Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360 - 376)



  Q360  Baroness Prashar: You made reference to a high quality regime, and one of the features of a high quality regime is to have consistent leadership in terms of governors and so on. Over the last five years a third of all prisons have had four or more governors or acting governors in charge. Why have they moved around so much? That must have an impact on the quality of the regime and the leadership.

  Mr Wheatley: Moving governors does have an impact. We grow governors. Governors learn their trade by working in smaller establishments, first of all helping other governors, then taking charge of a small establishment, then usually a medium sized establishment before we put somebody in charge of our most testing establishments. Holloway in the women's estate would be a good example. We do that probably for most governors over something like a 20-year active life in governing because governors tend to join from other jobs. Very few of us come in straight from university, as I did, and even if we do we will probably come out the other side and be involved in the job I am doing now, wider work in running the prison system or dealing with the criminal justice system. If you are going to pull people through with a very limited period in which they are actively doing that job you produce lots of moves. If you also add on to that substantial expansion of the prison estate, which we have seen, including the private sector, who tend, with one exception at the moment, to produce their directors out of my stock of governors, and add in to that that people die, sometimes retire early for good reasons, and sometimes fail and are not able to carry on doing the job because it is a very testing job and we need to move them quickly, that produces a higher rate of movement of governors than some commentators think is ideal. On the other hand it does mean that I put somebody in charge of our biggest and most difficult establishments who have tested and developed their skills in a variety of other circumstances. I wish I did not lose people to other sectors; that would be rather nice. I wish actually some people did not move on and do jobs completely outside the Prison Service. One of my area managers has just moved into a job working in the Home Office, which is a good career development for her but I lose her skills and have had to replace her. Each of these jobs that happens produces a pull-through and some of the moves that you speak about are not moves in themselves. It is that as a governor moves there must be somebody who takes charge, so the deputy governor will immediately step into the in-charge role, even if it is only for a week or two, until the incoming governor arrives.

  Q361  Baroness Prashar: How will you ensure consistency in terms of the regime quality?

  Mr Wheatley: What we try to do in terms of ensuring consistency in establishment is to have a very strong role for area managers and to make sure that governors cannot just arrive, as I think they once did many years ago, and do whatever their own thing happened to be without regard to what had happened previously. By having clearer strategies for running our establishments, much more active line management to governors than we used to have in the past, we achieve that degree of consistency.

  Q362  Lord Judd: I am sure you would agree that the primary objective for the prison is rehabilitation, and if rehabilitation is to work the prison is a community and, if you are going to have a successful community, stability in the leadership of that community is absolutely crucial surely?

  Mr Wheatley: If I can only achieve that at the cost of putting a governor in charge of, say, Holloway, who had not been tried and tested elsewhere and had not learned their trade, and as I said the really important thing is that I can keep them there for ten years, I would put prisoners and their rehabilitation at risk. I expect to move people between places and as long as the total service is expanding (including the private sector) as fast as it has done, from locking up a population when I arrived in headquarters of 41,000 at the beginning of 1992 through to 75,000 today with new establishments open, that will produce a pull-through for governors which gives me higher "churn" than I like, but I have got to manage that.

  Q363  Lord Judd: Would you not agree that there is an issue to be addressed here because if what I say is true and you agree, that rehabilitation is an objective, other considerations in the Prison Service are making it impossible to have the ideal conditions in which the community atmosphere can be developed?

  Mr Wheatley: I do not think that is true. What we are doing is trying, with the resources we have got, to achieve the best possible result we can get. None of these moves is being made capriciously, that we think we will just send the governors to other prisons and move them on because we just feel like it. What we are doing is trying to make sure that we have the right people in charge of establishments to make those establishments deliver, which includes delivering on rehabilitation, which includes guaranteeing the right to life and looking after people properly. We are trying to do that having taken sensible decisions about which governors will do which job best. I am developing prison governors' careers by trying them in places. I will take an example: the Governor of Bedford recently moved to Feltham and took a small, under-performing Victorian local prison and made big changes in it and did that over, if I remember rightly, a three-year period. The Governor of Feltham gained promotion. I cannot guarantee who is going to get promotion because we deal with promotion under proper Civil Service rules and people can apply for it and be considered and the best person will be given the job. He got promotion justifiably, having done a good job at Feltham, and we took the view that we had to fill that Feltham vacancy because Feltham is a big and very difficult establishment to run and, although much better than it used to be, needs positive and firm leadership. We got hold of the Governor of Bedford and said, "We think you are the person for Feltham. We are going to move you", and ascertained if he was prepared to do that. We moved him very quickly indeed and then advertised the vacancy at Bedford and have since got a good candidate for it. We had to cope with those eventualities quickly and we have done that and it has produced pull-through, so that I could put a tried and tested governor into Feltham who has worked with young offenders before, who can lead turnarounds of establishments, has proved his worth in that, and has proved his leadership and management skills, and we have put him into a place where I know those skills will be needed.

