being run from the centre. I believe in localism. That means that local people have power. Some local authorities are thinking this is something to work on. The local police are working with them. I visited one in Tameside which is Ashton-under-Lyne and Denton as I would know it. It is really very good joint working.

Q51 Mr Mitchell: I am glad to hear that. Let me move back into prison. While you say good work is done when they come out, it looks as though the time in prison is pretty useless. They say between a third and a half of short-sentenced prisoners, including those with the least motivation to seek help, are not involved in work or courses and spend almost all day in their cells. At HMP Doncaster, short-sentenced prisoners undertake an average of 31 minutes of purposeful activity every week day. Presumably they sit and look at the wall for the rest of the day. I know Doncaster is not an exciting place when I go through it but it cannot be as bad as that.

Mr Wheatley: Many of these offenders in local prisons are, as the Report accurately says, locked up in their cells.

Q52 Mr Mitchell: Why is that?

Mr Wheatley: Because there is not enough resource - that is both money and buildings - to provide the sort of occupation that would get people out of their cells, which is an expensive business. I am running overcrowded prisons very often with facilities that were provided years ago for a different service and trying to make the best I can of that. That does not allow me to occupy all prisoners every day in a way that I would like.

Q53 Mr Mitchell: You are saying that, within this overcrowded service, the short-termers get the worst deal of all?

Mr Wheatley: That is accurate, yes. If it comes to a choice, if I am honest, about whether we look after a long-termer, a lifer, with substantial problems, a very dangerous individual we are going to have to get through a long sentence, the resources will go to make sure we get that person through a long sentence. If we prioritise the short-termers and ignore the long-termers, the consequences in terms of suicide, disorder and public criticism, because the people concerned would either not ever be released because we would never reduce their risk or, when released off fixed sentences, are that you would say, "You knew this person was dangerous and you have done nothing with them." They get the priority. In public accountability terms I think that is right.

Q54 Mr Mitchell: I can understand that in the present strained system but it is not desirable, is it?

Mr Wheatley: No.

Q55 Mr Mitchell: It seems to me, within that context, that you are still not doing enough for the short-sentenced people in prison because it says in the Report at 3.11 that 40% of short-sentenced prisoners reported receiving no help to meet any of their needs during their sentence. What is the point of assessment if they are not getting any help?

Mr Wheatley: The corollary of that is 60% did get some help of course, so it is not entirely as bad as you paint it.

Q56 Mr Mitchell: I think this is pathetic.

Mr Wheatley: I am not dodging it. In a constrained system this is a group that is serving very little time, in many cases only weeks, less than weeks in some cases. We are not giving them anything near a Rolls-Royce service and some get only a very, very basic service. We are proposing better assessment, signposting the riskiest into local authority services and trying to make the links with local authorities and others to give them better provision outside if they will volunteer. I have no powers to force them because I have no statutory control over them once they leave prison.

Q57 Mr Mitchell: You have in prison. Paragraph 3.15 tells us that aside from drug users, who you have emphasised and rightly so, most short-sentenced prisoners leave prison in the same or a worse situation than they arrived in.

Mr Wheatley: They will probably have had their drugs problem sorted out. They will have had their immediate detox arrangements taking place. They will otherwise be unlikely to have had much by way of additional assistance on very short sentences. That is not true of the slightly longer group because we are lumping all the under 12 month group together. The bulk of them are serving under three months and they would get the least.

Q58 Mr Mitchell: Why have you not set out any guidance to prison governors on expectations of what they should do?

Mr Wheatley: We tend not to have guidance that is specific about sentence length. The guidance to governors is to assess, to try and meet needs where they can. What I am aware of is that the provision that they have, particularly of offending behaviour programmes which are quite long, simply does not match this group. We have been saying to governors, rather than writing guidance, "Try and develop local partnerships. Try and work in cooperation." That is why we have been getting some of these innovative answers, but it has relied on the local ability to connect through with local services in your area and the willingness of different charities, local authorities and local bodies to cooperate with this group, which is quite patchy.

Mr Mitchell: Thanks. I would like to ask more but my sentence has expired.

Q59 Chair: I am going to keep asking the same question and you keep giving the same answer. I am not sure it is as hopeless as you intimate. If we look at page 35, figure 16, we see "Analysis of costs at HMP Lincoln" which is my local prison, a very famous prison. Eamon de Valera walked out of it, did he not? You were not in charge so do not worry.

Mr Wheatley: He went on to greater things.

Q60 Chair: That is a matter of opinion. Why is it that apparently - I may have this wrong - we are spending an average amount per short-sentenced prisoner in Lincoln, my local prison, of 1,300 and in New Hall it is 3,100? What is going on?

Mr Wheatley: New Hall is a women's prison.

Q61 Chair: Why is there this difference?

Mr Wheatley: Because of the complex problems that women bring with them. They do bring more complex problems, particularly more drug problems than the male population. Often there are children issues. They are the primary carers for children and, because of the prevalence of mental health problems, we over-invest in women compared to some of the male prisons. We say that is not straightforward discrimination. That is because they have a different ---

Q62 Chair: That is fair enough. I am not complaining about that. Do you have success then? You are spending a lot more money, over twice as much. Are you having success?

