EXAMINATION OF WITNESSES (Questions 20-39)
TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2001
20. Is Northallerton overcrowded?
(Mr Narey) Yes, it is.
21. Are they locked up for that length of time
because it is overcrowded?
(Mr Narey) The overcrowding will contribute in part
to that but no, that will not be the whole explanation for why
they are locked up. I can certainly find the figures for you,
but I do not have them to hand.
22. One further line of questioning on whether
we are holding the right kind of people in prison. Wandsworth
is overcrowded and we hold asylum seekers at Wandsworth. That
is right, is it not?
(Mr Narey) That is right.
23. We know from recent research that currently
over 40 per cent of women in custody either sought or were given
treatment for mental health problems the year before they went
into custody and 20 per cent of male prisoners. Are those people
who should be held in prison rather than in secure hospitals?
(Mr Narey) Clearly we have a difficulty in that we
have to accept everybody who is sent to us by the court, we do
not go out to get people.
24. What view do you have?
(Mr Narey) Yes, I do think there are people in prison
for whom it is not the best place and in particular I worry about
the mentally ill, the proportion of whom in the prison population
has risen sevenfold since the late 1980s at the time of the introduction
of Care in the Community. For some individuals Care in the Community
has become, I regret to say, Care in Custody, which is why I am
so very pleased to see the NHS now taking a very real interest
in prison health care and investing in us to provide up to 300
mental health nurses from the NHS to work on prison wings caring
for the mentally ill.
25. You say "for some". Ninety per
cent, as I understand it, of young offenders in custody either
have mental health problems, substance abuse problems or a combination
of the two. Are they appropriately held in young offenders' institutions?
(Mr Narey) My guess would be that most of them would
be. I am trying to draw a distinction between drug abuse or alcohol
abuse or other factors which may contribute to mental illness
and people who have genuine moderate or severe mental illness
and the sevenfold figure I quoted relates to those people. I would
hazard a guess that a majority of young people coming into custody
convicted of crime will have some problems related to drug or
26. You said you thought there were people in
prison for whom prison is not the best place. Sir David Ramsbotham
also expressed that view very strongly when he came to this Committee.
He quantified it. I know it is very difficult to quantify this
but I wondered whether I could ask you to comment at least on
his estimate. He said that he thought that in round terms something
like 20 or 30 per cent of male prisoners and well over half of
female prisoners should not be in prison. Obviously in his view
the rest clearly should be. He was putting the figure at somewhere
around 20,000 out of the prison population would be better off
somewhere else. What would your reaction to that figure be?
(Mr Narey) I do not have a particular figure in mind.
I would think it would be very much smaller than that. Previous
to coming back to the Prison Service three years ago I spent seven
years in the Home Office working very closely with the courts.
I have virtually never seen an example of a magistrate or a judge
recklessly sentencing someone to custody. In my experience most
sentencers are desperate to find every possible alternative before
they use custody. Certainly on your own visits to prisons if you
wanted, for example, to look at the antecedents of a sample of
prisoners, I suspect you will find in the overwhelming majority
of cases young people have been given community alternatives and
have failed them and courts eventually and unwillingly use custody.
I would think the proportion who do not need custody, for whom
there is an alternative, a viable sentence, is very much smaller
27. That would be very helpful when we go to
(Mr Narey) I shall arrange for you to see a random
sample just to dip into.
28. On this particular point of people in prison,
the number is expected to rise within six years to 74,000 prisoners.
If that comes about, what are the chances of any substantial prison
reform which you have been referring to?
(Mr Narey) It will depend on the extent to which I
am able to keep pace with that population growth. We have been
given the money over the next three years to build two new prisons
and provide a further 2,500 or so new places in terms of building
wings in current establishments. Looking about four years ahead,
which is as far as our spending plans go, we can keep pace with
overcrowding. Clearly if it were to outstrip us there would come
a point at which Mr Wheatley and I would find it dangerous to
overcrowd any further. There would be a point at which we would
find it unacceptable in terms of decency and order and control
and security in overcrowded prisons. I am glad to say at the moment
we are a long way away from that.
29. Is it not the case that half the new prisons
built in the last ten years are already overcrowded?
(Mr Narey) Certainly the local prisons built in the
last ten years will all have some measure of overcrowding, every
one of them, yes.
30. Would it be right to work on the assumption
that the problem we are dealing with, as the prison population
rises and continues to rise, could be resolved by new prisons
being built when so many of those already built in the last ten
years are overcrowded?
