Saturday, 30 January 2016

A Bumpy Road to Redemption

So, the end of another week sees Gove reverse yet another Grayling policy, this time on Legal Aid. According to the written announcement, the lawyers victory was as much down to the likely cost of the MoJ having to fight 99 law suits as anything, but no matter, they won, commonsense won and now it's just us left as we continue to suffer Grayling's TR omnishambles. 

Of course the extra good news is that it looks as if NOMS is earmarked to get the chop in order to pay for this particular policy reversal. In relation to this, I'm grateful to regular reader ML for drawing my attention to the following parliamentary evidence at EV 84 from Martin Narey in 2011. 

Although I'm not a particularly great fan of Narey, he was the first Director General of NOMS and has some absolutely fascinating things to say that shed some useful light on things subsequently. Given our current situation and that of the prison system with a staggering 85,000 plus incarcerated, I feel it's entirely appropriate to be reminded of what he said back in 2011, not just in the context of the likely demise of NOMS, but also in relation to the political and economic realities Gove faces with any prison reform.

I'm sorry it's long, but I feel it's important to be reminded of certain things as we consider how to get Gove to accept the urgent need to re-look at probation and how crap TR is and how it's definitely not fit for purpose. I've edited the exchanges remove 'chit chat'.  

Monday 23 May 2011 Justice Committee, Sir Alan Beith in the chair.

Q459 Chair: Mr Narey, welcome. We are very glad to have you with us..... I am going to start by asking you a few things about your past experience and then move on to where we are at now and what you think about how the system could be developed. Finally, there will be some discussion about evidence-based policy. You were the first Chief Executive of NOMS. This is not so much a personal question as an institutional question. To what extent do you think you were able to fulfil the purpose for which NOMS was created? 

Martin Narey: I didn’t, Sir Alan. Ultimately, I guess, that is why I resigned and moved on to do something else. I thought NOMS was a courageous venture but could have been delivered— 

Q460 Chair: Did you say, “This is courageous, Minister”? 

Martin Narey: No. I very much wanted to do it and we worked hard to achieve backing from No. 10, the Treasury and the Home Office all at once. But certain things happened. Ministers changed and the commitment changed. The absolute foundation for making NOMS a success was getting some handle on sentencing. When a change of Home Secretary led to the abandonment of that, I knew that NOMS couldn’t work. 

Q461 Elizabeth Truss: One of the issues that seems to have come up before the Committee when we have been looking at NOMS is the national nature of the structure and being quite siloed between the various services at a local level. What do you think was missing to prevent end-to-end offender management happening at a local level? 

Martin Narey: At the time that NOMS was created as part of a working group between the three Departments I have mentioned, the term “offender management” had barely been heard. What it was to me and what I wanted to do was give probation officers much more authority and influence over what happened to their offender when they were in prison, rather than the Prison Service, which I led for seven years, taking them over and doing what they thought was best. I thought that from the moment someone arrives in prison, unless they were a very long-term prisoner, the probation officer as the offender manager should be preparing for their release and making sure that the things that happen to that prisoner while inside, as far as the resources allow, contribute to a successful release. 

Q462 Elizabeth Truss: Why didn’t this happen at a local level? What were the barriers to that happening? Do you think the very existence of a national structure helped prevent that localism? 

Martin Narey: No, I don’t. I think difficult public services like Prison and Probation need some firm national direction. It is simply not remotely possible that any Home Secretary as was, Justice Secretary as now, would not want to direct the activities of those two very large services. They also needed driving and some reform. I inherited a Prison Service which was very much on the mend but had been in a mess. When I took over responsibility for the Probation Service I thought there were significant flaws in that service. We tried to drive improvements from the top while building up a great deal of autonomy at the local level. Probation chiefs, and indeed prison governors, continued to have very significant levels of autonomy to make the right decision for the offender in a particular case. 

Q463 Elizabeth Truss: Do you think having those existing structures, though, prevented the proper introduction of contestability—the fact you have existing bodies doing the commissioning who are already providers? 

