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Defence Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 89
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Wednesday 5 June 2013
Jeremy Wright MP, Michael Spurr and Bruce Calderwood
Evidence heard in Public Questions 117 - 166
Taken before the justice Committee
on Wednesday 5 June 2013
Sir Alan Beith (Chair)
Mr Elfyn Llwyd
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Jeremy Wright MP, Minister for Prisons and Rehabilitation, Michael Spurr, Chief Executive, National Offender Management Service, and Bruce Calderwood, Director, Mental Health, Disability and Equality, Department of Health, gave evidence.
Q117 Chair: Welcome, Minister, Mr Spurr and Dr Calderwood. We have another Minister who is an ex-member of the Committee giving evidence in front of us. I am sorry we are a little depleted this morning; it is not our normal meeting time.
The Committee has been actively looking at the issue of older prisoners and has visited a number of prisons that have quite large numbers of older prisoners. They are the fastest growing sector of the prison population by far. Do you have an estimate of the additional cost of an average older prisoner?
Jeremy Wright: The answer to that is no. That is because older prisoners are not a homogeneous group, as you will appreciate. They have a variety of different needs and, therefore, a variety of different costs attach to providing for those needs. Unless Michael can tell me differently, we do not have an estimate of what it will cost per older prisoner. You are right that they are the fastest growing group. That is from a fairly low base, of course. I think we have a little over 3,000 prisoners over the age of 60 in the estate at the moment.
What we have to think about, as you say, is not just how we manage those who are already in the estate but the increasing numbers that we will see coming through the estate. That is about regime and also the physical nature of the estate-whether or not we need to think, as I believe we do, about the design of new prisons in the context of accepting older prisoners into them and to talk about regime and how we manage the regime to assist those who are of working age, certainly, but also those who are older than that. There are a number of things we have to think about for the future as well as managing the existing issue.
Chair: We will explore some of these things in a bit more detail. In fact, I invite Seema Malhotra to do so.
Q118 Seema Malhotra: Thank you very much, Sir Alan. There are different arguments for and against a national strategy, and the focus placed on the needs of older prisoners can vary a lot between prisons. Our witnesses have consistently argued in favour of a national strategy to tackle the problem of this inconsistent provision. There is an acceptance that older people do not have identical needs, but the strategy could identify at least a way of providing a set of minimum standards. How would you justify your and the Government’s current position on this?
Jeremy Wright: My reluctance on this is partly based on a fear that, if you have too many priorities, you end up with no priorities at all. Similarly, if you have too many national strategies, none of them mean very much. I am not sure that the national strategy approach is the right one here, mostly because, as I said a moment or so ago, it seems to me very clear that older prisoners are not one uniform group about whom we can have a sensible set of criteria.
We need to be clear throughout the prison estate-and I think this applies to prisoners of every age group-that our system is flexible enough to deal with the individual needs of each individual prisoner. There is huge variation. Depending partly on how you categorise an older prisoner-some categorisations say over 50 and some say over 60-you can imagine that, even if you are talking about the over-60s, there is huge variation in the nature of those individuals, and therefore finding something that is consistent and equally applicable to say about all offenders and prisoners who are over that age would be very difficult.
I think we can do more to make sure that guidance is available-and it is available as a result of the collaborations we have had with various voluntary sector bodies and others, some of whom you may have talked to-to ensure that those who work within prisons understand the particular challenges that older prisoners may present to them, whether those are physical or mental. Those elements of guidance should be properly available, in clear form and everyone should be able to get hold of them, so that they can understand the sorts of things they need to be looking out for.
Michael may want to say something about that, but that is probably where we need to be looking, rather than to construct a national strategy, which I think would be limited in its utility, because the things it could include would either have to be so general as to be meaningless, or it would have to be a very long document trying to address all the potential problems that this fairly wide age group, with a fairly wide range of problems, might present to us. Michael, do you want to say something on the guidance point?
Michael Spurr: Yes, on the guidance point and on strategy. We do have minimum standards for treatment of prisoners. Our standards require individual assessment of need and appropriate provision for that need. That includes people with needs who are older in prison. In the work we have been doing with our health partners, and now through NHS England, there is a clear and improved screening for prisoners coming through in health needs, which is a particular issue for older prisoners. We have, in my view, clear minimum standards and a strategy that links to need rather than simply saying that we are going to have a cutoff at a particular age.
Because of the differentiation with older prisoners-57%-plus of older prisoners, for example, are sex offenders who will have particular needs-the argument about, "Why don’t you have older prisoner units?" for me does not stand up on the basis that you have to look at the need and the offence. That does not mean to say that in some prisons we would not put older prisoners together-indeed, in a lot of prisons we do exactly that-but you would look at the needs for the individuals. It would not be right, necessarily, to put people with different offences together just because they happen to be of a particular age if that did not work in addressing their particular needs as individuals.
But I agree with the Minister. We have worked very hard with external groups like Nacro; there is the work we have been doing with RECOOP-Resettlement and Care for Older exOffenders and Prisoners-and the work we are doing with Age UK. We have the Nacro good practice guidance, which is on our intranet. I had understood the Committee was saying that that had been lost in prisons and I was taken a bit aback because it is on our intranet; it is difficult for me to see how it would have been lost.
But I do think we can do more about making sure that we share the good practice. The RECOOP piece of work that we are doing in the southwest is designed to build capability for how we address the needs of older prisoners. They are producing website guidance as well, which we will share across all prisons to get a greater and better standard of understanding across the estate.
Q119 Seema Malhotra: I understand about guidance and some of those projects, but there was some talk about key outcomes in your submission that you talked about that you would be looking to explore and identify for older prisoners. I understand there is a lot of variation, but there is some commonality and part of the challenge is to get into that. What are the key outcomes referred to? Are there any examples of what is being looked at and monitored in any way beyond the guidance that has not focused on outcomes?
Michael Spurr: For me, the priority has been the whole issue about social care, both in prisons and for offenders when they leave prison and go back into the community. That has been a gap and that was the most important thing, it seemed to me, to come out of the last inspectorate report in 2008. The work that has been going on with the Department of Health in taking forward the Health and Social Care Bill, which was-
Chair: We are going to look at that specifically later.
Michael Spurr: That is important. On the resettlement outcomes, which are the specific issues that were raised about whether these are marginally worse for older prisoners, one of the key issues for me is the portability of the social care plans that, in future, will be developed in prisons and then will be utilised when they are going into the community. That has been the key priority for me in terms of how we can improve outcomes for older prisoners.
There are marginally different outcomes. It is broadly 84% going into accommodation compared to 88%, but you do not want poorer outcomes at all for older prisoners. The issue is about the social care that is required and how that is delivered.
Jeremy Wright: In terms of the specific outcomes that are measured, there is a set of outcomes that are measured while someone is still in custody and then a set of outcomes that are measured in terms of resettlement.
In terms of resettlement, there are two particular things that we could highlight: one is accommodation, as Michael has already made reference to, and the other is employment. Of course, when you are looking at older people, whether they are offenders or not, employment outcomes might be different. In so far as accommodation is concerned, there are particular challenges around finding accommodation for older exprisoners, partly because there are a large number of them who have served longer sentences, so that in itself makes it more difficult. Landlords are more reluctant to take on people who have left prison. There are particular challenges around resettlement from that point of view.
