Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
MP, MR MARTIN
TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2001
20. That was not something you anticipated when
you made your proposals, was it?
(Mr Narey) No, it was not. The idea of putting indictable
only cases direct to the crown court was to reduce delay, and
I believe it still will. It was not anticipated that the court
would take this apparently cautious view in terms of making a
decision of whether or not to remand in custody.
21. I can see it might have been more successful
in cutting waiting times rather dramatically at the magistrate
court level and that would have a knock-on effect, because the
magistrates' court could just kick them upstairs to the crown
court. That has created a backlogis that what has happened?
(Mr Narey) The backlog is at the crown court specifically.
Previously a lot of the waiting time for somebody to actually
come to trial at the crown court took place when the defendant
was actually at the magistrates' courtthey would keep the
case under review before it was committed to the crown court.
Now they go direct to the crown court. The overall waiting time
for these cases has not been allocated; but the burden on the
crown court has meant they have not been able to keep up with
cases. The Lord Chancellor is putting on additional courts in
the new year to clear that backlog.
22. You regard it as a temporary phenomenon?
(Mr Narey) Yes, I do hope so.
23. Sticking with the overall prison numbers
for a moment. If 70,000-something is the maximum you can safely
accommodate, and if the present rate of increase, which was about
6 per cent last year, were to continue you will reach the 70,000-something
very swiftly, will you not
(Mr Narey) Yes, we will.
24. Remind us again how you are anticipating
dealing with that?
(Mr Narey) We have opened new prisons just this year
at Dovegate and Rye Hill, which has given us extra capacity, and
we are building additional house blocks and ready to use units
at a number of prisons. The money I got in the last Spending Review
was primarily for expanding the current capacity of prisons, and
I got money for about 2,700 places. In the work I am doing for
the Home Secretary now in preparing for the next Spending Review,
I am advising the Home Secretary that we need to plan for further
capacity if we are to keep apace with the population rise, and
if we are not to further increase overcrowding, which is still
very regrettable. The fact that in England and Wales there are
about 13,000 men sharing a cell meant for one and, for the most
part, sharing a toilet is regrettable; but at least we no longer
have three people to a cell meant for one. At the moment we are
just about coping with the increase. My anxiety is if there is
any repeat with the male population of the extraordinary use of
custody for women over the past year then we really would be in
very serious trouble.
25. You are going to bring into commission another
2,700 places in the near future?
(Mr Narey) We have been bringing those into commission
for the past two years. We have just filled Rye Hill Prison; we
are just gradually filling Dovegate Prison in Staffordshire.
26. What I am getting at is, does the 70,000
figure include these extra places that are coming on stream, or
will they be in addition to?
(Mr Narey) That figure is revised month on month as
we bring extra capacity online. I am confident that towards the
end of the Spending Review period I will have enough accommodation
to cope; but I will need, I believe, to provide extra capacity
and start planning for that next yearwhich is why we have
already announced the buildings of new prisons at Ashford and
27. What do you anticipate capacity will be
by the end of the Spending Review period?
(Mr Narey) The next Spending Review period, or the
one we are just entering?
28. You are saying now 70,000 and something
is the maximum?
(Mr Narey) Our capacity will be about 71,000; but
I have to say we cannot use every one of those spaceswe
need quite a significant amount of headroom already. As we reach
operational capacity we are having to move prisoners further away
from home than what I would like; sometimes we disrupt prisoners'
education and training by moving them up country to where there
are empty beds. We have particular difficulties in the south-east
at the moment. The fact that I have a limit does not mean I can
reach there and not damage what I think has been improving in
prisons steadily in the last few years.
29. I want to take you back to women in prison.
You said yourself there has been a 20 per cent increase in the
past year. Both you and Mr Narey commented on the increase in
custodial sentences for women. Why are women getting these? Are
women now committing more crimes, or has it been the case that
courts have been more lenient in the past but are now reflecting
the nature of the crimes; or are they going in the other direction
and being particularly severe with women? What problems does that
give you within the Prison Service?
(Beverley Hughes) There is some evidence that the
kind of pattern of offending of women, insofar as explaining this
increase, is one of the factors. There has been a rise in the
number of women remandedalso in the sentenced population.