Mr Wheatley: Given the scale of problems we are managing with women, the courts tend not to send women offenders down to us unless they really feel it is the last resort. I think most courts are very unwilling to sentence women to custody, so they usually come in with a complex series of problems. We manage those better, preventing suicide and dealing with some quite significant mental health problems and really heavy drug addiction. A lot of the women have used opiates extensively. Yes, we successfully manage that. I am not claiming that has a giant effect on re-offending, but we have that duty to look after people in difficulties and keep them alive.

Q63 Dr Pugh: It says in 3.26, "Prisons have little understanding of the outcomes of the work they do in any of the seven Reducing Re-offending Pathways." In 3.23 it says, "Prisons have a poor understanding of the quality and impact of the work they do with short-sentenced prisoners. This is partly because information about good and bad practice is not generated or shared ..." Am I right to conclude that there is good practice in the service but it is not either built on or readily identified and, if there is success, it is almost random?

Mr Wheatley: There is some justice in that criticism. Because we have let prison governors have more freedom than I am normally characterised as allowing prison governors - I am usually seen as an authoritarian person who flies everybody by wire - it does mean that people generate new things because they thought of them which I do not know about at the centre. What we have been trying to do is use our regional management system to identify where we have things that are successful and highlight them. I have just come from a conference which includes quite a lot of that as we try and spread some of the better ideas around. It does mean that small-scale ideas will not get heavyweight evaluation, so that is the risk of allowing that sort of approach. Because it is so difficult to work out what is really making a difference in this area, that means we do not learn as much as we would if we had lots of money to spend on evaluation, but it would need lots of money to do really quality work so we could be certain that what we had was not a random effect or the result of some other change we had made.

Q64 Dr Pugh: You are not entirely clear about what does work well with a short sentence, but what you are I think fairly convinced of, and we all are fairly convinced of, is that long sentences by and large from the re-offending point of view work better.

Mr Wheatley: The evidence clearly shows that.

Q65 Dr Pugh: Two-year community orders work better and are cheaper and so on. I suppose therefore you need to go back to the thrust of the Chairman's original question, which is why do we have short-term sentences at all. You have reduced the numbers, have you not, or the system has fewer short-term sentences in it?

Mr Wheatley: The percentage of offenders in the population on a short sentence is less than it used to be. There are still lots of short-sentenced prisoners but it is usually running at about the 8,000 level out of my 84,000-plus offenders, so it is round about the 10% mark, I think, and 9% at the point this Report was done. We are holding it at that level. Historically that is very low and compared to other prison systems that is very low. You could put it the other way round and say our prison system has lots of long-sentenced prisoners. You can look at it both ways round.

Q66 Dr Pugh: What also appears to be the case and what you seem to be saying to us at any rate is that the people who do get these ineffective, short-term sentences are by and large people for whom other remedies have been tried and they have not worked. Have you any stats for that? How many people who get short-term sentences have been on ---?

Mr Wheatley: There are stats on it in that we can look at the number of short-sentenced prisoners and say how many convictions have they previously had.

Q67 Dr Pugh: Short-term ones have more. It says that in the Report.

Mr Wheatley: Yes, that is right. That shows that they have had more convictions. I cannot tell you which paragraph it is in but in the Report it tells you I think the number who are in for breach of community sentences. Certainly that is data that is available. I ought to point out there are different groups in the short-sentenced population. It will also include some first-time offenders, mainly coming in for the sorts of things the courts looked at and thought that must be prison because it is so important: breach of trust by senior and responsible people, violence by people who do not regularly commit violence but they have committed a serious act of violence. They have a very low probability of offending. The courts have given a prison sentence because of the seriousness of their offence and the actual reality with that group seems to be they do even better than the prediction. I am told that paragraph 13 and figure 16 too have the data in.

Q68 Dr Pugh: Is there a case for something like a short-term plus, an amalgam sentence, which puts people in for a short period and then follows that through with something approaching a community order system?

Mr Wheatley: On the statute book there is what is called "Custody Plus" which did just that.

Q69 Dr Pugh: Is it noticeably more effective?

Mr Wheatley: It has never been activated by the Government so I could not tell you how effective it is, but it does exist. It is on the statute book. It was never activated.

Q70 Dr Pugh: On figure eight, page 20, you have figures on gambling addiction which is I do not think the sort of addiction we have talked about beforehand. There seems to be very little done about that and very little identification of it. Is it the case that you basically cannot size that problem out or, even if you can, you do not know what to do about it? Clearly if somebody has a gambling addiction and gets themselves in debt constantly, they will go right back to crime.

Mr Wheatley: You are right in thinking that, apart from some contact with Gamblers' Anonymous which we have had some contact with over the years, we do not have a gambling course as such. In my experience, I am a bit wary of the reference to "gambling addiction" because it is not like the sort of chemical addiction that you get to alcohol and to drugs.

Q71 Dr Pugh: It can be just as serious.

Mr Wheatley: It is more the addiction to a very risky, taking chances lifestyle that often goes with a whole clump of other criminal behaviours, which are the behaviours we try and tackle.