Inside prison there are a number of things that we would look at, one of which is how many prisoners get to the higher levels of the incentives and earned privileges scheme. I think I am right in that case that older prisoners do pretty well; we do see more older prisoners getting to the top of the incentives and earned privileges scheme at the moment than younger prisoners on average.
There are a number of different things that we measure, but, as Michael says, we are really interested in plugging the obvious gaps that there are here. For older prisoners, there are going to be huge challenges around the physical design of the estate-mobility problems will influence that, access to health care, and access to social care. In relation to those two things, which I know we are going to come on to, there are some significant and very positive changes being made.
Q120 Andy McDonald: On accommodation of older prisoners, one of the key questions seems to be whether they should be mainstream, as it were, or integrated. When we went on our visits, the consensus was that older prisoners benefited from being in a mixed age range, subject of course to having their specific needs addressed. We visited Dartmoor and were very impressed by the regime there, without any shadow of a doubt, but the building had its limitations and we found on occasions wheelchairs could not get through the doors. So there were issues there.
To what extent are age and infirmity taken into account when deciding where to detain prisoners? The Prison Officers Association claimed that there was "institutionalised overcrowding," which made taking into account factors such as age and infirmity "virtually impossible". How do you respond to that?
Jeremy Wright: It is fair to say that age and infirmity are certainly considered in deciding whether or not a prisoner is in the right prison. Most of our prisons will have the capacity to accommodate people with mobility problems, but, as you rightly say, some of the older prisons are more challenging than some of the newer ones. That is part of the reason and logic behind a strategy on estates that transfers us from an older Victorian estate, in many cases, towards a much more modern estate, where we can design in some features that will allow this to be managed better.
In relation to your earlier point, you are absolutely right that there is not consistency here in terms of what prisoners themselves want. Some prisoners who are older want to be accommodated with other older prisoners; some want exactly the opposite and do not want that at all. There is not a consistency of approach here. If we were to be institutional about it, from our point of view, in the management of the prison system, it is quite a good thing to have a mix of ages, because what you can find is that older prisoners have a positive and calming influence on younger prisoners. It may be very much in our interests to see a mix of ages-
Q121 Andy McDonald: -and support the younger prisoners.
Jeremy Wright: Absolutely right. There is already some very good peertopeer mentoring that is going on, a lot of good work on reading, for example, with prisoners teaching other prisoners to read through Toe by Toe and other very worthwhile schemes. The more of that that we want to see, the more likely it is that a mix of ages will support that kind of work.
From our perspective there are huge advantages in having a mix, but in the end we want to accommodate the needs of each individual prisoner, whatever they may be. It goes back to an earlier point that it is very difficult, and probably not desirable, to say "Older prisoners need x," or "Older prisoners must be accommodated in such a way," because it is not true of every older prisoner and each individual prisoner must be treated in the way that is most suitable for them.
Q122 Andy McDonald: Do you agree with the Chief Inspector of Prisons, who says that there are some prisons in the estate where older prisoners simply should not be held?
Jeremy Wright: There are certainly some prisons where the physical restrictions are such that it is very difficult to manage a prisoner with significant mobility difficulties, for example. Michael will, I am sure, want to say something about the capacity that we have.
Michael Spurr: The difficulty probably most often becomes apparent in local prisons-Victorianstyle local prisons are not at all designed for wheelchair or disabled access-and where people are in those prisons because they have been remanded by the court or have been initially sentenced by the court and need to be held relatively close to the court in order to go back. That gives us some challenges.
Our responsibility is to make adaptation to be able to accommodate people in those establishments. We have not always done that as well as we should. I talked to Nick Hardwick about examples he has found where that has not been done. In those instances it is right to move older prisoners on to better accommodation that is more suited to their needs once we are through the court process. That is where the biggest challenge is for us. In most cases we have a range of accommodation that we can manage quite reasonably-not with older prisoners so much, but with prisoners who have a particular disability, mobility problem or physical issue around climbing stairs and so on that can make it more difficult.
Q123 Jeremy Corbyn: On that point about accommodation-and I think my views will be shared by my colleagues-when we visited Dartmoor, we met a lot of older prisoners, and the atmosphere was much less tense and aggressive than it can often be in male prisons. It seemed to me that there was, in some levels, quite good interaction between the older and younger prisoners, and the older prisoners, in a way, became a steadying influence on the atmosphere there. While I accept the need for a degree of separation, there can be a degree of mentoring that can be quite helpful.
Jeremy Wright: I could not agree more. That entirely chimes with my answer to Mr McDonald. There is huge advantage to us. As we want to see more mentoring and peertopeer support, all of those things are hugely valuable in the operation of a prison; the more of that we can have, the better. There is good evidence-and it is evidence that we have all seen as we have gone round prisons-of exactly that kind of interaction happening.
There will be some older prisoners, as I say, who either prefer to associate with other older prisoners or, almost by default, do so because they have committed the sort of offence that older prisoners predominantly have committed and therefore will find themselves together, especially if they are vulnerable prisoners. There is no reason for us to proceed down the line of institutionally considering that the right way to deal with older prisoners is to put them all together, and we may find that there are disadvantages to us in the way in which prisons are run and operated if we were to do that. So I agree with you.
Q124 Mr Llwyd: I share my colleagues’ views. I also accompanied my colleagues on the visit to Dartmoor and there is a very proactive regime there, but they appear to be completely stymied by the architecture, to be frank. To be fair, Mr Spurr, the problem is not simply local prisons. Dartmoor is not a local prison; people come from all over the UK to Dartmoor. It is a broader and bigger problem than that, is it not?
Michael Spurr: I said I thought that our main difficulty was in local prisons where people have to be held by the courts. Dartmoor, yes, is an 1800s prison-an old prison-and has those disadvantages. But I also said that it is our responsibility to make appropriate adaptation to be able to accommodate older prisoners.
Would I like newer prisons that are designed for today’s needs? Yes, of course I would-that would be great-but at the minute we are still using Dartmoor; we have adapted Dartmoor. I am glad you found the regime was good there, and the regime is, I would say, more important than the physical conditions, as long as you are able to adapt the physical conditions for people to be able to live reasonably.
Jeremy Wright: This goes to the heart of the argument that we had during the last period of prison closures. The argument was inevitably going to be partly about finances and whether or not it is cheaper to run a newer prison than an older prison, which of course it is, but it was also about the nature of the regime that you can properly operate within a newer prison.
Michael is absolutely right that the regime is more about the people and the systems than it is about the environment, but, frankly, the good regimes are run in many prisons despite the environment and not because of it. Anything we can do to move our estate from older buildings to new buildings we should do. That is why, as we keep the estate under review, we will continue to aspire to getting rid of some of the older accommodation, much as there is sentimental attachment to it in many of the communities where it is located. Despite that, it is obviously better for us to run a good prison regime in a new building than an old one.