In that sense it reflects what has happened generally across the
prison population. In relation to women, women are committing
more drug related offences. There is also evidence of a small
but nonetheless demonstrable increase in the number of women committing
robbery and violent offences. We estimate that about 52 per cent
of the total increase is accounted for by drug related offences,
and another 26 per cent for violence and robberyand particularly
younger women as well. There is some interesting evidence from
the testing of suspected offenders when they come into police
stations, urine testing, going on now in terms of testing for
drugs, which shows much higher traces of opiates amongst women
apprehended for offences than men. 45 per cent of women compared
to about 26 per cent of male arrestees. It is a very substantial
difference. That is accounting for quite a lot of this increase
in terms of women coming into prison at the moment. In terms of
the impact though, I think you will be aware that the impact,
way down the line of a woman coming into prison, is very significant
in the sense that women are predominantly primary carers very
often. They will leave a family in the community when they are
imprisoned. The long-term impact therefore in terms of social
exclusion, in terms of fragmentation of the family, is generally
regarded to be much more significant possibly than when a man
comes into prison; he may well leave a woman in charge of the
family, whereas with a woman the family is often left. The longer
term consequences for a whole range of social, economic and relationship-type
issues are very significant. We are very concerned about this.
30. What do you intend to do about it? What
suggestions do you have, for example, can you make tagging available?
Are there many women who are tagged?
(Beverley Hughes) I have asked the Director General
to look particularly at that. I think it is quite difficult in
terms of what I have just said about the kind of reasons these
women are coming into prison now changing the profile of offences;
because a number of women, particularly if they have been caught
smuggling drugs or dealing in drugs, are getting quite heavy sentences.
I have been talking to women myself in prison who have been sentenced
to ten years or more and of course they are not eligible for Home
Detention if they have been sentenced to four years or more. The
potential may be limited but I do want the Prison Service to look
at that most particularly. More generally, the focus on alternatives
to custody is something we are pursuing. I did announce a strategy
bringing together voluntary organisations in the departments across
government to try, in a sense, to come very far forward and reduce
women's offending by emphasising efforts we could make into the
community in relation to drug treatment in the community, in relation
to health education and training in the community targeted particularly
at women, actually trying to prevent offending in the first place.
31. That is very important, because a higher
proportion of women prisoners are de-skilled or have very few
skills compared with a fairly high proportion of the male population?
(Beverley Hughes) Yes, that is right.
32. What are you doing then to try and sort
that particular problem out? We may well come back to education
(Beverley Hughes) You are right. I think from memory,
I estimate that about two in every three women when they come
into prison come in without any qualifications at all, and that
is a higher proportion than for men who are also similarly unqualified.
It is a real issue. As I have indicated, many also will be coming
into prison with problems with drugs, with mental health problems
and that is another significant issue for women prisoners. All
of the things we are trying to do in prison are particularly,
especially and crucially relevant for women prisoners because
of the multiplicity of often quite deep-seated problems that they
present. The focus on education, the focus on drug strategy and
trying to get people off drugs while they are in prison, on education,
training and on offending behaviour programmes on anger management
and relationship problems, are all very, very particularly important
33. Do you see the needs of women prisoners
and male prisoners to be, in those terms, interchangeable?
(Beverley Hughes) I do not think they are interchangeable
at all. I think there are some commonalities amongst prisoners,
whether they are male or female. I think the different weighting
of factors can often be different. What we have to do in prison
and also in the probation service, more than I think we have done
at the moment, is to make sure that the opportunities we are offering
are sensitive and are delivered in a way which recognises where
there are differences between men and women, but those differences
are reflected in what we are doing. For example, because of the
sheer volume of male offenders, when we have been developing offending
behaviour programmes, What Works Programmes, there has been an
assumption in our mindsets that these will be male. We have not
yet quite begun (I think we are beginning now) to ask the question:
are those programmes relevant for women as they are for men, or
do we need actually to finesse them for women? I think the approach
is relevant, but the way in which we deliver them and maybe some
of the content needs to be considered as to whether it is gender-sensitive
34. Finally, you have mentioned a rather startling
figure about women and their use of drugs as well as committing
drug-related offences. Your Service has been criticised by the
Howard League for the way it deals with women prisoners who either
attempt suicide or other forms of self-harm, in that the tendency
is to isolate them, where in fact possibly having them with other
people would be a more positive strategy. Do you accept that as
a criticism? Would you like to tell us what your strategies other
than that might be?