Martin Narey: No, I don’t, Ms Truss. What happened with contestability was that, again, a change in Home Secretary and a lack of momentum in the process of establishing NOMS led to much less enthusiasm for contestability. I have been a public servant most of my life. There was a time, when I was a prison governor, when I was fiercely opposed to the use of the private sector in prisons. I was utterly wrong, and I am very proud of opening 10 of the 12 private sector prisons. They offered good value for money and, more importantly, they treated prisoners with decency and dignity. I wanted to introduce the role of the private sector much more widely in prisons and then in probation. The change of Home Secretary, when David Blunkett was succeeded by Charles Clarke, rather changed that. Charles was the Home Secretary, and, as was absolutely his right, he was persuaded by the TUC to take a gentler approach to contestability.

Q464 Elizabeth Truss: Do you think these two different cultures in the Prison Service and the Probation Service operating separately—and you have alluded earlier to having end-to-end offender management—could be restructured with the Probation Service being based out of prisons? How do you make it into a single end-to-end service, which hasn’t been done and you get different approaches, but ultimately the output should be the same? It should be to try and have people in the community who have been rehabilitated, regardless of whether that is in prison or in the community. 

Martin Narey: You are absolutely right about the cultures. Although there has been some merging of the cultures, they remain two very different services. The Probation Service is largely a graduate work force, and the Prison Service is largely prison officers, many of whom joined before there was even a requirement for five GCSEs. The cultures are very different......A big step into putting that right for me was to give greater influence to probation officers. When probation officers talked to me about when they were going into prisons that I was running, I was very struck about their sense that they weren’t treated with respect and that their opinion wasn’t taken seriously. I wanted to blitz through that and make sure that they were in charge of what happened to their offenders when they were in prison. 

Q465 Chair: You made a very interesting comment which would have been relevant to today’s discussions when you said that “for most of the people we incarcerated, the children and young people in particular, there was generally just too much poverty, too much disadvantage, too much educational failure and too much poor parenting for prisons to overcome”. 

Martin Narey: Yes; that is absolutely the case. I believe prisons can work. I worked in and out of prisons for 23 years and I regret not a day of it. In the right circumstances, prisons can make a dramatic difference. Relevant to the current debate, when people are just in prison for a handful of weeks and they don’t get any of the things that might address poor parenting and poor education, it is pretty much a waste of time, I am afraid. 

Q466 Mrs Grant: Do you think there are many similarities between the current Government’s plans and the original aspiration for NOMS? If you were the Chief Executive now, is there any particular advice that you would give the Government? 

Martin Narey: This might relate to your question, Chair, on evidence-led policy. The terrible problem with this issue is that you can have very intelligent and sound discussions within Ministries, and certainly historically within this Committee, but you get a very immature discussion in the media and the press. I think that the current Justice Secretary is absolutely right to try to get some measure of management over who goes to prison. He is absolutely right. It is something I believed in passionately, and that belief was the foundation of NOMS. What would have made NOMS a success was what was an historic agreement between David Blunkett, who was then Home Secretary, and Lord Chief Justice Woolf. They agreed that the prison population would not be allowed to rise above 80,000. It was about 76,000 at the time. We were on the verge of putting that into legislation. If that had happened, and through sentencing guidelines we had been able to manage the prison population a little better, then I am very clear that we could have found some of the resources to put into the probation side of NOMS to make offender management a success. 

Q467 Mrs Grant: How realistic is it to try or seek to reduce the cost of correctional facilities? 

Martin Narey: To reduce the cost? I am not close to correctional facilities now. I have been looking away for five years while I have been running Barnardo’s. I wouldn’t suggest that things can’t be done better and more efficiently. Greater use of competition will drive equality and costs in the provision of correctional services, but I don’t think correctional services are flush with cash. They are very hard-pressed because of the number of offenders that are going through the criminal justice system. 

Q468 Mrs Grant: What are the benefits and limitations of the recent decision to remove the regional tier of NOMS, in your opinion? 