  Q364  Lord Judd: If you go back for a moment to the area of mental instability and so on, some people will argue that for the prison population as a whole there is a tendency for mental health to deteriorate during the prison experience. MIND has certainly made that point in written evidence. Do you agree?

  Mr Wheatley: I think there is a risk in prison that if we do not treat people properly and recognise the difficulties they have got, they might deteriorate. However, I can think of many people I know who have come in with fairly acute mental health problems that have not been successfully treated in the community who have much improved because of the interventions that have happened in prison. Both could be true. If we are operating well the latter is more likely to be true and that relies on us being able to assess people properly, and therefore "churn" is very important at that point. If we are not assessing people properly it is more doubtful that we will achieve that. It is very important to have good quality mental health interventions available for us, and they have much improved over the last few years, particularly access to community psychiatric nurses in prison. The In Reach programme in prison has been very effective in improving our treatment of a number of people, including some of those in the personality disorder group.

  Q365  Lord Judd: I note what you are saying about improvement of the quality of service in that area. Would you not agree that there are nevertheless a lot of people who for mental health reasons or drug addiction reasons would really be better off in a different kind of institution than prison?

  Mr Wheatley: Of course. It is largely a matter for the courts in my case as to who I get, and I do not try and second-guess the courts. It is not my business to do that. We do identify a number of prisoners each year, round about 600, slightly more than that over the last year, who require in-patient mental health treatment and we transfer them; we have the powers to transfer them. We know we have got people who have got mental health problems who in the community would not be in psychiatric hospitals but with mental health In Reach and appropriate treatment can be managed safely for them and safely for other prisoners in ordinary prisons, just like at home they would be with the community psychiatric nurse.

  Q366  Lord Judd: So you think that either people should be in mental hospitals or special institutions or else you can handle the whole issue with the right services?

  Mr Wheatley: With the right interventions for those who are not going through a florid mental illness that cannot be treated or is not being effectively treated, we can manage them in prisons reasonably. The mental health In Reach we have got has made us do a much better job there. The links we are making as a result of changes to the way that health is delivered to primary care trusts, direct delivery of National Health Service treatment into prison, are also improving what we do with this group. For the group which does need hospitalising as a result of changes mainly that the Department of Health have made, we are finding it easier to get them into psychiatric hospitals and the delay in getting them in slightly less than it used to be. I wish there was no delay at all, of course.

  Q367  Lord Judd: You would not associate yourself with the argument that there is room for a different kind of institution which is not necessarily a mental hospital but not necessarily a prison either?

  Mr Wheatley: It is not really an issue for me. We are able to cope at the moment with appropriate In Reach and that is very important. Without that psychiatric In Reach working it is much more difficult and there is a risk that we do not diagnose every mental disorder as well.

  Q368  Lord Judd: You say you are able to cope. You are confident you are coping?

  Mr Wheatley: I am confident we are coping, through I have already put the caveat in that if the "churn" is too great it does mean that I cannot be confident that every case is picked up because we are simply moving people too fast and are not able to assess them properly, so I worry about that.

  Q369  Lord Judd: How far do you think that the Probation Service and those responsible for sending people to prison are taking sufficiently into account the mental health implications which are there in many of the cases before them and the prisons they send them off to?

  Mr Wheatley: It is not something I can judge really. I do not know what information the courts have at the point they sentence and that will vary, I suspect, from court to court, depending on what sorts of schemes they have got locally to try to divert people from police cells into other forms of treatment, so I cannot second-guess that. I certainly hope that we do not get anybody who does require immediate transfer into hospital. We do obviously get some; that is why we are moving 600 a year who need psychiatric in-patient treatment, some of whom have been moved at the beginning of their sentence, some of whom do have an outbreak of psychiatric disorder while they are with us or the drugs that were previously working stop working and they run into difficulties. The majority are people we identify shortly after reception.

  Q370  Lord Judd: Would you accept that you have a problem in persuading a lot of those who are interested in penal policy that what you have said is not complacent because there are a lot of people out there, including MIND, for example, who do not share your perception? What can be done to put their minds at ease?

  Mr Wheatley: I am certainly not campaigning to say, "Send to us anybody; we can cope with them". What I am saying is that with the psychiatric In Reach we are now getting we are better able to cope with people, many of whom have psychiatric illnesses that are not the reason for their offending and who are perfectly able top cope in the community when they are outside and we can help them cope when they are inside. For those we need to transfer we are managing to transfer them. I would not want to go any further than that.

  Q371  Mr Stinchcombe: I have just a few questions about those inmates first who are drug dependent. Can you tell me to what extent there are patient maintenance programmes available to inmates in prison?

  Mr Wheatley: If you want a definitive list of the different treatments that are available and how many people are on them I would have to write separately to you.