Q72 Dr Pugh: On page 30, figure 13, victim awareness, "Activities undertaken by a group of prisoners during sentences". The figure for victim awareness, which presumably makes people aware of who actually suffer from their crimes, is very low indeed. Is there a reason for that or is it just difficult to arrange it in prison?

Mr Wheatley: This was the percentage of prisoners serving 12 months or longer who said they received this. It shows the difference between the longer sentenced and the shorter sentenced.

Q73 Dr Pugh: Yes, a massive difference.

Mr Wheatley: Victim awareness is usually part of the offending behaviour courses that we do. You cannot have a quick session with somebody and say, "Remember this victim", this is getting people to think quite differently, and the thinking quite differently about victims takes time which is not available on these short sentences. It relates to not doing offending behaviour courses with very short sentences because they simply do not match the timescale.

Q74 Keith Hill: Mr Wheatley, are these kinds of prisoners what you might call prolific offenders? Is that the kind of expression you would use about them?

Mr Wheatley: Many of this group will be prolific. They do vary from this one-off group right through to 20 previous convictions, been doing it since they were a lad and they are now in their fifties with a drug problem, which they still have, mainly funded by shoplifting. If you look at the offences committed by this group, theft is the main offence. Within the group there is quite a wide variety, but there is a substantial group of regular offenders with a substance abuse problem, particularly a drug problem, and if it is a drug problem you have almost certainly got to fund it from crime once you are well into drug use. The most ordinary crime is prolific shoplifting.

Q75 Keith Hill: I am looking at figure two on page 13, to which the NAO has just drawn our attention. It looks as though about half the crimes - theft and handling, burglary and robbery, drug offences, violence against the person - might be said to be associated with various forms of substance and alcohol abuse.

Mr Wheatley: The violence is particularly alcohol abuse.

Q76 Keith Hill: Do we know how many there are?

Mr Wheatley: Other than the information here, no is the answer to that. This is as good information as we have got on this group.

Q77 Keith Hill: Do we know how many short-sentenced offenders there are in total in our society? Is it possible to put a number on that?

Mr Wheatley: I cannot tell you the number of people in society who have had a short sentence at some point, no, I have not got figures on that. I can tell you there are approximately 8,000 in our custody at any one time.

Q78 Keith Hill: The 10% that you have talked about. How many short sentences will a typical short sentence offender have undergone?

Mr Wheatley: Again, if I am not mistaken, we have got stats in the Report on that, figure four, which tells us how many people have had how many sentences That is criminal history of short-sentenced prisoners. It shows a fairly substantial number in 2008 with 20-plus previous convictions. Yes, it includes some very prolific offenders.

Q79 Keith Hill: They are about 10% of the prison population at any one time. What does that 10% represent in terms of the cost to the prison system?

Mr Wheatley: The cost per place per prisoner is approximately 40,000 taking account of the capital cost of prisons. The add-on cost that comes from holding somebody having 10% overcrowding in Pentonville today rather than being dead on their CNA is not very great because the additional cost of holding people once you are overcrowding is simply the cost of feeding them and a little bit of additional cost for discharge grants and things like that. It is difficult to give you a straightforward answer. I think the best way of seeing it is to say that the cost per prisoner place is in the order of 40,000 once you take account of the cost of having to have a prison in the first place. That is the real cost to us as the public.

Q80 Keith Hill: You are saying they represent 10% of the cost?

Mr Wheatley: If we had 8,000 less people in we would need 8,000 less prison places and that would mean you could close a lot of prisons or not build prisons.

Q81 Keith Hill: I understand that point. Can I just pursue the issue that Mr Touhig raised, which is the new intensive alternatives to custody you are trialling. Could you say a little more about what they are?

Mr Wheatley: They are just that, they are intensive: ie the range of things the court normally has available as choices when dealing with an offender, we are making sure that we can fund them and have a wide variety of things so we are able to say to the court, "If you give this offender a community sentence, in this case we are able to supply tagging, an offending behaviour course, we will be putting a mentor with them, we think we can get them on a training course". So you put together a package of measures which are more expensive than the average community sentence and more intense. We are hoping that is attractive to the courts and, therefore, they make less use of prison custody. We are hoping it also has a therapeutic effect and will get a better result in terms of reducing re-offending.

Q82 Keith Hill: You said that although it is early days these are looking promising. What does that mean?

Mr Wheatley: At the moment the information I have got is they are looking promising. The issue is if you were going to scale with them they would have a cost implication across the Probation Service which I would have to have a way of funding by getting cashable savings from something else. Unless I am closing places I am not expecting to close at the moment, that will not give me cashable savings. Next year I have to find 200 million worth of savings across the system because as a result of the previous spending review and minor changes to it during the course of the last few years we have a tough settlement to live within. The country, after all, is not rich at the moment and I am expecting that nobody will give us more money, we will have to make those 200 million savings before we do anything else.

Q83 Keith Hill: Thank you for flagging that up. Other colleagues may wish to pursue that. You mentioned, and the NAO in its Report also draws attention to the fact that one in six short-sentenced prisoners are in prison because they have breached their community order. That is paragraph 1.10, page 12. What are the implications of this for dealing with offenders more effectively in the community?