Q125 Mr Llwyd: I appreciate that, but some of the prisoners told us-not from Dartmoor, by the way-"I’m not allowed to go out on exercise because there is a step out into the exercise yard," and others said, "The education block van can only be accessed via a multiflight, outside fire escape. When I couldn’t get up it, I was placed on punishment for 10 days for ‘refusing to work’."
If you were a business, you would have been sued to kingdom come under the Disability Discrimination Act. It is high time that these things are addressed urgently, to be frank, because of what these people are being put through. I appreciate, Minister, that you are doing your best and I am sure you will do your best, but I am highlighting that it is an urgent problem that needs addressing.
Michael Spurr: If I could just be clear on that, if those things happened-and I am not saying they did not happen-that is completely unacceptable and should be addressed immediately. It is not acceptable at all to say that any prisoner cannot get access to outside exercise. It is a statutory requirement that we provide that. Therefore, if that occurred in that way and it was raised, it must be dealt with. There is the same issue about education. While it may not be possible, for example, in that case, for the individual to access education but they needed or must have the equivalent opportunity for education, we have arrangements for onetoone provision or you can have provision on the wing. There are different provisions to be able to meet that.
There is a system whereby, if a prisoner feels he is being treated in that way, that is in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act-no question. If that is the case, they have a whole range of means of complaining about that, including through to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, who I am sure would find in their favour if that was the case, and we would be required to take action. I am not saying that did not occur-and things can go wrong in a system-but that should have been addressed.
Q126 Seema Malhotra: I was thinking about what mechanisms prisoners do have. To what extent are those mechanisms really used? Do you think you are hearing those stories? Are you getting that feedback?
Michael Spurr: The mechanisms are used. There is a formal requests and complaints procedure in prisons that leads eventually to an independent ombudsman, who gets a significant number of issues and complaints that they investigate each year.
Q127 Seema Malhotra: Do you believe you are hearing the extent of what is going on, or are you just getting a very small snapshot coming through that system?
Michael Spurr: You certainly hear the whole range of issues, and it depends on the type of prisoner as to how extensively they use the complaints system. Those in prison for a long time and older prisoners are much more likely to use the complaints system, as they tend to be people who are better educated and have seen more of life; they will use a complaints system much more than younger prisoners.
The people who use it least are children-which is why we have advocacy services in young offender establishments-and young adults. Also, there are the independent monitoring boards, which are really important in prisons. They provide that watchdog role from the local community and are very alive to these particular issues. It is quite proper that they are. They are on site every day, or most days, in most prisons. Then there is the independent inspection. There is a fair amount of information about where people are.
Internally, we also do our own surveys measuring quality of prison life, developed by the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, which look at the whole range of factors that are operating in regimes. We ensure that that is done in every prison at least every two years and in some more often if we are concerned about particular prisons. There are a lot of ways of getting an understanding.
I am not saying things do not go wrong in prisons-of course they go wrong; people don’t get every decision right, and some prisoners are sometimes subject to things that they should not be-but we have processes to find and deal with them when they happen.
Jeremy Wright: It is worth adding on independent monitoring boards in particular that, when I visit prisons, I always see the independent monitoring board privately without the prison governor’s staff being present and ask them how things are going. I have yet to find one that does not have a very good working relationship with the prison governor. If prisoners come to the IMB representatives, as the IMB representatives say they regularly do, with particular issues or complaints about the system, IMB representatives feel they are entirely able to raise those with the prison governor. That relationship appears to me to work very well.
You are right that there is inevitably a risk that prisoners will not necessarily raise with prison officers particular worries that they have, especially if they think that those are deeprooted problems within the system. But it does seem to me, as far as I can tell, that the IMB system is a very good check, which people are prepared to use, and the IMB is then able to transfer complaints on to the governors. That seems to be a very good safeguard to me.
Q128 Mr Llwyd: On a more general point, do prisons include what you might call "purposeful activity" by older prisoners as part of their equality monitoring?
Jeremy Wright: I will let Michael answer the question specifically on equality monitoring because I do not know the answer to that. There certainly is an expectation that within the definition of "purposeful activity" there should be no discrimination based on age. In other words, for example, if you are of retirement age, you will not be expected to work within prison. But it is important that we make other opportunities available to people, either to learn or to engage in other kinds of activity.
If we go back to the discussion we had a little time ago about mentoring and support for other prisoners, one of the changes that you will know I made to the incentives and earned privileges scheme is to ensure that, if you want to be on the enhanced level of the scheme, you have to do more than keep your nose clean and engage in your own rehabilitation; you also have to give something back to the prison more generally or to other prisoners.
We need to make sure that everything within prison is structured around giving people the opportunity to do something productive and positive. My understanding is that we will be very clear on the requirement for all prisoners to have access to some form of productive activity. It does not have to be work. If you are of retirement age, we would not require people to work, and there will be more opportunities, I hope-particularly for older prisoners who have, frankly, more to give very often on this-to engage as mentors, friends and listeners to other prisoners. I hope there will be more, not fewer, opportunities in the future. Michael might be able to help us on the specific equality point.
Michael Spurr: Every prison is required to monitor equality outcomes. That includes protected characteristics for disability and age. Yes, therefore, they can break down what is the access to particular activities by age. The focus predominantly in that area has been on race rather than age, to be quite frank, to ensure no disproportionality in that area. The biggest difficulty for us is disability rather than age and being able to identify the disability and potential adverse impact that might have on individuals. That is the reality of the situation we have, I think. It is more difficult in being able to identify the range of potential disabilities and then being able to monitor that in terms of activity.
Q129 Mr Llwyd: I have one final question, if I may. You will know that there has been some concern about the restraining of prisoners, particularly the older prisoners. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman investigations into natural deaths in custody "too frequently identified inappropriate use of restraints on seriously ill prisoners being taken to hospital or hospice for treatment." Peter McParlin told the Committee that "Prison officers used to have discretion in these matters," but now, "Decisions on restraint come from management, and management is risk-averse…" Will you consider reviewing the policy or guidance on restraining seriously ill prisoners being taken to hospital or hospice for treatment?
Jeremy Wright: Yes. In terms of the policy position here-and I will let Michael add something from an operational perspective-we are in the right place, which is that every individual case of a transfer to hospital or a visit out of the prison for medical treatment must be risk-assessed on the basis of the individual circumstances. It would be quite wrong for any of us to say there must be a blanket policy on what type of restraint is applied for prisoners who leave the prison environment and go to a hospital. It will obviously depend on the individual prisoner, the nature of their offence, their illness and treatment. All those things are going to be relevant to each individual decision.
Would I be prepared to say, as the Minister responsible, that in every single case that judgment is reached in the right way? No-of course, I cannot say that. But I believe, from a policy point of view, it is quite right that the decisions taken on the level of restraint necessary must be based on a risk assessment because that is obviously the sensible way for us to proceed.
One of the key points of vulnerability for us is the period of transfer from a prison to a hospital. The public would expect us to take the necessary precautions to ensure that prisoners cannot get away from that environment or cause any harm while they are in it. Some form of restraint is sadly necessary. We need to have common sense. We need to apply plenty of common sense when we make those risk assessments, and we need to apply a degree of humanity too, because it is not appropriate that prisoners, for example, who are dying are shackled or restrained in a way that is not justified by a risk assessment. I would deprecate any example of that.
