Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
MP, MR MARTIN
TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2001
1. Good morning, Minister, and welcome back
again; Welcome also to Mr Sutton and Mr Narey. I read somewhere,
Mr Narey, you are the first head of the Prison Service to be reappointed,
in recent years at least. Is that right?
(Mr Narey) That is correct.
Chairman: Congratulations on that achievement!
This is going to be a general evidence session covering a wide
range of topics, all of which I imagine will be familiar to our
witnesses and to most of the Committee. We are going to start
the ball rolling today on prison numbers.
2. Minister, we are told that in October the
prison population reached 68,127, which I understand is the highest
ever. Is that a measure of success or failure?
(Beverley Hughes) It is a measure of the fact that
the courts are sending more people, and certainly more people
than we would like, to prison. It is a measure of success for
the Prison Service that they are continuing to be able to cope
effectively with those rising numbers, although clearly from my
point of view I would prefer the numbers not to be rising, at
least at that rate; because in terms of the issue we are here
to talk about today, which is effective rehabilitation and resettlement,
then clearly the larger the number of people in prison the more
difficult it is for the Prison Service to really work effectively
with prisoners to address offending behaviour, and factors that
contribute to offending in the first place, and thereby to reduce
re-offending when prisoners are released.
3. Other than the courts actually sending more
people to prison, what other factors are there; and do you foresee
an easing of the pressure in the future?
(Beverley Hughes) Certainly on a medium-term
basis, what we have been trying to do in Government is to make
sure that we can provide effective alternatives to custody. That
is the reason why we have established a national probation service
with a focus on effective alternatives to custody, with enforcement
with national standards, so that we can begin to demonstrate,
I hope, to sentencers, and indeed to the wider public, that alternatives
to custody can be at least as effective, if not more effective
in terms of the broader picture, than custody for many offenders.
Clearly, custody will always be needed for persistent offenders,
for people who commit serious violent or sexual crimes, and we
are very, very clear about that. There is also potential clearly
within the prison population for some of those people to be managed
and to be deterred from further offending whilst remaining in
the community under robust and rigorous supervision. The establishment
of the national probation service, the development of alternatives
to custody, the whole What Works Programme, the better integration
of the prison and probation service have been very important steps
forward. Home Detention Curfew is another measure whereby, subject
to assessment of risk, prisoners can make their re-entry back
into the community earlier. We are trying to send very strong
messages, where the court is satisfied that the risk is appropriate,
that an alternative to custody can be an appropriate means of
disposal for many, many offenders.
4. I want to just press the point and try and
get clarification. Are you therefore saying that the prison population
is going to fall, remain the same or increase? I am not quite
sure from your answer which direction we are going in?
(Beverley Hughes) I think you probably are aware,
Mr Russell, that in terms of anticipating the prison population
we produce a number of projectionshigh, medium and lower
projections. Certainly on the basis of the trends we have seen
over the last 12 months or so, we are revising those projections
because the Prison Service has to be able to receive all of those
people whom the courts send to it. We cannot have a waiting list
in the Prison Service; and we have to make sensible predictions
on the basis of trends. In terms of the potential for the future
in the medium to the longer term, then clearly insofar as we can
persuade sentencers that alternatives to custody are effective,
in terms of the reforms that we want to bring in through the proposals
of Halliday, in terms of a more effective combination of custody
and supervision in the community, that is actually very hard to
predict. What I can say is that what we want to see is a stemming
of this continued rise because that is not an effective wayit
is not necessarily the most effective wayto deal
with many people in prison at the moment; they can be effectively
dealt with in the community. We have to convince sentencers, and
we have to convince the public. We have to give the public confidence
in alternatives to custody. The What Works Programme demonstrating
effectiveness is an important part of that equation.
5. Are you planning new prisons; if so, how
many currently are on the drawing board?
(Beverley Hughes) There are two prisons at the moment
earmarked particularly for women at Peterborough and Ashford that
you are probably aware of, that have been commissioned and will
come on stream within the next two and a half years, I think.
6. It takes two and a half years from start
to finish when a decision is made?
(Beverley Hughes) I think one should be operational
in the summer of 2003, and the other one shortly after that.
7. If the prison population continues to grow
in the way it has done, you will need more than two new prisons,
will you not?