Mr Wheatley: I am not sure there are implications. I think if we are going to make community sentences work and magistrates believe in them we have to breach people who do not follow them through. If we do not do that we bring our community sentences into disrepute. I also think that unless you set very clear boundaries for offenders and mean them people will start to take advantage of you. I feel quite strongly that if we want community sentences to work we have to accept that we will breach people and there has to be a consequence for breach which the average person looks at and thinks, "That's not a good idea". Prison does meet that need. Most people do not volunteer for prison. There are a few who do, but most do not.

Q84 Keith Hill: Do you move these prisoners around very much?

Mr Wheatley: As little as we can help, but we have been moving them around as we have been very full, particularly in London. London has more criminals convicted than there is space to deal with them in the London prisons. Being a big metropolitan area it generates a lot of crime but has basically got the infrastructure the Victorians left, plus Belmarsh and Feltham, and that means we have to move prisoners on to make room for the next day's receptions. In that area we move prisoners out to other prisons, sometimes to other local prisons, that have got spare capacity. We have also been moving short-termers increasingly to open prisons. They normally have little incentive to escape and our abscond rate has been dropping actually. I am wary about this information because it comes out of the first look at how re-offending rates break out by individual prisoners, but it looks as though open prisons do not have quite the same effect on prisoners as closed prisons and probably do not confirm them in their criminal stereotype in quite the same way. We look as though we are getting some slightly better effects out of the open prisons, even with short-sentenced prisoners. It is only a marginal effect and it is far too early to say that is a real effect and not just a selection effect, that we are just being clever at selecting the right people.

Q85 Keith Hill: Presumably a downside of open prisons, at least I assume it is a downside because I have an image of open prisons as being in the countryside, is they are removed from the locality from which the prisoner comes.

Mr Wheatley: That is the downside. On the other hand, they are also removed from the other effect of prison. If you are held in the local prison alongside lots of other offenders you know, because offenders often do know each other, they meet in the same bars, pubs, clubs and in prison, and often reinforce each other's behaviour, there are some advantages in taking them outside their normal closed prison environment and holding them in an open prison in a country area, but it does not help make local links, you are absolutely right.

Q86 Keith Hill: Which you have emphasised, of course. I think I quote you in saying the priority you give to thinking about where these prisoners are going to live. How do you do that if they are in an open prison?

Mr Wheatley: You can do that. Taking the Chairman's area, if you go from Lincoln down to North Sea Camp, there is no reason why North Sea Camp cannot think about how it makes links with Lincoln, one of the biggest cities in the area, and making sure it has made those links. That is not impossible. Nowadays we can use video links much more productively to make sure you can interview somebody who is coming out to an area via a video link rather than having to always get in your car to go and see them. There are ways round it, but it is not as easy. The advantage is that you are holding them in somewhere that does not feel like something you see in Porridge, where we probably have got work to give them and it does not confirm their view of themselves as a hardened criminal because they are not in quite the place they ordinarily would be. You cannot do that with people who are still detoxing. It may be that it is just a selection effect, that because we are putting down the rather better group of offenders what we are seeing is the effect of us picking rather well. Early days is the answer.

Q87 Keith Hill: I think Mr Mitchell drew attention to the statistics about the weakness of the contact with local housing authorities in terms of the aftercare, as it were, the after accommodation of prisoners. Is NOMS going to do a piece of work about the specific issue of accommodation?

Mr Wheatley: We have been trying to do some specific work on accommodation. The answer is very often local. We are using the Department of Communities and Local Government to try to make sure they establish priorities for local authorities with central policy that supports working in a way that enables us to get housing for offenders, but these are local decisions and there are local authorities who take quite a strong line on those they regard as having made themselves intentionally homeless by committing offences and coming into prison. We have not got the power to insist, we have to persuade.

Q88 Chair: Nobody has mentioned figure ten, which is interesting: "Minimum length of time needed to assist prisoners in addressing their offending behaviour. Number of prison governors giving this response". You can see that 50% of them say 25 weeks or more, do they not? These are your own people and they know more about this than anybody else.

Mr Wheatley: I am a bit more optimistic than them because I think we can do a bit more in that period.

Q89 Chair: This is the point we are trying to drive home to you again and again in all of these questions.

Mr Wheatley: I am not denying that ---

Q90 Chair: You keep saying you are not a sentencer.

Mr Wheatley: I cannot be responsible for sentencing.

Chair: I know you are not. It is a pity we have not got a judge sitting next to you.

Q91 Mr Bacon: It is interesting that you saying you are a bit more optimistic than them, but maybe because they are prison governors now and you were a prison governor a while ago and, therefore, you look at it with the optimism of hindsight and distance and they are up at the sharp end, is that not the likely explanation?

Mr Wheatley: You could make that criticism of me although I visit prisons regularly enough to try to make sure I keep myself up-to-date and walk the floor with keys, without an escort, to try to make sure I absorb what it is really like rather than going on the Cook's tour with the governor guiding me showing me all the nicest places. My optimism comes from the fact that I think we can organise better. I have some faith in organising better. Governors faced with today's pressure may be less sure that we are able to organise better. I would not claim, and would be careful not to claim, that with this group in custody we will make a big difference.