It is the right policy position to say that each individual case must be assessed on its merits and the risk assessment must be a robust and commonsense one, but it must recognise that not every prisoner who goes to hospital for treatment is completely incapable of escape or, indeed, incapable of causing harm in that environment. It is a balance to be struck in every case.
Q130 Chair: Who is supposed to do the risk assessment?
Michael Spurr: The risk assessment is done by a manager from the prison. That is appropriate because, if you give discretion to prison officers who are on an escort, they will face significant pressure, potentially, from the individual who is with them, the family and others that are around them. The potential to make a poor decision in those circumstances is significant. The aim is that there is a risk assessment done that takes account of the behaviour of the individual-for example, when they are on escort-but also all of the external security risk factors that need to take place. I agree with the Minister that the policy is not wrong. The policy says that we should take account of all those factors, including the risks for somebody who is seriously ill to be able to escape. Following the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s report on findings from natural deaths in custody, we have reinforced the importance of taking that seriously.
There is a balance and it is a difficult judgment. There was one escape from prison in the last 12 months from Pentonville. The person who escaped was over 60 years old. He managed to scale Pentonville’s wall and get over. It does not follow that, because you are over 60, potentially you are not going to try and escape. This was a person who had been in custody for a long time. Similarly, when people go to hospital, knowing when somebody, tragically, is going to die is difficult. Some of the people who go out have committed very serious offences, and there is concern from the public and others, particularly if they happen to be sex offenders, in a local hospital and so on. Balancing that judgment is difficult and it is right that that is done objectively.
Q131 Mr Llwyd: It is interesting that, in your description of how the risk is evaluated, you do not refer at all to the views of the prison officers.
Michael Spurr: I am sorry. I said that-I did actually.
Q132 Mr Llwyd: You did not. I listened very carefully. You did not say anything about them.
Michael Spurr: I said they would take account of the behaviour at the time. If I did not make clear that the people who know what the behaviour is like are the prison officers, then that was my failing.
Mr Llwyd: I see; okay.
Jeremy Wright: It may be something we are about to come on to, but there is another dimension to this, and that is the judgment that has to be made in some cases about compassionate early release from custody. If you have a prisoner who is terminally ill, a judgment has to be made at some point as to whether or not-
Chair: We will come back to that.
Mr Llwyd: May I, through the Chair, by the way, apologise to the three of you? I have to leave before the end of the session.
Q133 Andy McDonald: Can I turn our attention to the issue of staff training? We have an old report from HMIP that found that no staff outside health care had received specific training in dealing with older prisoners. More recently, the Prison Reform Trust noted that the basic six weeks’ training previously included an hour specifically targeted at older people; but from this year diversity training is being integrated, so there is no focused training on older people. Perhaps Dr Calderwood might make a comment, but I would ask you to consider whether it is reasonable to expect prison officers to deal with prisoners suffering from dementia without training.
Mr Calderwood: First, can I correct you? I am not a medical doctor, unfortunately; I am just an ordinary civil servant, so my title gives me more status than I deserve. From a health point of view, it is good that whoever is responsible for looking after, say, somebody with dementia has an understanding, for example, of what those needs are. Again, it is not a question of looking at what an older person’s needs are but what the health needs are for the specific circumstances, such as the needs of somebody who has a physical or mental impairment or who is easily confused.
The crucial thing from our point of view is that the healthcare staff are properly qualified and able to provide adequate health care. In a sense, what the training requirements are of staff within prisons is not something that I am in a position to comment on.
Michael Spurr: I am happy to say a bit more if that would be helpful. In terms of general training, it is right that the whole issue about equality and managing people by their individual need is how we address that training with prison officers. An hour on older prisoners cannot possibly cover the whole range of things you might need to look after for an individual. Taking an hour out that was devoted to older prisoners and saying, "Throughout the whole course, one of the emphases is going to be about how you operate and manage people as individuals and where you access specialist help and care," which is what the focus is, is the wrong approach.
We have not done specific training for prison officers on older prisoners, but we have access through things like the Nacro guidance that is out there, that people can access, and we have healthcare staff in every establishment who have particular expertise.
We have put our emphasis on training with the Department of Health on mental health awareness. More than 17,000 staff have been through mental health awareness training, and that includes looking at a lot of the similar issues around potential dementia. There is a whole range of other mental illnesses that the prison officers can face in prisons. That training is not to get somebody to become a skilled mental health practitioner, because we cannot possibly hope that prison officers are going to be in that position, but it will identify the issues that might lead them to raise with specialists how the particular needs of individuals might be cared for.
Jeremy Wright: I should declare my interest. When I first came to Parliament, I set up and then chaired for a while the allparty group on dementia. I agree entirely with you that dementia is one of those things that we must always be conscious of in any environment in which older prisoners are located. Prison is increasingly going to be one of those.
One of the other notable things about dementia is that diagnosis is notoriously difficult, and general practitioners are reluctant to diagnose it. If general practitioners struggle to make that diagnosis, then we can be certain that prison officers will struggle to do so, however much training we give them. Michael is right that we need to make sure that prison officers feel confident in asking for help and professional input if they believe that that may be what is going on. If we can give them more broadlybased training in mental health issues and a brief understanding at the very least of what dementia may look like-some of the warning signs to look for-then they will need to make a referral at a subsequent point for a more professional determination to be made.
When we come on to talk about how social care and health care may change for prisoners, perhaps we can return to some of those things, but I agree with you entirely that it is one of those things we have to be aware of. I am equally conscious that we cannot realistically expect prison officers to be experts in all of these different conditions and to make a diagnosis themselves. We want them to spot warning signs and make a reference back.
Q134 Andy McDonald: Mr Wright, what we have found is that people were volunteering to come forward for training. It was not a question of them being screened or it being part of the ordinary scene.
We have touched a lot upon the Nacro training pack. Mention was made of it earlier. We did hear that it has disappeared, so we are pleased to hear it is actually on the web. But Nacro are saying that it needs updating because it is 2009 and funding is an issue for them. Perhaps you would like to comment to see how we can assist in getting that valuable resource refreshed.
Michael Spurr: We have commissioned the RECOOP group to do that work. Unfortunately for Nacro, they did not get the funding for that. RECOOP are Resettlement and Care for Older exOffenders and Prisoners. They are working at the minute in the southwest in a number of prisons and developing a whole range of webbased information and awareness tools that will be used across the system and will update the 2009 Nacro piece of work.
Q135 Chair: That will effectively replace the Nacro-
Michael Spurr: We will still have the Nacro one. We will determine whether we take that or whether it is a supplement to the Nacro work, but that is the additional work that we are doing to update our awareness work at the minute. The specific contract with RECOOP is to develop best practice and provide tools to be able to share that across the estate.
Jeremy Wright: One of the things we will do is look at the guidance that we will then have-the updated version-and decide whether, first, it is promulgated in as easily accessible a form as it should be, and, secondly, make sure it is as clear as it should be. We will have a look at that, and, if we can do it better, we will.