Martin Narey: I have to say, Ms Grant, I am not very close to what is happening now. I couldn’t tell you what the current arrangements are. There has to be a balance between national direction and local autonomy. It is a nonsense to try to direct what happens to individual prisoners from the centre. If there is one line in the current Green Paper I disagree with very much, it is the suggestion that NOMS or prisons and probation have been dominated by a belief that Whitehall knows best. That is not the case at all. I think NOMS was built on very, very strong evidence about what was likely to work in dealing with offenders. In the very early years of NOMS, before it was overtaken by population problems, we did deliver for the first time statistically significant reductions in reoffending by prisoners. 

Q469 Chair: Can I put it to you that your model relies quite heavily on a degree of national management and you have tried to use national management opportunities that you have had to improve the service? But the climate might be changed much more dramatically if the same local or regional body was commissioning custodial provision as is commissioning non-custodial provision. At the moment, there is a provider which provides custody, whereas at local level a series of bodies have to find ways of providing not just probation and community payback but drug rehabilitation and all manner of other things. It is a completely separate process. If those two processes were brought together, would it not be more likely that you would see the kind of shift in resources that you would agree is necessary? 

Martin Narey: I think you would see that shift in resources if you could arrest the inexorable advance of the prison population. I am feeling a very old man these days. I can remember in my early years in the Prison Service working for a man called Alastair Papps.... We were horrified at that time at the prospect of a prison population which might reach 40,000. We now have a population of 85,000. There is no end to this. You only have to look at what is happening in California this week, where the courts are now directing the California legislature to reduce the prison population, because they are breaching any minimal sort of health regulations. You can’t feed the appetite of a media frenzy which suggests that more and more people need to be sent to prison. Until you can do that, I don’t believe you can get the rational redistribution of resources. I was an incredibly fortunate Director General of Prisons. I started in 1998. There was a lot of public spending. Jack Straw gave me a lot of money to pour into education and drug treatment, but the money I spent per prisoner barely increased at all over the seven years, because the number of prisoners rose just as fast as the money I was getting to educate them. I didn’t make the progress that I know I could have done with a reasonably static prison population. 

Q470 Mr Buckland: What you are saying is extremely interesting, but it would be wrong of us as a Committee not to challenge, perhaps, one of the assertions that you made, which was about the agreement reached between the then Lord Chief Justice and the then Home Secretary about putting a ceiling on prison numbers. Many people outside this room would say that putting targets and arbitrary numbers on the prison population masks the real problem here, which is the quality of the treatment of individual people within the criminal justice system, whether they be in prison or not, and the danger of imposing targets is that you then put an additional pressure on sentencers to take into account frankly inappropriate considerations when trying to assess the best outcome for the person they have in front of them. 

Martin Narey: I do understand that criticism. I stress that what was anticipated at the time between David Blunkett and the Lord Chief wasn’t a possibility that any judge would ever be told, “The prisons are full; you can’t use custody today.” The sentencing guidelines would be crafted in such a way as to influence the size of the prison population. It was open to the Lord Chief to come back to a future Home Secretary and say, “Look, we will need 81,000 places next year.” It didn’t mean that for all time the population wouldn’t have risen, but it would have locked down the population. I know people find that very difficult, but why are prisons alone a public service which we don’t ration? If I want some healthcare, if I am ill, I will have to wait in a queue. It is a much shorter queue than it once was, but I will have to wait in a queue for treatment. Today, no matter how many people are sent to prison, prison governors around the UK accept them all. 

Q471 Chair: That comes back to my earlier question of the judge or the magistrate sitting on the Bench with someone in front of them. If it is a custodial sentence, a van will roll up outside and take him away...If it is a drug treatment facility, he would have to inquire whether that is available and whether the resources are locally available for it. 

Martin Narey: That is right. One of the very small things you could do is delay the introduction of some custodial sentences. Prisons have a bit more space in summer and at Christmas. You could delay some sentences until space was available. 

Q473 Mr Buckland: This is totally off the brief, frankly, but this is an interesting exchange. You were certainly heavily involved at the time the custody plus proposals came forward. You remember the legislation was passed?... And everybody turned round and said, “How are we going to deliver this?” I just wondered whether you could very briefly talk us through your take on what is seen as a huge failure of both legislation and policy. Why did it fail? 