Q92 Mr Bacon: The most depressing sentence I found in this report was in 3.25 where it points out that 29% of short-term offenders who were interviewed in this survey felt they had been encouraged to address their offending behaviour, so 71% felt they had not, and 27% felt they were being helped to lead law-abiding lives on release, so 73% felt they had not. Underneath it there it says - this was the sentence I found truly depressing - after all this analysis and all this discussion: "There is no information about what was making the difference for those short-sentenced prisoners who felt that their risk of re-offending had diminished". That is the absolute essence of this. Finding out the answer to that question is the essence of this and there is no information.

Mr Wheatley: The latest and best information is what comes out of desistance criminology, and that does say, and this makes sense to us practitioners, the crucial thing is persuading somebody that they could be different. It is motivating people.

Q93 Mr Bacon: You said "being motivated to think you can be different", which I thought was a very interesting way of doing it.

Mr Wheatley: It is like imaging you are not going to be an MP and are going to do something different. It is a big change to move from one thing to another and you have got to get your head round it to do it successfully.

Q94 Mr Bacon: Plainly getting people out of their cells for longer cheaply is part of the solution to this.

Mr Wheatley: My experience of just getting prisoners out of their cells is not always positive. Cheaply getting people out of their cells to mill around can produce ---

Q95 Mr Bacon: I did not say "mill around". I said "cheaply".

Mr Wheatley: You have got to do something constructive with them.

Q96 Mr Bacon: To give you an example: when I was in the Territorial Army I stayed in some pretty unprepossessing places. It is true it was a group of motivated people who had chosen to join the Territorial Army, so you have got to factor that in, but nonetheless we stayed in pretty unprepossessing and cheap locations on fairly rundown Army camps, people getting up early in the morning and being involved in purposeful activity so that by ten in the morning you would look at your watch and think, "Goodness, I've done a lot today already". The reason I say it is plainly the case that you need to get people out of their cells for longer cheaply is because you are not going to get a lot more money, but if you are going to improve the situation you do need to get people out of their cells purposefully and have them doing more things and you have got to do it with less money. This brings me on to my question. I appreciate the enormous difficulties that you face, we all do, and you have been a very impressive witness when you have come to us over the last few years, and it is hard not to stray into policy questions in this area but since it is your last hearing hopefully you will be a little expansive. What interests me is, given the enormous difficulties you face, what innovation is going on? Mr Hill mentioned the intensive alternatives to custody, but what about innovative alternatives within custody that are completely different from anything that anybody has tried before where you take people out of their existing environment, where you have perhaps cheaper buildings that are lower security? I was fascinated by what you said about open prisons because presumably a lot of these people are not that dangerous and, therefore, the security cost factor could be a lot lower and you could cut costs that way.

Mr Wheatley: In terms of innovative things, moving this group of offenders to open prisons is probably one of the most innovative things we have done. We have done that in the face of substantial pressure on the prison estate, ie lots of population and not enough places. Traditionally we would not have done that, but we thought it was a better use of open prison places to put in short-termers who will not escape and probably better for them because that is an area, using North Sea Camp as an example, where you may well be working on the farm, the market gardens that there are, and doing hard work but it passes the time, is properly constructive and does not confirm you in your criminal stereotype. Using open prisons extensively, which we have done ---

Q97 Mr Bacon: What scope is there for expanding that, making things more purposeful and saving more money at the same time?

Mr Wheatley: I think there may be scope for doing that. You cannot do it - this is the bit to be careful of - with the most disturbed and most drug addicted.

Q98 Mr Bacon: No, plainly. That was why my question was how much scope is there.

Mr Wheatley: I think there is scope to do more than we have been doing. We have identified that and are beginning to think how we can expand this group and make better use of open prisons to look after this group. We would like to follow through more carefully on the emerging evidence about reconviction out of open prisons. That is an issue we were addressing at our conference last week and we intend to see what more we can do there. You can do more in closed prisons on some of the work that is mentioned in here, like the scaffolding course which some short-sentenced prisoners have been able to go on. That does work but probably not for the very short-sentenced. You can do more with the three to six month group.

Q99 Mr Bacon: For the people whom you are trying to help it must be the case that an institutional setting where you control their time all the time in a way that you do not in a community sentence may actually be a better course and better value for money than even an intensive non-custodial sentence in terms of reducing the likelihood of their re-offending. We read that of the 9.5 billion to 13 billion that re-offending costs, 7 billion to 10 billon comes from this group, and that is a real cost to the economy and society, is it not?

Mr Wheatley: Yes. Preventing offending does not give me further investment, those are issues for Government. I take the money that Parliament has voted for our use and use it as best I can. I am not trying to waste it, I am trying to use it as hard as I can. Although you might say imprisonment could be cheaper than community sentences and more effective, because the full cost of imprisonment and the security that goes with it, providing buildings, is substantial, on the NAO's figures it is more expensive than community sentences.