(Beverley Hughes) We are still well below operational
capacity; but obviously the prison numbers we have at the moment
do involve a degree of overcrowdingtwo people to a cell.
We are under our target for that still but, nonetheless, that
has an impact on the way in which prisoners can be worked with
effectively. We are still substantially under operational capacity.
There has also been the development of some ready to use facilities
in and around the Estate to cope with particular pressures in
particular areas. We have increased the capacity of the Prison
Service recently through ready to use units. We have re-rolled
Downview, as you know, to cope with the really quite extraordinary
rise in the number of women. Women are still a small proportion
of the overall prison population but the rise there has been of
the order of about 20 per cent in the last 12 months in the number
of women coming into prisons. We have had to take action to cope
with that particular pressure, which has included re-rolling one
prison, planning to re-roll and in the process of re-rolling a
second prison now to provide the extra places we do need for women
8. I am a little confused. You used the phrase
"overcrowding" and "below operational capacity".
I cannot quite square those two statements.
(Beverley Hughes) There are a number of figures that
the Prison Service is using to assess how it is coping with the
population. There is a figure for our operational capacity which
is a judgment as to the maximum number of people we think we could
cope safely with in prisons, and that stands at 70,559 at the
moment. That is the maximum we would want to see in the current
capacity. The population at the moment is just over 68,00068,300
and somethingas of 28 November, so we are still under the
number we could safely cope with. Accommodating that 68,000 does
involve about 16 per cent of prisoners living in a cell which
is made for one but having two people in it, and that is the definition
9. Finally, Minister, how is that overcrowding
affecting the ability of the Prison Service to run decent and
(Beverley Hughes) I think we are making great progress
in relation to running a decent regime, and also to developing
the opportunities for prisoners in terms of education, drug treatment
and offender behaviour programmes, and I hope we will talk about
thatI know the Committee wants to. Clearly, the larger
number of people we have and the extent to which we have overcrowding
is another factor that a governor will have to take into account
in terms of how he or she can organise the prison; and, therefore,
is another factor in terms of how easy it is to make sure that
those opportunities, that development, that modernisation, achieves
its potential in the way that we think the resources at the moment
could allow it to. It is a further constraint really on realising
the potential in prisons at the moment.
10. Minister, I want to be helpful, do you know
why the suspended sentence on imprisonment is not in regular use
at the moment?
(Beverley Hughes) I would have thought that was more
a question for some of your own colleagues, in that it is a matter
for sentencers as to the sentences they give.
11. It is not easy. I am suggesting in a really
helpful way that we should change the law on suspended sentences.
It is a terribly useful tool in the judiciary's armoury. Up until
not long ago when the court thought it was appropriate they could
make a sentence of imprisonment suspended. Under the powers of
the Criminal Courts Act 2000 it can now only be imposed in exceptional
circumstances. The Court of Appeal interpret that very, very restrictively.
The result is that only a handful are passed every year. Can I
tell you that sentencers across the country are looking to the
Government to put the law back to what it was, so that they are
actually empowered to pass a very useful sentence, of a prison
sentence suspended, on many more occasions? It would help the
prison population. What do you say?
(Beverley Hughes) Thinking back to my own past, I
remember being a probation officer in the late 1970s when we had
suspended sentences. I am just drawing from memory here and I
cannot put my head around what the actual figure told us at that
time, but certainly it was my impression that in some instances
people would get a suspended sentence and without the additional
support and supervision there was a great danger when somebody
breached a suspended sentence that they went to prison very quickly.
One thing I will say is that one of the Home Secretary's responses
to the Halliday proposals, which talked about custody plus, was
to consider an alternative, a variant on that, which he at the
moment is calling "custody minus"; which in a sense
would be a form of suspended sentence, but crucially different
from what happened in the past would be that the person was under
supervision, and that the custodial sentence would only be activated
clearly if there was a breach. In the initial phases the person
would have the benefit of supervision and so, hopefully, the possibility
of breach might be less than it was with the previous straight
12. Could I urge you and your colleagues to
have a look at this question of suspended sentences and the 2000
Act, because I really do say that the judiciary are crying out
for this power at the moment and think it would be very useful.
All I would ask you is to have a look at the issue over the next
two or three months?
