Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 195)



  180. That is helpful. I was not sure about the extent to which the emphasis on security was crippling efforts to reduce reoffending. You are indicating that while it might have in the past it is not the case now.
  (Mr Narey) My personal view is that if we had not got security sorted out we would not have gained the limited measure of public and parliamentary confidence which has led to the investment we have had in making prisons decent places.

  181. I want to come on to that. Given that one of your purposes is to reduce reoffending, a success rate, or a failure rate rather of 58 per cent is probably about the worst statistic I can think of in Government. I cannot think of anywhere else where there is an objective to achieve something and the failure rate is over 58 per cent, which does tend to make me think that the system is shockingly ineffective. I take the point that you made earlier on about being more efficient but it just seems to be shockingly ineffective. I wonder why that is tolerated. I wonder whether or not you can share your thoughts with us as to the extent to which the Prison Service is the Cinderella service and only gets publicity if there are high profile escapes or there is a riot or something similar.
  (Mr Narey) To answer your last question, I think it is a Cinderella service in terms of public investment. I do not think it has been recognised until very recently, and we have not yet won this battle, that prisons can be genuinely constructive and decent places. I passionately believe that they can. If I may qualify the 58 per cent failure rate. It is true, and it is very disappointing, that 50 per cent of people leaving our prisons are reconvicted again within two years. They have all failed Community Service and probation 100 per cent, they have all failed social worker supervision 100 per cent, they have all failed school. People who come into custody have failed everything else along the way and any improvement we can make on that is a significant improvement in terms of stopping their reoffending. The hurdles we face, the unemployability of the population that comes to us, the extent to which they are already very, very significant and serious offenders makes our job with the time we are able to spend with the rising population in doing something to stop the reoffending extremely difficult.

  182. That is a generous gloss on it but I am reminded that 100 per cent of divorces start with marriage and depending on how you follow the statistics through it is a question of cause and effect. I am just working off this figure of 58 per cent. Presumably there is a percentage of 42 per cent who are too old, too ill or dead after a couple of years and therefore will not reoffend. There is a percentage who are unlikely to reoffend because it was crimes of passion and similar things. Presumably there is also a percentage who have been caught but not yet convicted.
  (Mr Narey) Absolutely.

  183. There is a percentage who have not yet been caught but will be caught in a subsequent period. I am not clear, therefore, what percentage should be considered to be successes, as it were, after prison that do not reoffend for reasons that are connected with prison and what has happened? I very much take the point my colleague made about the fact there is a certain age that youngsters are unlikely to commit offences after. Therefore, once you take all of these explanations out, how many people, or what percentage, have actually been reformed by their experience in prison?
  (Mr Narey) Reformed by their experience in prison, a very small proportion. I think prison stops offending through incarceration and with those prisoners for whom we are able to properly engage with the sorts of activities we have discussed today I think we can make a difference. I think that is one reason why—I accept that reconviction is only a proxy—but, for example, the proportion of prisoners who are serving sentences of four years or more who are reconvicted is about half the headline rate of 58 per cent. The proportion of life sentence prisoners who are reconvicted is three per cent. I think when we have the proper investment and the time to make a difference prison can reform people but I would accept entirely for the majority of people coming into our care we do not touch them.

  184. Let me pick up that statistic, if I heard you correctly, that the percentage of life prisoners who reoffend is three per cent. By definition they are only released when they are no longer considered a danger, are too old and all the rest of it.
  (Mr Narey) Absolutely, yes.

  185. That is a circular argument. In terms of being judged against what is reasonable to be judged it seems to me that there is such a horrendous failure rate in all of this that it is undoubtedly the worst area of Government in terms of meeting the objective that it has been set. Does that seem fair to you?
  (Mr Narey) Not surprisingly it does not seem fair, Mr Davidson. I think for the reasons which I have explained, we inherit a prison population with huge problems and the hope that we can make a significant difference to people in a short period of time.