Q100 Mr Bacon: Therefore, what are you doing in terms of innovation, in terms of experiments, in terms of talking to, I do not know, NACRO or the Howard League, and saying, "Here is a small number of millions of pounds, why don't you take X number of prisoners and see if you can get a better result for less money"?

Mr Wheatley: The most innovative scheme we have just announced is the scheme with the social impact bond which is being trialled in Peterborough Prison and effectively says, "You take these people and if you can reduce their re-offending we will pay you at the end of the period. If you do not reduce their re-offending, we will not". That is an innovative approach.

Q101 Mr Bacon: That is with a private prison, is it?

Mr Wheatley: Peterborough is a private prison, but it does not have to be a private prison, that just happens to be the place where we have run that option of something that has been developed within the Ministry of Justice and my service. There may be more scope to do that: better use of open prisons, which I think makes sense, the sort of innovative work that produces better community sentences, which the Report says are cheaper than custody, and seeing whether we can reduce the use of custody and produce some cashable savings out of that that we can recycle into it, and allowing governors to innovate and then trying to spread the results of their innovation. Particularly working closely with local authorities which, where that works well, and Hull Prison springs to mind at this point, is a very interesting way and we get resources from other people who want to see investment in their offenders produce a real effect for them.

Q102 Mr Bacon: You bring me on to my next question which is simply why is it that some prisons are more successful than others in occupying short-term prisoners?

Mr Wheatley: Some of it is because they have got better investment, better buildings, they have got workshops, proper education centres. The provision of prison places is not even in the provision of facilities that go with it. Sometimes they have better infrastructure. Sometimes they have got better local links, and that is as much to do with the cooperation of the local people as it is to do with what the governor does, although the governor is very important in this. Some of it is because we have allowed innovation, we have said, "You can do things differently", and when you allow innovation you get different results. If you want to do it uniformly I have got to fly it DuCane-like, who was the first Prison Commissioner.

Q103 Mr Bacon: It is the innovation that interests me because you have got to square a very difficult circle and you are plainly not going to get any more money with which to do it, so innovation could be very interesting and you are doing some, which is terrific news. What proportion of the total universe of this group of people, short-sentenced prisoners, is affected by this innovation at the moment?

Mr Wheatley: I cannot give you an accurate account of that, I would have to do more research than is either present in the Report or I have got in my head.

Q104 Mr Bacon: It is not very many, you are talking a few hundreds?

Mr Wheatley: It will not be a major part of it. Most of the innovative schemes affect a small number of individuals. The innovation in the community, which is the really interesting thing, follow-through in the community via the integrated offender management, which is growing and driven largely by local authorities and police with probation cooperating fully, has got an increasing number of people on it but will not be touching the majority. I would be telling lies if I said that.

Q105 Mr Bacon: Finally, one of the things you said earlier in response to a previous question was the reason they re-offend is because they have lots of previous offences. I think what you meant was it is possible to predict the likelihood of re-offending by the fact that they have had lots of previous offences.

Mr Wheatley: The best predictor is previous behaviour.

Q106 Mr Bacon: But my question is if it is untrue, which it must be, to say the reason they re-offend is because they have lots of previous offences, and I do not think that was what you meant, what is the reason they re-offend?

Mr Wheatley: That was sloppy drafting on my part, you are right. It makes it likely they will re-offend. You can predict they are likely to re-offend. The answer to why they do is quite complicated. Once people have entered a criminal lifestyle, ie mixed with other criminals, know how to fence stuff, quite enjoy the buzz of committing crime or have a serious drug habit which realistically, because they are not very employable, they are only going to be able to fund by stealing, it is very difficult to break free from that. It is like most addictive behaviour and most bad things that people in this room will have done and occasionally tried to give up, such as smoking. I will not go on because it will probably be embarrassing. It is difficult to give up bad habits once you have got used to them and the buzz and the gain that comes from them. They have probably also made it very difficult to be successful because once they have tattooed themselves all over their face they are not going to easily turn into a chief executive of a FTSE company and would probably not have got the sort of education that would get a whole range of jobs that might make it easier to escape from crime because they probably got involved in crime early on and dropped out of school, and probably had bad parenting. They have got a whole clump of disadvantages, which most of this group possess, which makes breaking free of crime difficult for them. It is not an excuse, it is just difficult once you have got into that bind.

Mr Bacon: I did once meet a man who ran who his own company who hired a woman who had murdered her husband on the basis that she would be a good gatekeeper for him, but I suppose that is a fairly limited number of people.

Q107 Chair: Mr Hill was making this point to me earlier. One of these courses was scaffolding and a lot of these people like the risk, so give them a course that might be an exciting job.

Mr Wheatley: If we just give people mindless jobs that probably will not enable them to think of themselves differently, so try to give them something with a bit of a buzz where they can make some money. We have done very well, for example, not just with short-sentenced prisoners, by getting prisoners working for Transco laying big pipelines. As many a prisoner would see it, its man's work, mainly male prisoners, out and about, quite good money, touring the country as they are putting their pipelines in. That works quite well for a number of people. Just mundane pick up and put down production line work which is probably not paying very well will not work as well. We are getting lots of jobs in the recycling industry. Recycling is quite interesting in a way, there is lots of moving around of stuff, forklift truck driving, it is the sort of place where you can work even though you have got convictions, and it is a developing area because there is more recycling going on. We are trying to spot those opportunities and pay some attention to what goes on in the economy so you do not do what happened when I first joined the service which was train people for jobs that had almost disappeared because you had bought yourself an instructor.