(Mr Narey) The fact that some prisons are overcrowded
does not mean that prisoners cannot be treated decently and that
we cannot make prison reasonably constructive. That would be impossible
if the level of overcrowding got to such a point that the proportion
of prisoners who could get access to education and treatment programmes,
drug treatment, offending behaviour programmes was so small and
where the very decency of the place, being able to keep it clean,
being able to offer people decent food, run a pleasant visitor
environment, was threatened. That would certainly make the sort
of Prison Service which I am keen on having very difficult. I
do not think we are in that position now. Overcrowding about 15
months ago, as measured by the proportion of prisoners sharing
two to a cell was about 20 per cent. It is now about 17 per cent.
(Mr Wheatley) It is under 17 per cent.
(Mr Narey) We have had some respite as we have brought
new accommodation on stream, we have just commissioned and opened
a new prison four weeks ago and at the moment we are enjoying
some relief from the greatest pressures of overcrowding.
31. In answer to Mr Linton, you took the view
that the people in prison must be there; they have in many cases
been given alternatives which they have abused and therefore they
are in prison. May I put it to you that a number of organisations
connected with prison reform strongly take the line that there
are people in prison who simply should not be there? Undoubtedly
they have offended, they are guilty, but there are alternative
ways, non-custodial sentences, recognising, as I hope those organisations
do, that where there is any danger to the community, those people
should be in prison. Can the courts find ways and meansit
is not up to you, I accept thatof trying to ensure that
the prison population does not continue to rise?
(Mr Narey) This comes down to the courts' confidence
in alternative sentences. It is not for me to say who should come
to prison, we just have to try to do our best job to look after
them. I was making the observation that sentencers are treated
unfairly and are caricatured as people who with reckless abandon
send people into custody. That is not my experience. There may
be an issue for sentencers around the credibility of some community
sentences. Recent improvements to the enforcement of community
sentences may have a substantial impact on securing the courts'
confidence. It is certainly the case that offenders still sometimes
see an absolute divide between being sent down into custody and
getting off, which includes sometimes getting a community sentence
which should actually be quite rigorous for them.
32. Ten months ago in April last year you said
that we were approaching the limit in terms of overcrowding and
what you thought was acceptable in terms of control and order
in prisons and that we had exceeded it, gone past it in terms
of what you wanted for prisoners in respect of hygiene and the
way in which they were treated within prisons. How close are we
then to those limits now ten months on?
(Mr Narey) I cannot remember the exact figures. I
think at the time the population was about 66,500; that is about
the point at which it peaked. The population towards the end of
last year dropped at one point to 62,000; it has now just reached
64,000 again. We have brought some new accommodation on during
this period including one new prison. At the moment we are some
distance from that, indeed we have been able to reduce the capacity
of places like Birmingham and Leeds significantly to give the
governors a better chance of running places which are more humane.
On all reasonable projections we are thankfully some years away
from the point at which I would believe we could not run a decent
Prison Service because of the population.
33. But we are only six years away from an estimated
population of 80,000.
(Mr Narey) Projections are traditionally unreliable.
The most recent projection made by Home Office statisticians in
October is already 700 behind what the current population is.
Throughout the whole of last year, by contrast, our population
fell heavily behind the projections. What I am confident about
in a rather shorter timescale is that through the next three years,
unless something quite extraordinary happens, with the use of
custody by the courts we shall be able to keep ahead of the population
growth and keep overcrowding not at levels which I should like,
but at levels at which I still think there is no excuse for us
not to run decent places.
34. A quick point on sentencing. May I confirm
from my own experienceI am the one person in this room
who in my judicial capacity has to sentence no fewer than 80 or
90 people per monththat judges and recorders and stipendiaries
try very hard not to send people to prison and it is always used
as a punishment of absolutely last resort? This myth that the
courts are only too gung-ho to put people away for trivial offences
is but a myth. Is that your general thought?
(Mr Narey) It is indeed.
35. There are many people in this country who
are the victims of crime and who feel that prisons should be a
punishment. In your corporate plan and your Prison Service vision,
there is no reference to the word punishment. Before I come on
to the question of purposeful activity, may I ask you to define
how you see the role of prisons in being humane places and certainly
being hygienic places. How far do you think they also need to
be a place where people are put for punishment for the crimes
they have committed against society?
(Mr Narey) It is somewhat of a cliche but I believe
very strongly indeed that people should not be sent to prison
for punishment, that the deprivation of liberty is the punishment.
In my experience that is always a pretty horrendous experience.
I would be distraught if it were to happen to one of my children
or indeed happen to me. The reality of being locked away, sharing
a cell with a stranger, having your liberty taken away, having
very limited access to anything we consider to be freedom, seeing
your loved ones fleetingly every week or sometimes every fortnight
is a pretty horrible experience in itself. It is not any purpose
of the Prison Service to exert punishment on people in our care.
Our job is to treat them decently and hopefully do things so that
some of them, as many as possible, are likely to come out less
dangerous than when they came to us and in particular, because
we know that there is such a grave problem with employability
at the moment, more employable than when they came to us.