(Mr Narey) I would like to say, first of all, there
is nothing more important to meand I made this very plain
to the Servicethan reducing deaths in custody. Despite
the huge burden we inherited in terms of mental illness and the
fact that, for example, (a statistic I find quite incredible)
44 per cent of women coming into prison confess to previously
having tried to take their own lives, despite that burden the
number of deaths in custody will have fallen probably by a third
over the last two years. I think for both men and women we take
a radically more sympathetic approach than we used to. It used
to be the case that we would deal with potential suicides, as
did most other prison services, particularly in North America,
by isolation and by taking away any means of suicide at all. In
the USA, for example, it is traditional that prisoners spend a
very long time in strict conditions where they cannot harm themselves,
but where the underlying causes behind the crisis may be getting
worse. We do not do that. We never, ever use isolation or strict
conditions for male or female prisoners at the risk of suicide.
We think it is the right thing to put prisoners together, either
with another prisoner who is a friend, or sometimes with a listenera
prisoner trained by the Samaritans in counselling skills so they
can help someone though a particular crisis. In most prisons now
we have what we call "listener suites" where a listener
can stay overnight if necessary while somebody gets through the
crisis. To some extent this approach has brought different criticisms,
because what we do not do routinely is take away the means of
suicide; we do not take away people's clothing, people's shoe
laces; people's bedding; and sometimes, regrettably, they use
those things to hurt themselves or kill themselves. It is a matter
of the longer term effect of what you do to someone, if you treat
them, for however temporary a period, in a very, very austere
manner. It is significant that in the USA they have much lower
rates of suicide in prison but alarmingly high rates of suicide
immediately after release.
35. Are you saying that in the States, where
they do isolate, they have lower rates of suicide but that those
people, once they leave, are more likely to commit suicide?
(Mr Narey) Correct.
36. How do you get a balance between the system
we have where presumably there is a slightly higher rate of suicide
within the Service and you doing what people like the Howard League
say is right, keeping the suicidal person with other people and
giving them support?
(Mr Narey) We try to take a longer term view of the
effect on the individual of the things we do. I understand that
some staff, particularly a significant minority of my medical
officers, have found this very difficult. They have found it hard
to come away from the belief that what we should do at all costs
is make sure when they go home of a evening the prisoner is in
such circumstances that he or she cannot harm themselves. I am
entirely convinced that the longer term effects of that were negative.
One of the reasons why the number or rate of deaths were increasing
up to 1999 was that you might get a prisoner through a crisis
over three or four days, they would then go back into normal location
and take the opportunity to take their own lives then. It is true,
it is a bit of a conundrumwhether the much more austere
approach taken in USA jails (whether it is causal is a matter
for argument) does lead to much lower rates of suicide in prison;
but in my view, I visit some of these jails, I do not think they
deal with people who are mentally ill in a way I think is something
which we can do if we are intent on treating prisoners in a decent
and moral way.
37. Do we do any follow-up of prisoners when
they leave prison?
(Mr Narey) Very limited. I think we have got a research
project at the moment. It is following prisoners on release to
look at their mental health. The main problem for us is the difficulties
of the population we inheritedwith very, very high levels
of mental illness, directly linked to the risk of suicide. Since
the introduction of care in the community the proportion of the
population, male and female, who suffer from medium or severe
psychosis has risen seven-fold.
38. Coming back to the numbers of women, I recollect
the last time I visited Holloway a large part of the population
seemed to be foreigners serving sentences for importing drugs.
Is the increase accounted for in any way by the number of foreigners?
(Beverley Hughes) Yes. It is disproportionateeven
higher than the 20 per cent. The number of women foreign nationals
has increased by 37 per cent over the year up to October this
year, compared to a rise of 14 per cent of UK nationals over that
39. They tend to be what are known as "drug
mules", is that right?
(Beverley Hughes) Yes, predominantly.