Q108 Chair: Like sewing mailbags!

Mr Wheatley: In my case it was pattern making for an industry that no longer used wooden patterns.

Q109 Mr Burstow: I just want to ask a couple of questions about the data that you have and the understanding of it. Can you say a bit about the short-stay prisoner cohort and the long-stay prisoner cohort? How interchangeable are they at a time? What I am trying to get at is what research exists to show those who start out on a pattern of short-term offending which leads to short-term sentences, is there a trajectory that sees them eventually enter that long-stay population?

Mr Wheatley: Not reliably. You can certainly look at some chaotic offenders who have lots of short-term custody but then get involved in a fight, injure somebody very badly and end up with a very long sentence. The same behaviour that generated their short-term imprisonment or non-custodial sentences eventually produces the big one. It is difficult to spot which people will do that. Some will just continue to engage in minor fracas after being thrown out of pubs and never injure anybody very badly, and you can see that sort of behaviour. You can see people who begin young and start with minor crime but escalate up into bigger crime, normally nowadays via drug crime. It used to be via robbery and now it is via drug crime: they use, they carry stuff for people, they are a minder for a group who are dealing with drugs and then move up into the big-time and become one of the people who move large amounts around and begin to make money out of it. Many people will just stick with fairly repetitive crime nowadays often linked to a drug habit funded by relatively low level, not very dangerous, but from society's point of view not acceptable theft.

Q110 Mr Burstow: I appreciate that you would not necessarily have the statistics to hand today, but the position of many is often not very accurate and I wondered whether or not behind that the organisation would have access to the data to be able to determine what proportion of the long-stay population have a trajectory that came from short-stay.

Mr Wheatley: I know about this group because they are the group I have worked with most of my life in one form or another. Even though I am now at headquarters I still visit prisons and probation areas often enough to know about them and meet them. I am not sure what data we hold that I can provide that would give you the proper background to back up what I have just described. I am sure I am right, but less sure what data there is. I can look and see what data there is.

Q111 Mr Burstow: If you could have a look and come back to us with a note, that would be very useful.

Mr Wheatley: We will research what there is and write.

Q112 Mr Burstow: Thank you very much. That brings me on to a related question about what data you would anticipate having to enable you, or successors, to better understand whether or not you are actually being successful at reducing re-offending. Obviously there have been commitments given to recommendations of this Committee in the past. How long before we would have data and measures that you would be using that we could have before the Committee that would tell us whether or not there was a movement in the right direction?

Mr Wheatley: The big study following up a tranche of 2,000-plus offenders is a long-term study that is beginning to produce data, although not yet in a publishable form. It will follow them through for a period of time and I think that is intended to run for the next four or five years. Again, I should write so I give you accurate information on that. The data on each year on re-offending, which is now quite detailed and has more tables than you probably care to look at, it is extensive, is published for the world to look at. As I say, the most recent data came out last week and includes lots of breakdown of information about how many convictions people have and what happens with particular disposals. It does provide quite a lot of base information and meets some of the promises that were made earlier. That is regularly available, published every year.

Q113 Mr Burstow: On the exchange you had with Mr Bacon just now, I just wanted to ask around the data you have. Do you think you could construct the model necessary to look at the benefits that would arise from a more innovative approach around sentencing?

Mr Wheatley: Because we are looking for fairly small effects, realistically in this area if you make a 5% or 10% reduction in re-offending you are doing well. That probably means if 50 out of 100 were going to re-offend, 45 out of 100 will re-offend. To see whether you are getting a real effect rather than just a random fluctuation you need very big samples. You probably need a sample of 1,000 to see whether you are making a realistic difference. In the ideal world, in the criminological world, you do random allocation to different treatments. That is very difficult in our case because courts are effectively our allocators and they will not behave randomly, and nor should they. We would not accept that in justice terms and it would not be allowed. Normally we cannot work with random allocation and, therefore, we have to use either matched samples, and it is very difficult to match the samples, or the one that I prefer because it is easier to use is prediction, so we say what we would expect from these number of offenders given their age, number of convictions, marital status, hard facts, and then work out what we predict would happen and see what happens between different groups. That is quite good although it does not produce research quality data, gold standard research that you could say beyond all reasonable doubt had proved this worked. It is probably the same standard we would use in the private sector in a supermarket to see whether we should place our baked beans on the top shelf or the bottom shelf if we want to sell more. It is using the data in an intelligent way and then trying to respond to what you see happening by making changes and then seeing whether you can see that repeated. We have got now a short-term indicator which we are using for the Probation Service on short-term re-offending which looks at whether the re-offending within a six month period is better or worse than the predictor. That is proving very useful for probation. We may be able to develop a similar method for prisons.

