Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 100-108)



  100. I am horrified to find that you do not have a response to that. It was my assumption that those who are best educated are most able to work the system and most likely to get parole than those who are not in that position or are least likely to get it. I am astonished that you have not identified that.
  (Mr Narey) In terms of bald statistics I am sure that would be the case. That statistic would be a useful piece of information if it took into account offence, for example a great deal of white-collar criminals—

  101. Do you not collect this basic information?
  (Mr Narey) I do not have that information at the moment. I am not sure we collect such information.
  (Mr Casey) We do not collect that on a regular basis.
  (Sir David Omand) What we will establish is whether the Statistics Directorate in the Home Office knows of research which would shed light on that.

  102. You are the three senior people dealing with this area of work and none of you have any knowledge whatsoever about the social inclusion aspects of parole, the extent to which the system is unfairly rigged against those from the poorest and most deprived background. That appalls and astonishes me. Am I getting this wrong?
  (Mr Narey) I agreed with the general proposition. Because of the nature of offences that white-collar criminals commit, because of the likelihood of them having a home to go to and very frequently employment I would guess, I am quite certain it would make their life easier for getting parole. What I do not have available is a measure of taking those factors into account and if there is any bias.

  103. Do you have any knowledge about the general ignorance about the way parole operates? Is there any correlation between social class?
  (Mr Narey) I would say that would almost certainly have a correlation because, for example, 65 per cent of the prisoners for whom I am responsible have levels of literacy below that of a 14 year old. For many of those in the system who will be from a modest social class they will find it very hard to understand what is a complex system, particularly the relationship between parole eligibility date and release date.

  104. Social inclusion has obviously not arrived in the Prison Service then in terms of dealing with issues relating to parole. Is that a fair point to make?
  (Mr Narey) It has certainly arrived in the Prison Service. I am very proud of the huge efforts, with some success, my Service is making to repair some of the damage caused when people arrive with us. 42,000 of my prisoners last year got their first ever qualification in literacy and numeracy, and in many circumstances they have the first chance of getting a job they have ever had.

  105. I would like to switch to the question of transfer between prisons. I am struck by the points in paragraph 2.21 where it says that you do not monitor the information, and a wonderfully understated point here, "The Prison Service cannot be certain that they are justified." It just gives the impression of an arbitrary system which takes decisions which effectively just screw up a lot of people's bids for parole without any good and apparent reason. Again, is that assumed to be an unreasonable view to take based on the evidence that I have in front of me?
  (Mr Narey) I think it is a very reasonable view of the position that might have prevailed some years ago. I do not think it is a reasonable description of what is happening now, where we are trying very hard to keep transfers down and where I may take further steps to have a formal approval process for transfers. What I cannot promise is to stop transfers. Between 20 and 25 per cent of prisoners who are transferred start the parole process when they are in a local prison. While there are good reasons for keeping them there for the purposes of parole, there are very good reasons for moving them on; because they may be sharing a cell or sharing a toilet with another prisoner. 12 per cent of my male population is over crowded and in such positions. Unless they get to a training prison they cannot do very much in terms of—

  106. I am sorry to cut you off. Some of these transfers might very well be justified, I understand that, but the sentence here, which has been made by yourselves, is, "The Prison Service cannot be certain that they are justified." You presumably do not know whether or not substantial numbers of these are, in fact, justified. This is the final point I want to raise with you. My anxiety is that when I look at page 27, figure 12, I see that a couple of prisons there have a policy of refusing to accept the transfer and so on, because the parole application is already in progress. I am struck by the extent to which people who make this policy do seem to operate without any general policy when a particular prison can make its own decisions about who it does and who it does not accept, presumably at variance with others. This does not fill me with confidence that there is an equity across the board that there is a system that there is some sort of administrative nice procedure going on, it does seem a little capricious.
  (Mr Narey) I think your criticisms are entirely valid. I now think the situation is much improved and we have a grip on transfers. As part of our auditing we ensure that if a prisoner is transferred—and you accept that sometimes we need to do that—parole reports go with them and there is proper linkage made between the two places. I accept that transfers are something that we did, not casually, but because we have been dealing with some other difficult issues as well, such as coping with over crowding. I repeat, the levels of over-crowding and the conditions in which some male prisoners have lived in local prisons have been very harsh. There has been, for that reason, and also reasons of security, a need to move people on. We have not paid enough attention to the damage that can do to the parole process and we are now beginning to do so.


  107. If more was spent on education and rehabilitation than currently is, would you expect to see an increase in the number of early paroles and would that, in your judgment, lead to an overall costing?
  (Mr Narey) I would not like to try to put a figure on it, but my belief is that that would be the case. Before I was in this job, when I was Director of Regimes and also responsible for parole, I asked the Basic Skills Agency to come in and see how they built literacy and numeracy. They gave the staggering statistic that because of the low levels of literacy and numeracy 97 per cent of my population were virtually unemployable. So, in terms of making better candidates for parole in terms of them being less likely to re-offend, I can make in-roads into that quite appalling statistic. I think there will be some pay back. I have to say I am getting some real investment in education and we are beginning to make some improvement.

  108. Would you be able to let us have any further statistics on the effectiveness of your current programmes?

  (Mr Narey) Certainly. I will be very glad to do that.
  (Sir David Omand) I will include in that our plans for increasing expenditure[8].

  Chairman: Very Good. Thank you very much.

8   See Evidence, Appendix 1, pages 15-16 for Home Office replies to Question 108. Back

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