Q136 Seema Malhotra: That leads me neatly on to talking about health care in prisons. There is research that has concluded, particularly with older male prisoners, that health conditions are worse than those of their equivalents in the community. There has been some discussion of older prisoners described as suffering from "institutional neglect", according to Department of Health definitions. How do you respond to those claims that, in terms of health care, that is what is happening and that prisoners are suffering from this "institutional neglect"?
Jeremy Wright: I would not accept that there is institutional neglect.
Q137 Seema Malhotra: You would not accept it.
Jeremy Wright: I would not accept that. I would certainly accept that prisoners have particularly challenging health circumstances in many cases. Whether they are old or not, we are dealing with a large number of prisoners who over a long period of time have had a drug addiction, for example, which has physical consequences, as we are all aware-and alcohol addictions too.
There are a number of very challenging physical conditions that prisoners may have that make the healthcare challenge within the prison environment more difficult. We also know-and this is something that we have discussed before-that there are too many people in prison with a mental health problem. There is a concentration, if you like, of healthcare problems within a prison environment that makes that a particularly challenging problem.
But we are making continual investment into healthcare facilities within the prison estate and, if you take prisoners with longterm healthcare problems, there are huge challenges in dealing with those, which may be very specialised problems within what will inevitably be a more generalised healthcare environment within the prison. At the very least, we can say that prisoners will have ready and nearby access to healthcare facilities, which perhaps out in the community they might not have had.
It is not all bad news. I certainly would not say that there is institutional neglect, but there are very significant challenges that the prisoner population present to us in terms of health care. Perhaps I should hand over to my colleague at the Department of Health.
Mr Calderwood: One of the biggest challenges is that many people come into prison having had no health care out of prison. Something like 50% of people who come into prison do not have a GP, and so often many people-
Q138 Seema Malhotra: Did you say 50% of those coming in do not have a GP?
Mr Calderwood: Yes. People without a settled way of life-many drug users or people with alcohol problems-may very well not have access to a GP. Their physical and mental health may be very poor when they come into prison. Prison might very well be the first time for some time that they have seen a doctor or dentist. One of the challenges for the healthcare system within prison is that you are dealing, in a sense, with a backlog of health problems for some of the prison population-not for all.
Q139 Seema Malhotra: I understand that culture of not dealing with health services. Can I understand what you mean by saying "no access"? It is not that there is necessarily "no access"; they have not registered and do not use services.
Mr Calderwood: Yes, that is right. One of the challenges for the new health system is, generally speaking, taking a look at some of those groups of people who, for whatever reason, have not really been part of the healthcare system.
The other thing I would say is that, since the NHS took on responsibility for commissioning healthcare services, the evidence seems to be one of substantial improvements in the quality of healthcare services in many prisons. In a sense, the big problem there now is one of consistency. We have examples of excellent practice-and you visited the Isle of Wight and Broadmoor-but you also have areas where practice is not nearly as good as it should be. The creation of NHS England, where effectively commissioning of all health services within prisons is going to be brought into one organisation, should mean-
Q140 Chair: Can I clarify how that is being done? Is NHS England nationally going to do all the commissioning, or is the commissioning going to be delegated to the area teams of NHS England?
Mr Calderwood: The answer is both. Before April, commissioning was through PCTs-primary care trusts-which are independent of each other. Now, NHS England, as a national organisation, is responsible, but something like its 10 area teams will take responsibility for particular bits of the country and they will work to consistent standards.
Q141 Seema Malhotra: Where an establishment falls within an area, will that area then be responsible for commissioning of the care within the prison?
Mr Calderwood: Yes. There are something like, I think, 27 area teams. NHS England has decided to get 10 of them to specialise in prison health care in order to get expertise and consistency across the patch.
Q142 Chair: There are 27 area teams, but only 10 of them will commission prison health care.
Mr Calderwood: Yes, that is right. There are 27 local area teams. NHS England has asked 10 of them across the country to say, for a larger group, that they will commission all prison health care. They will also have responsibility for aiming to provide a much better integration of healthcare when people move from prison to out of prison and also to look at the relationship with local authorities and social care in that area. We think this mechanism should provide much greater consistency in the kinds of standards that are expected, the contracts that are used, and also to provide a way of getting a better glue into the system, which is also one of the challenges we heard about earlier.
Q143 Seema Malhotra: There are 10 out of the 27 who are taking on the additional responsibility for areas outside their immediate area, and they have additional funding to do that.
Mr Calderwood: Yes. They are responsible. I feel like I am presenting this in a very confused way. The simplest way of saying it is that there are 10 teams that will do commissioning of all health care in prisons covering the entire country, and, if I remember rightly, they will have access to something like £470 million to do that this year.
Chair: Do you want to ask about the IT?
Q144 Seema Malhotra: I do, yes. I want to follow up with one question about integration of systems behind both the justice healthcare systems and the NHS. Is there a move to look at greater integration of patient data?
Mr Calderwood: Yes. One of the challenges, certainly as far as the NHS is concerned, is that the prison healthcare systems are not connected into what is described as the national spine, which enables easy transfer of information. One of the things that NHS England is looking at is the time scale and cost of moving into ensuring that link is made. I cannot give you a commitment now as to when that is going to be because it depends on the money becoming available, but they are hoping that by 2016 that kind of link is effective, which would mean that there ought to be the same sort of connectivity between the NHS healthcare systems and healthcare systems outside prisons that exist across the country.
Jeremy Wright: There is a practical example of that which is very important to the work that we all do in relation to drug treatment. As the Committee will recognise, one of the difficulties that we have with those sentenced to short prison sentences who have a drug addiction is that it is very difficult to start the process of getting someone off their drug addiction if you are only confident that you have them for a very short period of time.
Part of the advantage of not just this better linkup in the transfer of information, but, frankly, also better linking of the work done on rehabilitation more generally in prison and through the gate out into the community, is to be able to start a drug treatment programme even though you know it will not be completed when someone is in prison because you will be confident that you can carry it on outside.
Our two Departments are working closely together on providing this to make sure that we can start that process. We want to see people start the process of getting off drugs as soon as possible. We do not want to maintain them on another form of drug for a period simply because no one is confident that they can complete the process. This kind of linking will have very practical advantages to some of the most significant problems we are dealing with.
Q145 Jeremy Corbyn: Could I take you on to the rather sad area of end-of-life care? There are a number of prisoners who have terminal conditions, mainly cancers. Are you happy with the level of treatment they get, and also what criteria do you use-because I believe it is your decision as a Minister-whether or not to give compassionate grounds for early release?
Jeremy Wright: Yes. On the first part of the question, there are, I suspect, examples of very good practice and examples of slightly less good practice in terms of the end-of-life care that is provided across the estate. Whatton is a good example of a prison that has excellent end-of-life care. The degree to which prisons develop a particular specialism in that may depend on the nature of the prison population they regularly deal with.
If you have an older prisoner population, this is a problem you have to confront more often than if you have a younger prisoner population. There are examples of very good practice, and we would always seek to make sure that those examples are communicated across the estate and replicated wherever we can. But certainly there will be variation and we will want to try and iron out that variation where we can, recognising that not every prison will have a regular experience with this, whereas other prisons will be more regularly confronting it.