  186. I will come on to the question of what you get fed in initially, and I accept all of that. I am not unsympathetic to that position but in terms of one of your targets being to reduce reoffending, it is a horrendous failure and it must be about five or six per cent surely that are reformed in some meaningful way and have a constructive experience in prison which results in a life change. Does five or six per cent not seem reasonable?
  (Mr Narey) I honestly do not think anybody knows. Certainly my colleagues in research in the Home Office do not know. I think it is a significantly higher failure rate in terms of reoffending than 58 per cent. Those who do not reoffend within two years is rather higher than five or six. I do believe that nevertheless the evidence shows that properly targeted the sort of interventions we are talking about today make a difference. We are not yet measuring, we will not have for some time yet the effect of the sort of programmes I have described. I believe the cumulative effect of those will be to, for the first time in living history as far as I can remember, change that reconviction rate and achieve some improvement.

  187. I think it would be helpful if there are statistics available for the category of not yet convicted so we could have those.[13] Could I then turn to the question of what you are getting in, so to speak. You mentioned about those who have various mental difficulties who ought in other circumstances to be in psychiatric hospitals, those who would generally be described as maybe social and educational cripples in some way for whom prison is not the answer. I am not quite clear what percentage of your intake that covers. I wonder if you could give me an indication of what you think it would be?

  (Mr Narey) I think it is impossible to give an indication. I can try and dig out some figures and my colleague has already given figures for the proportion of the population who are currently suffering one form of mental illness. I think the most telling statistic I can give, as well as the one about educational deficits, is the one I have already given which is that 90 per cent of the population when they come to us are either abusing substances or are mentally ill or have both those problems. I can tell you that, for example, a very significant proportion of those who come into custody, for women it is a case of something approaching 40 per cent of them have previously tried to take their own lives and a very significant number of men have also tried to do so. Levels of mental illness are very, very high indeed on top of all the other chaos in their lives.[14]

  188. I wonder whether or not your success rates for reducing reoffending ought not to be drawn up in such a way that there are some groups who are not measured? It would be unrealistic perhaps to expect prisons to cure medically those who have got mental illness and therefore should not your success in reducing reoffending be measured against the remainder in order that those where sheer success can be achieved are identified and those where it is considered beyond you to resolve their difficulties are not counted against you? Has any work been done along those lines?
  (Mr Narey) I think the problem with that, Mr Davidson, is that some of those people, mentally ill or not, are some of the most dangerous people. They are coming in and out of custody fairly frequently and I do not think we can ignore them. Indeed, we have had help from the NHS in recent months, for the first time we have now had a significant investment of psychiatric nurses coming in from the community to look after the mentally ill and I think that will have a benefit in reducing their dangerousness. It is tempting to say I would move to one side the groups who are most dangerous and who will reoffend the most but actually in terms of public protection they are the ones who I should be concentrating on so long as they are coming in to prison.

  189. Can I come on to the question of literacy and the issue of employment. I am not certain from what has been said what the process is by which literacy or illiteracy is identified and tackled. Are people tested within a relatively short period of coming in? Is it compulsory in some way that they have to take tests and undertake some sort of course? I can see that it might very well be macho amongst certain groups of young men in particular to refuse to have anything to do with the education process in any way. Can you clarify how that is handled.
  (Mr Narey) All prisoners are offered the basic skills screening test. You cannot force them to do it but overwhelmingly the prisoners co-operate and do the test. Later on if a prisoner is found to have very low literacy and numeracy levels and is offered a place in education and refuses to take that place he will not get any pay, so the only pocket money he will have for the week, typically about £7 a week, he will not get. He will lose privileges and he might not, for example, be allowed a tv in his cell and might have less time on association, fewer visits, less access to sport. We try to do a great deal and I think we are relatively successful at encouraging co-operation with activities such as education.

  190. Presumably providing incentives can allow those who want to do education but do not want to be seen to be volunteering to be given the opportunity to do it. Presumably they could also put into classes with those who are likely to be disruptive and I can accept that there is a difficult balance to be struck there. Can I just clarify, are the incentives for education greater or lesser than the incentives, say, for going to a workshop?
  (Mr Narey) It depends. Broadly speaking, in most places the rewards for education are roughly in line with workshop activity. In a handful of prisons, particularly where prisoners work out in the community, they can earn something approaching real wages. In some workshops engaged in serious production, particularly commercial activity for outside firms, prisoners are paid nearer to a going rate. We do not find that there is any difficulty in filling our education classes with the current incentives we have which go beyond the wages that somebody is paid, as I have explained.