(Beverley Hughes) I certainly will agree in the context
of what we are looking at in terms of Halliday. I think we would
want to look much more clearly than I have been able to do this
morning with you at the research at that time in terms of what
the overall impact of suspended sentences was telling us; and
whether or not, because of the potential to breach very early,
it actually meant that more people were going to prison anyway
as a result of that without the supervision element.
13. Could I ask you, Minister, to go away and
think about Mr Malins' point and, indeed, consult with the research
and drop us a note on your conclusions?
(Beverley Hughes) I will certainly drop you a note,
14. Electronic monitoringhas that helped
reduce the number of people in prison; is it working?
(Beverley Hughes) I think the Home Detention Curfew
was not brought in, as you will know, specifically as a measure
to reduce pressure on the prison population; it was brought in
as an attempt to facilitate that transition from custody to community
in a helpful way. I want to put that on the record and make that
clear. I think in terms of the number of people, based on the
very robust risk assessment that accompanied HDC, we anticipated
that a smaller number of people have been released on Home Detention
Curfew than was originally hypothesised might be the case. We
are re-looking at that because, I think, perhaps understandably,
governors have been cautious in the way they have implemented
the risk assessment. The Director General (and he may want to
say a word about this) has recently written to governors to say,
"Without in any way increasing the risk, please, governors,
look at how you are operationalising the Home Detention Curfew
and see, within the parameters of the risk assessment, whether
or not there are other people who could be safely released than
those you are releasing at the moment". We think there is
some potential for using HDC, but I would want to stress that
we do not want to compromise the risk assessment and that must
(Mr Narey) HDC, although I accept it was not introduced
for this purpose, has provided a great help in keeping the population
at manageable levels, particularly reducing the levels of two
in a cell overcrowding. It has also been a tremendous success.
The proportion who successfully fulfill the period of tagging
is more than 95 per centconsiderably higher than we ever
believed it would be; and because we have that cushion I felt
able, with the Minister's support, to say to governors not to
take undue risk but just to ease off a little. My guess is there
might be between 300-500 additional prisoners whom we might very
gradually get out for effective supervision in the community,
but I also will have to keep a very, very close eye on the failure
rate and if it starts to deteriorate put the brakes on again.
I do not want the scheme to fall into disrepute.
15. To what do we attribute the 6 per cent rise
in prison numbers in the last year at a time when most types of
crime (not all) were falling?
(Beverley Hughes) Obviously we are looking at that
in some considerable detail. As you say, most recorded crime is
falling, although there are some offencesrobbery in particularthat
are still showing an increase. It may be partly a reflection of
that. I think it is also clear that more people are being remanded
in custody and are spending rather longer in custody at the moment.
The custody rate has increased. More people are being given a
prison sentence; and perhaps reflecting those offences that are
still increasing, like robbery, there is a slight increase in
the length of sentence being given overall on average. These trends
are much more marked for women, as I have mentioned.
16. Did you say more people were spending more
time in custody on remand?
(Beverley Hughes) Yes. The average length on remand
has increased slightly.
17. In the Lord Chancellor's absence perhaps
you could have a stab at thisI thought we were cutting
back on waiting times for court cases?
(Beverley Hughes) We certainly want to see that; but
we have seen the impact of the trends in crown court, particularly
when offenders are committed to crown court. There are some longer
waiting times there now and that has been reflected in the length
of time people spend on remand when they are committed to crown.
18. To what do we attribute the longer waiting
(Beverley Hughes) I think there is some evidence that
the crown courts have experienced some difficulty in coping with
the number of cases they are now receiving. You will know that
cases are now committed directly. There is a backlog of cases
generally in many crown courts and it is that which is causing
19. In your previous job you wanted to cut these
waiting times, did you not?
(Mr Narey) Yes. Waiting
times at magistrates' courts fell between two years and one year
and remains stable. It is the waiting times specifically in the
crown court . Largely for reasons which we do not yet know, the
crown court are making greater use of remand. I think one of the
reasons may be that when a magistrates' court has committed a
case triable under indictment only to the crown court, it would
seem more likely to put the defendant on bail than the crown court
had done. The crown court had inherited these new cases and seemed
to be using custodial remand rather more eagerly. In addition,
there is a backlog which the Minister has stated, which simply
means that the crown court people are waiting rather longer for
the case to come to trial.
9 See Appendix, Ev. 26-27. Back
Narey, M. (1997) Review of Delay in the Criminal Justice System. Back