In so far as the question of compassionate release for those who are terminally ill is concerned, you are right that it is, in the end, my decision. I have had to make that choice on one occasion so far since I became a Minister. The judgment I have to make is about, first of all, whether or not the prisoner is going to present particular security problems if we were to release them, but also about whether or not they are significantly incapacitated or clearly very terminally ill and how imminent their likely death is. This is the difficult bit because, inevitably, the medical evidence that we are likely to receive will give us an estimate as to how long someone has left.
I have to make a judgment as to whether or not that is the appropriate moment for them to be released, effectively to go home to die, because the public would expect me, first of all, to be compassionate in making sure that I allow someone to go home to die if that is what they choose to do, but also to make sure that I am not releasing someone far too early and they end up being outside prison for a very considerable period of time.
It is a difficult judgment to make and it is never as easy as the doctors telling me exactly how long someone has left to the day so that I can make that judgment. The guidance is that we would look to release someone who has about three months left to live, but, inevitably, as I say, what you tend to get is a bracket of between a certain length of time and another length of time. So it is a difficult judgment to make. The judgment that I made in the one case that was brought to me was that it was appropriate to release that person, but it was a range of potential time that that person had left. Again, it is always a judgment that has to be made on the facts of each individual case, and I think it is right that the Minister with responsibility for this area makes that judgment themselves.
Q146 Jeremy Corbyn: Do the applications automatically come to you, or can they be dealt with at an earlier stage or, indeed, rejected at an earlier stage? In other words, are the prisoners aware that, ultimately, it is a ministerial decision?
Jeremy Wright: There are not many of those judgments.
Q147 Jeremy Corbyn: I know I have written to you about one case.
Michael Spurr: They have to be recommended by the governor. The governor has to be satisfied in the first instance that this is a case that merits referral to the Minister for compassionate release and would look at exactly the same criteria.
Q148 Jeremy Corbyn: If the governor is not satisfied, does it not go any further?
Michael Spurr: No. The case for satisfaction is: is there clarity about length of time? That is always the issue. Are doctors able to say that, while somebody is terminally ill, they have a limited time left? That is the difficulty. That is often why referrals do not get made, not because governors are unwilling to make the referral but because no one is able to say at that point whether a terminal illness is two years or two months. That is always the hard thing. I can well understand why doctors do not want to commit to what that length of time is, but the criteria is that, generally, we are looking at releasing people who have a few months to live as opposed to potentially a lot longer period than that.
Q149 Jeremy Corbyn: Would it be fair to say that governors, in general, are not minded to want to keep terminally ill prisoners on their estate?
Michael Spurr: In general, you would rather not have a terminally ill prisoner because of the impact that has on managing the individual and on the resource involved in managing the individual, particularly if they have to go out to hospital routinely and so on. That is the case, but the reality is that we have a significant number of terminally ill individuals inevitably because we have 80,000 or so people in custody and we have a number who are over 60.
Therefore, most establishments-and particularly those establishments that often have a sex offender older population-have wellestablished procedures in place for managing people who become potentially terminally ill. We have specific end-of-life centres. There is one on the Isle of Wight in the healthcare centre; there was one in Norwich, which was developed in the late 1990s; and there is Whatton as well, where there have been a number of deaths that have been managed through that process.
Jeremy Wright: It is probably worth saying two other things, one of which perhaps is very obvious. In relation to the judgment to be made about compassionate release, we have to take into account the sensitivities of victims as well. There is an inevitable balance to be drawn there.
The perhaps less obvious point is that there are a number of prisoners who would prefer in fact to die in prison. If they have been in prison for a very long time and they consider that to be, effectively, their home environment, they may wish to exercise the choice to die there. It is not the case that every terminally ill prisoner dying in prison has died in prison because we have not released them as we should have done or have not considered their case properly. In many cases, it has been considered and the choice of the prisoner concerned is that they wish to die in that environment. It is a very sensitive issue.
Q150 Jeremy Corbyn: If a governor declines a request for compassionate release, does the prisoner have a right of appeal against that, or is it an administrative matter that it simply could not go any further because the governor has said no?
Michael Spurr: They have a right of appeal to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman on that basis. If it is a time-limited issue, it is not unusual that they might even seek a judicial review if they were not happy with what had occurred. But the normal process would be that they would appeal it through the normal complaints process, and, if the governors determine that that is not right, that would go to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman to look at.
Q151 Chair: Can I turn to the social care issue? The Committee was quite shocked to discover the extent to which in the system up to now nobody was taking responsibility for personal care for those prisoners who could not carry out basic bodily functions without assistance and in the community would have had direct support for this purpose. The result was that prison officers were confronted with a situation in which they were not supposed to provide the assistance and the only other recourse was other prisoners providing that assistance, which itself can present some problems with some of the categories of prisoners we are talking about-particularly sex offenders. The Health and Social Care Bill is intended to solve this problem, so we are interested to know whether it is going to do so.
I suppose the first question is the money. Some local authorities will suddenly find themselves confronted with hundreds of people for whom they have to provide, or may have to provide, personal care. Somewhere like the Isle of Wight, for example, have a big commitment. How is this going to be managed?
Jeremy Wright: I will defer to Dr Calderwood to give you some detail, but my understanding is, first of all, I think you are entirely right that the current situation is deeply unsatisfactory and it is important that we resolve whose responsibility social care within prisons should be. I believe the Bill does do that because it makes it clear that the local authority within which the prison is located will take on responsibility for social care for prisoners within that prison.
So far as finance is concerned, my understanding is that the baseline funding for those local authorities will be increased to make allowance for that extra responsibility, but I will perhaps let Dr Calderwood explain in a little more detail.
Mr Calderwood: Yes. In terms of funding, the estimates that have been made so far are that there is an additional cost to local authorities of £8.6 million. However, that is based on limited evidence. What we are currently doing is looking to get a better handle on that cost and then our intention will be to transfer that money, whatever the additional cost is, to the baselines of the local authorities who have prisons in their areas.
Q152 Chair: That is £8.6 million that should be being spent now because, theoretically, the local authorities from which the prisoners come have a responsibility for their personal care, but it is not being carried out in most cases and is rather impractical on that basis for a local authority at one end of the country to provide personal care to a prisoner at the other end of the country. In theory, the money would be being spent already, but actually it is not, is it?
Mr Calderwood: The whole point of the current law is that it is not clear as to whose responsibility it is, which is why, through the Bill, we are making it absolutely clear that it is the job of the authority where the prison is to take on the process of assessment and responsibility for the provision of whatever are the care needs of the person.
Jeremy Wright: It is probably worth saying that there are examples where local authorities in fact do this job effectively. I do not think it is true to say that in every case there is no adequate connection between the local authority and the prison to provide this care. Of course some of it is done by prisons buying in the help that they need. Some of this money is already being spent, but I think we are all agreed that it is not being spent as effectively or as clearly as it should be.
One of the advantages of making these changes, it seems to me, is in connection with the changes we would want to make in any event to resettlement prisons, to ensure that prisoners are spending the last part of their sentence in a prison in the area into which they are going to be released. It means that we will be able to ensure that the social care that they receive will come from the local authority-at least in the last part of the sentence-which will then take on responsibility for them out in the community.