36. There is a balance to be struck between
providing all the things you are talking about and providing a
regime which appears to be rather more generous in terms of its
physical provisions, like for example the provision of television
in prisoners' own cells, than many other people who are not leading
a life of crime are able to attain in their own private lives.
(Mr Narey) I am not sure how many people in the community
do not have access to television. I think televisions have been
a very important help to the Prison Service. They contribute significantly
to order and control; with young people they are a very significant
encouragement to good behaviour. The threat of losing TV for a
night for a young person with very short timescales is sometimes
much more immediate to them than the prospect of a longer term
punishment. My belief is that TV will be a very important element
in my determination to reduce the number of suicides. They are
a way of combatting loneliness and isolation. Not least because
they are self-financed, prisoners pay for TVs, there is no expenditure
on the public purse, so I am very much in favour of their wider
37. May I turn specifically to the question
of purposeful activity? In your speech you said "Education
or other purposeful activity is now offered to all prisoners".
You also said that you are doing nothing to prepare prisoners
for release. There is clearly a contradiction in what you have
said there. Given that the amount of purposeful activity which
is taking place is substantially less than it was four years ago,
what are you actually doing to fulfil the ambition which you have
which is to provide that purposeful activity?
(Mr Narey) May I just clarify your question? I think
the piece from my speech which you quoted was a reference specifically
to Wormwood Scrubs where I said every prisoner is now offered
education or purposeful activity. We offer purposeful activity
right across the estate but not to every prisoner and not for
as long as we wish.
38. You are absolutely right, when you mentioned
education that was Wormwood Scrubs. There is still a contradiction,
I think you will agree.
(Mr Narey) I acknowledge that purposeful activity
has been rising over the past couple of years. I hope that for
the first time in three years we will meet a target of 24 hours.
We are very close to it. I could promise you that if I had only
been interested in the target I could have reached it with some
ease in the last couple of years, because I could just have put
many, many prisoners into workshop activity, where typically with
a couple of staff we can get 30 or 40 prisoners. We can get a
lot of contract work, low grade work, packing plastic bags for
charities and so forth and purposeful activity would soar. Instead,
quite intentionally, we have spent the investment on regimes,
on offending behaviour classes, generally classes of about ten;
literacy and numeracy classes, generally classes of no more than
eight; sometimes drug treatment courses, sometimes very intensive
but involving few prisoners. We have tried very hard to go for
quality provision rather than just pursue the 24-hour target.
Nevertheless we are close to meeting that 24-hour target for the
first time for some years.
39. It seems to me that the 24-hour target is
a pathetically low ambition to have, if I may say so. It is not
a criticism of you, it is a criticism of the Service. As you know,
I spent three days in Dartmoor as a prison officer, together with
my esteemed colleague Mr Stephen Pound, the Labour Member of Parliament
for Ealing North. It was an absolute eye-opener. It was a fascinating
experience. It changed my mind to the extent that if we are spending
£25,000 a year in keeping people incarcerated, we have to
do much more than aim for 26 hours a week. They should be made
to work purposefully from the moment they get up to the moment
they go to bed. In Holland at Utrecht we saw a regime like that
and they are knackered by 4.30 and are not going to cause anybody
any problems. Why can we not move to a system like that where
there is real purposeful activity, not just making socks and that
sort of thing but a properly structured programme. Can I put it
to you that maybe one needs to differentiate between those who
are in the long-stay car park and those who are in the short-stay
car park and perhaps we should re-arrange our prisons so that
there are short stay and there are long stay. Could I put to you
that that is really what we should be doing, what Ann Widdecombe
said yesterday about making these people pay for their crimes
by working, doing something productive, so they have something
to go to when they leave?
(Mr Narey) First of all, yes, we can do better and
I hope we will do better. If we meet the target for purposeful
activity this year, I would want to raise the target, although
I do think that the purposeful activity measure is rather crude
in that it does lump together very high quality interventions
with some low quality activities. In terms of work, all I would
say is that it is not quite as simple as it sounds. If I may give
an example, very recently at a prison in the North West we did
secure a very, very significant contract with two supermarkets
to provide them with vegetables which we would have processed.
Lots of work for prisoners, we would have made significant revenue
from it, there was not doubt at all on the part of the purchasers
that we would have done a very good job. We had to withdraw from
that at the last minute when it was made clear to us by the constituency
MP, that people in the area would have lost their jobs. There
is an issue around us competing. We make a lot of furniture; we
make some very good quality furniture. Our main competitors are
firms like Remploy who employ the disabled. Neither I nor any
Home Secretary would be thanked for putting the disabled out of
work. The market in which we can try to get work is largely limited.
We have just been very successful in getting a great deal of data
processing work. We are transcribing electronically the 1901 census.
If we do that successfully, we will get significantly more work.
What is significant in that is that our competitors are in Indonesia.