Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  120. This £10 million a year you have for the Custody to Work unit is a drop in the ocean, is it not?
  (Mr Narey) Yes, it is a drop in the ocean.

  121. Would you agree that apart from education and training, having a job to go to directly when you walk out of the door or education and training when you walk out of the door has the single greatest impact?
  (Mr Narey) I would. I do not think your friend and I are in conflict. He is saying he wants people to get jobs and I am taking one step back from that and thinking how do you get people jobs, you get them some qualifications.

  122. On the chart at Appendix 4 on page 52, it talks about the range in the number of hours spent on average on purposeful activity. Within one category, let us take male Category C prisoners, it ranges from 54 hours down to 16 hours. That is a huge variation, it is more than three times better, the best performing prison, compared with the worst performing prison within one category. How do you account for such a huge variation?
  (Mr Narey) I can account for the outliers, first of all. Kirklevington and Blantyre House at the top are both resettlement prisons where prisoners are generally going out to work, leaving the prison every day. Coldingley was built as what is called an industrial prison and most prisoners are there in full-time work which tries to reproduce work and so forth. Even if I take away the outliers and take, for example, immigration detainees, there is a very, very significant range. We are trying to bring that in line. I am anxious to try to bring the poor ones up to the level of the better ones. Over recent years that is where we have been directing most of our investment. For example, The Mount and Highpoint have received quite a lot of investment in recent years in the areas which we have discussed to try to make a difference.

  123. When would you expect to see them starting to move up to the level nearer to the average?
  (Mr Narey) For the reasons which we have discussed it will be some time and some considerable investment away before I have a considerable merging of that range. I would need to have a very, very good outcome from the current spending review to be able to significantly increase purposeful activity principally—I stress—because although I have increased purposeful activity by many millions of hours in recent years, the denominator keeps increasing just as fast.

  124. If I can return to something Mr Osborne asked about earlier in Part 2, paragraph 2.4, which talks about the fact that the Prison Service has no plans to publish re-conviction rates at prison or area level. It goes on to say in the next paragraph that you do not believe that the publication of such data would be useful or meaningful because prisoners are moving around so much. If you take a Category C prison of the kind that we were looking at in the chart here, I appreciate that there is movement around particularly local prisons where people arrive first of all but how much movement within a male Category C prison of the kind you have been describing would go on within one category?
  (Mr Narey) Much more than I would like. I know this morning, for example, 150 prisoners or so alone have been moved from Category C prisons where they may be doing perfectly well and may, indeed, be involved into education courses simply to fill spaces in open prisons because the pressures of population are such that I have to fill every bed. Sometimes that means moving prisoners down to lower security prisoners, sometimes it just means moving prisoners between one Category C prison and another but perhaps moving them 200 miles up or down country. It is tragic.

  125. I think you have got the Committee's sympathy because you have got an extremely difficult job. Could I ask you to write to me about the total amount of money that you spend on what could be broadly called "reducing prisoner reoffending activities".
  (Mr Narey) Certainly.[11]

  126. Secondly, about the scope and the extent of volunteering, particularly for basic things like literacy and numeracy and the way in which that has grown over the last ten years and the way in which you would expect it to grow or are planning it to grow in the period ahead.
  (Mr Narey) I would be very happy to do that.

  Chairman: Thank you, Mr Bacon. Mr Davies?

Geraint Davies

  127. We have got a prison population of around 70,000 you said and its budget is about £2 billion. Am I right in saying in ball park terms it costs about £30,000 a year to keep people in prison?
  (Mr Narey) Including all headquarters' costs and on costs it is about £34,000 per prisoner per year.

  128. Would you agree with the proposition that the key to reducing reoffending by released prisoners is a combination of the factors of accommodation, work and social networks? My understanding is that for the last 50 years people have regarded these as the three issues to consider, namely the maintenance of social networks, the delivery of housing and accommodation after going to prison and the provision of work as soon as possible after.
  (Mr Narey) I would agree with that.

  129. I want to pursue those areas with you. My understanding is—correct me if I am wrong—the Prison Service has got no targets relating to accommodation needs in terms of after prison but that there is an initial grant. That is correct, is it not?
  (Mr Narey) For accommodation?