Q153 Chair: Except that there are not as many prisons as there are local authorities, so even an appropriately placed resettlement prison will perhaps be in an area of five or six local authorities.
Jeremy Wright: That is right, but we are going to get a lot closer to it and will be able, I hope, to enable the local authority to travel a little less distance to get to the prisoner for whom they are going to take responsibility than they currently have to. Also, there will be a huge benefit in the portability of assessments so that assessments made on a prisoner while they are inside prison will be able to be taken on in the system to the assessments that will be made when they leave, which, as we know, is a huge problem at the moment.
Q154 Chair: Does that mean, in effect, that the common assessment framework that we found operating-I think successfully-in the Isle of Wight is a model that is going to be taken out elsewhere?
Michael Spurr: It is that type of model. There should be one assessment that is done, and, if it is done in prison, it moves with the individual because of the need to move with the individual when they are going back into the community; so, yes.
Chair: That is good news.
Q155 Andy McDonald: Can I turn to the issue of equality and the human rights legislation, particularly on the issue of age now being a protected characteristic under the Equality Act? Governors are required to produce an equality plan that expects people to be treated equitably, and consulted and treated according to their needs. We have heard evidence from Leigh Day’s prison team that, in their experience, there had been evidence of unlawful discrimination, but historically it was on the grounds of disability. Of course age is now effective as from October 2012. I stress that we are not talking about, "I want my Sky TV"; it is about people who cannot get to the shower or who cannot take their meals, which are fairly fundamental issues.
How many claims on the basis of age discrimination have been made by older prisoners since the relevant provisions of the Equality Act came into force in October 2012?
Michael Spurr: We do not have figures for claims that are solely about age discrimination. It is, though, possible that claims for specific issues may have an agerelated point within them and we cannot differentiate those at the minute from our statistics; we do not pull those out. I am not aware of straightforward age discrimination claims. As you say, age specifically was introduced in October 2012, so in one sense that is a relatively short period before you would expect some claims.
Q156 Andy McDonald: Would you expect there to be an increase in those claims coming through on the basis of older prisoners being unable to participate in-
Michael Spurr: I would want us to make sure that we did not do anything that would lead to the claims in the first place, but it provides a means by which people who feel they have not been treated properly can challenge that, in addition to the existing arrangements.
As I said, if we are not providing access to showers because somebody is older or disabled, that is unacceptable-and it always has been. On our basic standards, there is nothing in age discrimination legislation that changes what we would have been required or aiming to do anyway. We have to treat prisoners of whatever age appropriately and with decency. From that perspective, our aim has always been to do that. This will make it even clearer. There is a remedy for people to tackle that where we do not do that.
Q157 Andy McDonald: Would you accept the observation that few establishments are DDAcompliant in any event-that many of them are not DDA-compliant?
Michael Spurr: I would accept in physical conditions terms that that is difficult. Our responsibility is to be able to provide reasonable adjustment to any individual so that they are not disadvantaged. That is how we address that issue.
Jeremy Wright: In the end, if it is impossible to accommodate a prisoner with particular mobility problems in a given prison, then we would need to transfer them to a different prison. That is what happens.
Mr Calderwood: I used to be responsible for the Disability Discrimination Act. You can have physical challenges in a building, and the responsibility is then with the service provider-in this case, the prison-to make reasonable adjustments that take account of those physical challenges. If you can put in ramps and things like that, you should do so. If you cannot do that, you would have to find some other ways of enabling somebody to have reasonable access to the same sorts of services that other people have.
Q158 Andy McDonald: It is pretty difficult in Dartmoor where it is a listed building and the chief planning officer will not let you touch it.
Michael Spurr: What were the prisoners in Dartmoor not able to access that was detrimental to them compared with an able or younger person who was able to access them? That would be the question for me. It means providing for the needs of the individual, notwithstanding whether they are disabled, older or whatever. Sometimes that is more difficult and you have to do it in different ways. That is equally true for people who have committed different types of offences. If you separate people, the access to the full range of a regime in a prison will not be there, but we have to provide sufficient to be able to meet the needs of that individual, not to adversely impact on them because we have decided to separate them for whatever reason.
Q159 Seema Malhotra: We touched on this slightly before when we were talking about outcomes, and one of the outcomes you talked about was resettlement. There have been various criticisms of exits from prison and of older prisoners, including health care, housing, jobs and so on. There have been some HMI Prisons reports that have criticised the resettlement provision for older prisoners. What steps has NOMS taken to remedy some of these concerns, and are you focused on any particular issues at the moment? Is any one of them a priority for you?
Michael Spurr: Our whole strategy on resettlement has been for everybody who is leaving a prison to be supported on their resettlement. I mentioned earlier-forgive me for returning to it-that the significant issue for me that the HMIP had raised about older prisoners was particularly around social care when moving back into communities and the fact that that was not always sorted out before they left prison. Similarly, it is the ability to be able to apply for benefits, including pension benefits, for example, in advance of leaving custody. We have addressed those issues. You can now apply for benefits in advance, and the Health and Social Care Bill will deal with the portability issue.
In terms of the wider resettlement provision-the Minister may want to speak about it-the whole aim of the "Transforming Rehabilitation" programme is to significantly expand resettlement provision for all prisoners by switching the responsibility such that the providers who will look after and support people in the community when they have left prison will be responsible, paid for partly by results, for those individuals in prison.
Our aim is that, as we move to these new arrangements through the reforms in the community and probation, the through-the-gate service will be a provision that comes into prison with providers who are responsible for those who are going out. That should mean a better holistic service provided to all prisoners, including older ones.
Jeremy Wright: That is absolutely the case. When we talk about resettlement, there are a number of elements to it. There is no doubt, as we have said before, that in relation to housing and employment there are very particular challenges that older exprisoners present for us. The clear impetus of the "Transforming Rehabilitation" agenda is to persuade providers to say, "Look, it is in my interests to ensure that this individual does not offend again. If I am going to succeed in reducing the likelihood of that individual reoffending, I need to look at what are the factors that might make it more likely that they would reoffend."
We know for certain that getting a stable place to live and having employment that you are able to hold on to are key factors in determining whether or not someone is likely to reoffend. If you are a provider charged with that task and incentivised to complete it successfully, those are the things you are going to want to focus on. I have every confidence that providers who are looking after older offenders will be focusing on that kind of thing.
The other reason why I am confident about that is that, if you look at the statistics for completion of licence conditions and obedience to court orders, those figures are much higher for older offenders than younger ones. That, perhaps, is not so much the issue as getting the nuts and bolts of daily life right.
One of the challenges that we are going to have to grapple with increasingly as we deal with an older population of prisoners is that those leaving custody may not simply require a flat or a room in a house somewhere; they may require a more supported form of housing, whether that is residential care or something else. It is making those sorts of arrangements for either very old prisoners or prisoners with significant disability that is going to be the real challenge.
But, again, we will expect providers to do that. They will not be able to pick and choose the offenders that they are responsible for. They will be responsible for those offenders who come out of a number of resettlement prisons into a given geographical area. If that increasingly includes a number of older prisoners or prisoners with problems of the nature we have been describing, they will need to address those problems.