  191. It would seem fairly obvious that if you are paying more to do workshops or work rather than education—I presume it is an either/or—then people would choose to do the one that pays more.
  (Mr Narey) Sometimes, although sometimes the work that pays more is pretty grim work. Some of the work in our kitchens, for example, is long hours and very, very hard work in a hot and steamy atmosphere and that is not very popular and sometimes we have to pay a little bit more to get people to do it. What we are trying to do increasingly to get a balance between the two is to split provision between workshop and education. To use the example from Mr Steinberg at Frankland Prison, prisoners frequently work half time in the workshop and half time improving their basic skills and that gets over the problem of making sure the wages between the two are comparable.

  192. Can I just ask in terms of drugs the same issue about compulsion and whether or not you have gone down that road of mandatory testing as soon as people come in, obliging them to follow various regimes and so on and so forth, and whether or not that has been more successful than dealing with people on a voluntary basis? I am aware of there being drug-free wings in some prisons and people can volunteer to go into them, as I understand it, but are there circumstances where you almost force people down particular routes to address their drug habits?
  (Mr Narey) It is impossible to force anybody to address their drug habit but what we have found is that for those prisoners who are extremely reluctant to get involved in drug treatment programmes, once they start the programmes their success rate is every bit as good as those who were very keen to join from the outset. You can overcome that initial reluctance. I think that is particularly the case with very serious addicts who go to one of our so-called therapeutic communities which are very long-term, very intensive therapeutic environments in which peer support is very, very important and it does make a difference. As I have explained, we can now see evidence not just from health benefits, that people do not return to drugs as much when they go out, but in terms of reduced re-conviction for up to two years after release as well.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. Mr Rendel is anxious to ask one question on people with mental health problems.

Mr Rendel

  193. It is something that Mr Davidson's questions triggered off in my mind and it relates to something you said in answer to an earlier question about the fact you have a sort of waiting list of people who you think ought to be in a hospital but you cannot get a place in a secure hospital for them, is that right?
  (Mr Narey) About 300 at any one time have been clinically assessed as in need of a secure psychiatric bed and they are rotting in my places.

  194. Forgive me if I am wrong but I think, and I speak as somebody who has a GP for a wife, that if somebody is in the community and the doctor sections them and says they need a place in a secure hospital they will go to a hospital place, a place is found for them. What surprises me, therefore, is that you cannot and what worries me is that you are never able to get your 300 in because GPs in the community are putting people into these hospitals and, if you like, queue jumping you.
  (Mr Narey) The 300 that I mentioned are not all sectioned but they are those who we believe would be sectioned. Very frequently when I visit a prison or when I go into a hospital I will talk to the staff about one or two prisoners there who have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act and exactly what you have described is happening. Two years ago I went back to being a prison officer for the BBC programme Back to the Floor and I had a traumatic dealing with a terribly, terribly mentally ill prisoner whose behaviour was simply appalling, it was tragic that he was in there. He had been sectioned for about four months and during that period he had fallen down the waiting list to get into Rampton simply because beds in Rampton were being taken by those who were in the community and the view was, which I can understand, that this person was at least not a danger to the public while he was in Parkhurst but he was getting much worse while he was in Parkhurst.

  Mr Rendel: That is appalling.

  Mr Steinberg: I had a case, you will remember, where it ended up in suicide.
  (Mr Narey) Yes, I do.

  Mr Rendel: That is really appalling.


  195. There are a couple of notes you might give us. There was a line of questioning on your cost benefit analysis, three to one. Could you provide equivalent cost benefit figures for each of the main programmes that we have discussed in this session? We may be able to help you on that in our report in the way we argue this going forward. Paragraph 1.1 refers to a significant increase in the prison population. Has expenditure on education programmes kept pace with this increase? It does not seem to have done, which is what rather confused me about some of your evidence. Perhaps you could just provide figures on that.
  (Mr Narey) I would be very happy to do that.[15]

  Chairman: I know that we have given you a hard time, and I particularly gave you a hard time at the beginning, but we do realise that you have one of the most difficult jobs in Britain and you are running what has been a Cinderella service. We can see that you are personally totally committed to improving matters, so I hope in our report we can help you in your task and ensure that you are given sufficient resources so that prisons are decent, austere and also provide some hope.
  (Mr Narey) I would be very grateful for that, Chairman, thank you very much.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

13   Ev 26-27, Appendix 1. Back

14   Ev 27, Appendix 1. Back

15   Ev 27¸29, Appendix 1. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 5 September 2002