  Q372  Mr Stinchcombe: Can I take you up on that offer and put to you, so that we can deal with it quickly and effectively, the particular issues I wish you to cover? If you could break down the treatment programmes into maintenance, detoxification and rehabilitation and identify which programmes are available in prisons and the extent to which there have been steps taken to improve those treatment programmes and the extent to which they have been provided over the last three to five years, that would be very helpful.

  Mr Wheatley: We can produce those figures for you and I can give you some information on what we have done with them. In the main we are detoxing prisoners rather than maintaining them on drugs, although there are some that we do maintain on drugs, particularly those who have been on methadone maintenance, particularly pregnant women who are on methadone maintenance, and we are increasingly doing some methadone maintenance in prison but the vast majority of prisoners we take off the drugs they have been on and do that successfully with a variety of regimes of drug support. We have recently been changing our drug support arrangements so that we use more effective methods. Some of the earlier ones were not detoxes I would wish to be associated with. We have put out guidance which is DoH approved on what sort of detox regimes doctors should use for prescribing but which are designed to get people safely off opiate misuse in particular rather than maintain them.

  Q373  Mr Stinchcombe: May I ask you a question about those you do successfully detoxify and if you can address that in your written letter you can rather than telling us today. Once you have got them off drugs to what extent does the Prison Service offer naltrexone treatments, and especially naltrexone implants which would block the effects of opiates thereafter for a given period of time, so extending the window of opportunity for somebody to stay off drugs?

  Mr Wheatley: I will endeavour to give an answer to that. It does depend upon those doctors' prescribing. Doctors can prescribe in prison what they want. The doctors have full clinical discretion to prescribe and I am not sure whether I can get central data on that but we will endeavour to produce it.

  Q374  Mr Stinchcombe: You mentioned before the provision of health services in prison being taken over by the National Health Service. Clearly, the National Health Service promote both transfer of needles and also free condoms in order to cut the rate of AIDS infection. The rate of AIDS infection in prison is higher than for the general public. To what extent is the Prison Service going to be able to introduce those programmes into prisons?

  Mr Wheatley: On needle exchange the evidence of our research and our intelligence is that needles are very rarely used in prison. The method of taking opiates of choice is normally smoking it, although many of our prisoners would use needles outside. We do not want to get into a needle exchange policy that appears to sanction the use of needles because the highest risk of factor is the use of needles, full stop. The risk that people, even with a needle exchange system, will share needles at the point they are using them is too high. At the moment, as long as our evidence indicates that the use of needles in prison is very rare and that we are effective in preventing their use, we will not want to go for needle exchange because I think it will make the problem worse. That is based on analysis of what is the best way of protecting prisoners from the consequences of their actions. We need to keep that under review because that could change. On condoms the policy is that doctors can prescribe and health care professionals can also give condoms to people if they think that is necessary in order to protect life, and I do not want to intervene in that. That is something for doctors and health care staff and I want them to use their judgment sensibly. There is a balance to be struck because condoms have lots of uses, not all of them the ones that you would imagine. They can be used to conceal drugs and stuff them, so a policy that says that condoms will be available each week carries all sorts of disadvantages. A policy that says that those we think are at risk can be given condoms seems sensible and that is the one we adopt.

  Q375  Baroness Prashar: Following a death in custody how do you ensure the lessons learnt are fed into the Prison Service and the prison itself and how do you make sure that the practice is adapted for future purposes?

  Mr Wheatley: All the death in custody investigations are seen by the policy group which Nigel is in charge of to make sure we are looking carefully to see what are the lessons that emerge from the investigations. All the investigations are handled by the area managers who need to ensure that those recommendations that have been accepted are implemented, so there are methods of doing both and we have endeavoured to learn from the investigations and use investigations not as a means of apportioning blame, although that may occasionally be appropriate, but as a means of learning what happened and what can we correct where we will make a difference in the future.

  Q376  Baroness Prashar: How will you work with the Prisons Ombudsman in his new role?

  Mr Wheatley: I am expecting that the Prisons Ombudsman will bring a new rigour in investigations because he, in the main, will be doing investigations with people who are full-time investigators whereas I have had to deploy governors from other work to do the job and also manage some of their remaining day job. So, I think we will get more rigour, more expertise and more resources going into them—the Ombudsman has an allocation of money which will fund more staff than we were able to put into it and I think that will improve quality. We work very closely with the Ombudsman and are already working closely on the investigations that he has done so far and I meet him regularly, he exchanges information with us, he has involved prison staff working with him and he has exchanged information with those who are responsible for policy and suicide prevention. It is a very close and effective relationship while he maintains obviously his independence.

  Chairman: Mr Wheatley and Mr Hancock, thank you both very much for coming before us today. Thank you for agreeing at short notice to come at an earlier time than you had anticipated and we look forward to hearing from you with the further written submissions that you promised to send to us. Thank you very much.

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