Q160 Seema Malhotra: Could I probe that a little further? Will it be the provider’s responsibility to find suitable housing as well? Could I ask as well to what extent you are still releasing prisoners to "No Fixed Abode" and whether you are considering any legislation, as with Wales, so that that does not happen any more?
Jeremy Wright: On the latter point, we are not always able to be sure that someone has a permanent address that they go to, but they are never released without the criminal justice system being confident that we know where they are, because licence conditions may very well include release to a particular address. We would need to be satisfied that they are released to a suitable address even if it does not turn out to be a permanent address.
Housing will remain the responsibility of the local authority. The local authority will still have an obligation to house someone. We are not seeking to change that. I think that a provider will see it as very much the right thing for them to be working closely with the local authority to help provide that housing. As I say, it is very clear to everybody when they look at the evidence that a lack of a stable address is a clear warning factor as to the likelihood of reoffending. So you will want to make sure that someone is accommodated somewhere stable; if it cannot be in a private address, then I would expect providers to be working with local authorities that are the housing authorities to provide housing through that route.
Q161 Seema Malhotra: Are your providers going to have the training and awareness to deal with particular types of prisoners or those with particular records? One example might be sex offenders where there might be particular concerns and also the need for access to treatment programmes. Are they going to be aware of this?
Jeremy Wright: Yes. The answer is that we will not allow any bidder to be successful who has not persuaded us that they have staff and systems of the requisite quality to do the work.
There is obviously a variety of different sex offenders. For those offenders who are categorised as causing a high risk of harm to the public, the public sector probation service will retain the management of those offenders. We are talking about medium and lower risk offenders that providers would be dealing with in the contracted space. But certainly we will expect all providers who want to take on this work to persuade us and convince us that they have understood the variety of different needs that there will be among the offenders that they deal with-that is whether we are talking about the age of the offender, other particular personal characteristics or the nature of the offences that they have committed-in order to persuade us that they are suitable people to take on the work. So, yes, we will be interested to know what they intend to do for sex offenders as a particular group, but they will not be managing those sex offenders who are a higher risk anyway.
Q162 Chair: There are some people convicted of sex offences who maintain that they did not commit those offences and, as a result, do not have access to the programmes that might assist in their resettlement. One witness told us that NOMS is going to produce a new programme to which deniers could have access. Can you tell us anything about that?
Jeremy Wright: Yes. I will let Michael speak about it in more detail, but there are two groups here effectively. There are those who partially deny their offence or have minimised it, and they will be able to have access to a number of the programmes that are currently running because they can be provided in such a way that those sorts of prisoners can still access and benefit from them. Those who deny their offence absolutely have, as you know, been a persistent problem for some time, and we are working on a programme that would be suitable for them. I will let Michael talk about the detail.
Michael Spurr: The difficulty with someone who is absolutely adamant that they have not committed the offence means that the starting point for being able to address what led to the offence being committed does not exist. From that perspective, we cannot deal with a sexual issue if someone is saying, "It wasn’t me, guv, who did that." In the past, we have taken that too far in terms of those who minimise their offences.
A lot of people accept that other people might have thought they had done wrong but they minimise that offence. With that type of denial, in the past we might have said, "You are not open enough for treatment and we will not treat you." We are now being very clear that our programmes can deal with that. In fact, it is not unusual for most of us when we do something wrong to minimise, for our own humanity, how we got that wrong. It is certainly an issue for sex offenders that they will minimise offences. We are much clearer in our treatment models now that, because they are minimising the offence, it does not mean to say we cannot put them through treatment. That is one of the things you can address in treatment.
For those who are saying, "I am not guilty of this offence and I wasn’t there," or whatever, we are into wider offending behaviour programme-type work that can address general issues but will not be able to address the specific offence. If you are denying the offence, it is incredibly difficult-or impossible, I would say-to be able to do that.
Q163 Chair: Thank you. While we have you here, Minister, we would like you to update us on the situation that has arisen as a result of the electronic tagging contract revealing something wrong, as a consequence of which the announcement of the approved bidders for prisons in Yorkshire and Northumberland-in my constituency, as it happens-has been delayed. How serious are the problems that have been identified with electronic tagging contracts? When will we know more about the outcome, and when will you be in a position to complete the bidding process?
Jeremy Wright: The answer to when we will be in a position to know the outcome in relation to the electronic monitoring investigations that we are carrying out is difficult to give, because at the moment not only are our resources deployed on this but we also have an external audit presence to investigate what has happened here. We need to get to the bottom of it and work out what the appropriate response should be. As a result of that, it is very difficult to be precise about timing.
All I can say is that it is important that we carry out that work thoroughly and, as I say, that there is a degree of external scrutiny applied too. That is already under way. Once that is done, we will be in a much better position to update the Committee, but I cannot say at the moment what the outcome of that scrutiny will be because it is not yet complete.
Q164 Chair: That means that prisons whose future management was expected to be decided already are in a state of uncertainty that could be prolonged, and the prison officers who work in them cannot really find out anything about what their future career pattern is going to be and who is going to employ them.
Jeremy Wright: I am very conscious of that and we want to complete the work as quickly as we possibly can, but the Committee will fully understand that it is important we also make sure that the audit process that is under way at the moment is done comprehensively so that we are in a position to reach the appropriate judgments. We will do these things as quickly as we can, but we must also make sure that they are done properly. I am very conscious that there are people waiting to find out what the outcome of that particular process is going to be and I do not want to keep them in suspense any longer than is necessary.
Q165 Chair: Would it be better to delay by a specified period the time at which these prisons might be handed over to the bidders?
Jeremy Wright: The first thing to do is to assess how long it is likely to take to complete the audit process that is under way. If it takes considerably longer than we have anticipated, of course we will revisit the question. But at the moment the important thing is to make sure that we complete our audit processes, that we do them comprehensively, reach the right judgments on those things, and then we will move ahead as quickly as we can.
Q166 Chair: Doesn’t this illustrate a wider problem that the Ministry of Justice is going to face? If a limited number of public service contractors contract for a range of the services that come within the scope of the Department-interpreting, electronic tagging, probation and the management of prisons-you are at risk of this happening more often, where, because the numbers involved are few, you cannot proceed according to your original plans to allocate contracts because something has gone wrong in one of the other areas affecting the same small number of businesses. How do you view that difficulty?
Jeremy Wright: I do not think it follows that problems in one area make it impossible to proceed in another, but, until we have completed the particular audit process that we are proceeding with at the moment, it would not be right to move our resources elsewhere.
The other point is that in relation to the "Transforming Rehabilitation" agenda, where it is perfectly right that we are looking to involve a great deal more outside organisations in the business of delivering rehabilitation, we conduct at the moment a number of events with those who have an interest in providing these services, and I quite often speak and answer questions at them. I am rarely talking to an empty room and am usually talking to a very full room. My expectation is that there will be a large number of organisations that will play a part in this-perhaps not on their own but more probably in partnership with others.
We are not looking to create an environment for "Transforming Rehabilitation" where it is only one or two organisations that provide this service. We are looking to create an environment in which a number of organisations will provide that service and that gives us precisely the type of resilience you are describing.
Chair: Thank you very much.