  130. Yes.
  (Mr Narey) There is a very inadequate grant given as a discharge grant which, I might add, is my attempt to bridge a significant problem with the benefits system. When prisoners leave custody they get no benefits for two weeks. I give them the equivalent of about a week's benefit which costs me many millions of pounds. In my view it is barmy, quite frankly, not to give people moving from prison benefits so that they might not reoffend immediately on going out. That is all I can give them and that is more than I can afford. We do not have a target for accommodation, we have just given a direction to all prisons to set up resettlement committees, to put someone in charge of resettlement with a very strong focus on either maintaining accommodation or obtaining it, and we have some success stories. We do have a target for getting people into jobs which we are just developing.

  131. Do you know what proportion of inmates, as it were, become homeless after discharge?
  (Mr Narey) My colleague may find the figures for that.

  132. I will go on while he is looking. Obviously this is of some significance. In terms of social networks obviously, again, maintenance of family networks, avoiding the disintegration of support of family around the prisoner is crucial, as you know, to stopping reoffending and yet the Prison Service has no target for the proportion of prisoners near to home, and something like 25,000 prisoners are held over 50 miles from home and 11,000 over 100 miles. Do you not think that this is a major contributor towards reoffending that should be looked at?
  (Mr Narey) I think it can be and we do measure our closeness to home very regularly. I would love it if we could get prisoners closer to home but, for reasons which I think I have explained, the population makes that sometimes very, very difficult. It is important. I do not happen to think it is absolutely vital. If, God forbid, my son was in custody, I would be willing to sacrifice closeness to home if I thought that he was in an institution which properly catered for his particular needs. Sometimes we have institutions which do a very good job wherever they come from.

  133. What I am getting at is in the case of your son, you would want to be able to visit him. Obviously you would have the facility to do so, I appreciate that. For most people being near to mum and dad or whatever is very important at the time they are thrust into incarceration where you can be led astray by various people, etc. Would you not agree with that?
  (Mr Narey) I would agree with that. All things being equal I would always try and get prisoners closer to home. I do provide a great deal of assistance and, again, not from the Benefits Agency budget but from mine, anybody who is receiving benefit can get the cost of their travel, either by public transport or car, to visit loved ones refunded.

  134. Obviously the funding of loved ones, 11,000 over 100 miles away and 25,000 over 50 miles away, you will spend a lot of money to get reasonable frequency of visits. Can I ask, prisons are made up of men or women in the norm, so in the case of men have you any evidence to suggest that being a long way from the family home has correlated with high divorce rates? Is that level of statistic available?
  (Mr Narey) I do not have any evidence.

  135. Can anybody look at this or is it too complicated?
  (Mr Narey) I do not have any evidence for that. Clearly one of the very negative aspects of imprisonment is that it can put a grave strain on family relationships and marriages. I suspect that probably happens irrespective of whether the prisoner is very close to home.

  136. There is a difference between a man being able to have his children and wife visit him, say, once a week rather than once every few months because they have not got any money and all the money is being spent on the kids.
  (Mr Narey) There is although, as I have explained, I can help with the cost of visiting.

  137. Do you not think there should be a target within the Prison Service to try and encourage this factor, given that it has been established as a principle of the Prison Service for 50 years that family networks are important in terms of avoiding reoffending?
  (Mr Narey) As I have stressed, it is not one of our key targets but we do look at closeness to home. I would like people to be close to home. Just to balance that, I might point out that somebody can be very close to their family, they can be in a local prison, but the visiting experience in a local prison, although it might be nearby, will be pretty poor. In a training prison, it might be a train journey away or a coach ride away but it is likely to be much more welcoming because it is likely to be for perhaps two hours rather than half an hour, it is likely to have a decent visitor centre with a creche facility. It is not entirely straight forward. Sometimes I think families probably think they benefit from visiting their loved one in a training prison even though it is a bit further away from home.

  138. Now for women, of course, it is much worse than men both because there are smaller estates, there are less options and women tend to be more responsible for child care. Have you assembled any evidence of the impact of the location of women on the behaviour of their children and subsequent offending by those children? In other words, do you think that by giving them the opportunity to live closer to home and see their children more often, you might ultimately reduce the future of the prison population?
  (Mr Narey) I do not have any evidence of that. I believe instinctively that must be the case.

  139. On the issue of exclusions, I was shocked to hear your figure of 75 per cent of inmates have been excluded. I think that is what you essentially said.
  (Mr Narey) That is what I said.

11   Ref footnote to Q 117. Back

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