Q114 Mr Burstow: You have said several times that you do not want to fly by wire and direct from the centre, as it were, and you have mentioned the role of governors in a number of your answers. In answer to Mr Hill just now you talked about working through the Department of Communities and Local Government to deal with the housing issue. I was a bit puzzled why you felt you needed to work through a central Government department when the agents for delivering this are themselves the local authorities.

Mr Wheatley: We are trying to do it both ways. We are trying to make sure the messaging from Department of Communities and Local Government says to them, "Don't exclude offenders. Don't say they have just made themselves intentionally homeless", which guarantees that they will not get into local authority housing. We are trying to do deals locally. I am quite, excited is the wrong word, I do not want to sound too excited about it, but I do think that operating at local level, now local authorities are engaging with this, is the way forward and we are probably going to have to accept much more variety across the system both in prisons and in probation because there will be different views locally about what we want to do in our town, our city.

Q115 Mr Burstow: There are clearly differences between different institutions and different governors in terms of the way in which they embrace that sort of engagement locally.

Mr Wheatley: The messaging to governors is pretty clear. One of the big messages from conference is, "Let's try and work this way". We are trying to use the regional structure to support that. We have a regional structure which is tight, because I do not want too much spent on management, and are trying to encourage that way of behaving. It is more difficult in, say, the long-term prison system. If I was the governor of Frankland at the moment with long-term prisoners, many of whom are not going to be discharged this next 20 years, coping with a prison that is always difficult, I would not be worrying too much about doing deals with my local authorities because I am probably not going to discharge direct from Frankland more than three or four a year. It will make sense at Leeds, Doncaster, Exeter, the local prisons, and probably make sense at some of the big open prisons and Category C prisons to begin to try and make local links. We are trying to encourage that and enthuse other agencies, where we can, to work with us. We are getting good buy-in and the police in particular have moved from thinking "Let's catch people" to thinking, "Actually, if we can get some engagement with them to change them, isn't that better than just sending them down on a regular basis with all the effort we have to put into that, and won't we prevent more crime by doing that". That is one of the main drivers for the offender management approaches that are being adopted in an increasing number of local areas.

Q116 Mr Burstow: I have one last set of questions which is about the funding. Again, you have said several times that you have never had enough money to deal with short-term prisoners, and you have said that in several different ways.

Mr Wheatley: Yes.

Q117 Mr Burstow: That has been a very consistent point you have made. Is it just to do with finance because from the National Audit Office Report there are differences in outcome being achieved in different parts of the country by different institutions and, therefore, surely there are operational issues here and choices at an operational level?

Mr Wheatley: There are. The specs and benchmarking programme is trying to standardise what is the basic offer you have got to hit in an establishment and how much should it cost, and to some extent I am going to have to hold governors to that because if you are going to take 200 million out of a business which will come out of the roughly 3 billion we are spending that is not contractually committed I am going to have to make sure that people are not doing a Rolls-Royce job, they are doing the basic job and we are managing to cover that first. Specs and benchmarking will give me a better handle as to what is an efficient place and that is a big programme we have put in position which is delivering. We will always get people who will find new ways of doing things and will develop new benchmarks. We have got to think we have not got this system right, it will constantly need adjusting and we need to learn. I expect my successor will appear before PACs of the future, probably doing a better job than me, saying, "We think we have now found some cleverer things we can do".

Q118 Chair: That is probably the end of our hearing, Mr Wheatley. In one sense this is a very depressing report because we read that prisoners who are sentenced to less than 12 months have the dismal record of holding more previous convictions than other prisoners, on average 16 each, they are more likely to re-offend than other prisoners with 60% being convicted of another offence, and this re-offending costs society 10 billion. Although it is a depressing report, as usual you have been a most persuasive witness. I would like to thank you for your incredibly long service. You started off in the Prison Service in 1969, is that right?

Mr Wheatley: Yes, that is right.

Q119 Chair: Before you leave, for one last time is there anything else you want to say by way of valedictory to us for your successor on how we can try and reduce this cost of 10 billion. It may be worth spending a little bit on redemption so that we can save money in the long-term. It is up to you to have a last word.

Mr Wheatley: In this area we are able to show that where there has been investment, and since 2000 there has been investment in reducing re-offending, we have reduced re-offending, particularly in the long-sentenced group and the community. The Probation Service are delivering reduced re-offending. It is a matter for governments as to where they want to invest but we are able to show we got additional money, we used it for what it was meant and we have produced some improvement, although that does not mean we cannot do more. Just in terms of my dealings with the PAC, I have always enjoyed it and, although it is tough because you need to know your stuff because you are hard at holding me to account, it has always been fair and I have come to quite enjoy it. I think we do better when, like on this occasion, we have been able to probe some of the issues rather than me just trying to remember everything and not fall over my lines. As a result of these sorts of sessions we do learn more with reports that genuinely unpick a difficult issue, and our issues are always difficult. I have just been reading a book about Winston Churchill in 1910-11 as Home Secretary, suitably learned, looking back at the previous papers, and he was grappling with all the same problems, particularly wondering whether we should end short-term imprisonment, I noticed. He decided not, although he was very tempted.

Chair: It has been a very interesting hearing and you and I together can now finish our sentence on this Committee! As somebody else much greater than me said, "That's it. The end".