Martin Narey: It didn’t fail, because we didn’t try it. I was a great fan of custody plus. I spent a lot of my time running prisons and then moving to the Home Office to run prisons and probation. Unlike the current Chief Executive of NOMS, I was also the senior official advising on sentencing policy. The reason I thought custody plus was necessary was because I felt there were too many magistrates and judges who, for a given offence, could not swallow a community penalty, but they could if it was, say, seven days in Strangeways and then a community penalty. Every time I spoke to sentencers I was told over and over again that they could swallow a community penalty on that basis. I believe it was abandoned—I had resigned before it was abandoned—because it was considered that there would have been too much use of custody plus and there would have been a smaller use of straightforward community sentences. I am not sure how that opinion was arrived at. My view is that it could have been managed and it might have made quite a significant difference. The seven days would still have been pretty much a waste of time, but if that was the price to pay for getting people sentenced into the community, then I would have been very happy with it. I think it could have worked, and I still believe it could work. 

Q475 Mr Buckland: It would be particularly effective perhaps for first-time offenders, bearing in mind what we know about the disproportionate impact that even a short term of custody can have on a firsttime offender. 

Martin Narey: I hate to disagree, but I am not sure the evidence holds together for that. There are some very tempting statistics in this area. I remember once telling a previous Home Secretary, Jack Straw, that prison had a salutary effect on first-time offenders. Actually, I think I was wrong. The problem is that the sort of people who go to prison for their first offence have committed something pretty serious straight away, so they get more time in prison, they get more treatment and more rehabilitation. A lot of them have committed some offences which are not volume offences. This is not the young person repetitively committing criminal damage, burglary and theft. 

Q476 Mr Buckland: Perhaps I phrased it inelegantly. I should have said somebody who was facing custody for the first time, not necessarily somebody who had not been in the system. There will be people who build up to a position where suddenly they have committed an offence and the threshold is there. 

Martin Narey: Yes. 

Q477 Mr Buckland: Does the argument still hold water then, or do you think that perhaps this idea that you can make an impact in only a few days of custody and then go on to the custody plus option is overplayed? 

Martin Narey: It is very difficult. All that we know about deterrents is that, regrettably, prison is not a deterrent. Most of the offenders we are talking about here are young men, and you don’t have to spend very long with young offenders to realise that that is the case, because they never think through the consequences of their actions. The research shows that the thing that deters people from offending is the belief that they will get caught. Characteristically, a lot of the young men we lock up, no matter how inept their crime, somehow believe they won’t get caught. 

Chair: Can I draw you on to this business of the role of the Probation trust? 

Q478 Mr Buckland: Yes; that is a very interesting discussion. I want to come back to the commissioning issue. As a Committee, this is one of the issues that we have found is a potential problem, not for you but Probation trusts being providers, commissioners, cocommissioners all at once. How do you see that developing? 

Martin Narey: It is not ideal, but as a way of introducing some competition, I think it can be made to work. When I was Director General of Prisons— my job before taking over NOMS—I was running the public sector prison service but I was also a commissioner of the 12 private sector prisons. There are real problems with that, and sometimes private sector operators were worried whether they were going to get a fair deal from me. When I first returned a private prison back to the public sector, because the public sector had responded to the competition and really done well, the world pretty much fell around me with suggestions that there had been foul play. But, overall, it could be made to work, and it led to the private sector getting a very significant foothold in prisons. Private sector prisons, despite all the criticism of PFI, have continued to offer really good value relative to the public sector alternative. Prisons are hard to manage. The Prison Officers Association is an unreconstructed trade union. They survived all the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s almost unscathed. The world changed for me as Director General of Prisons when the POA understood I could go somewhere else and that I could find other people in terms of Serco and Group 4 to run jails. They started to reform as a trade union. The great benefit of privatisation in prisons was that we got a much better public sector work force. When we said to a prison, “You must dramatically improve in 12 months or we will put you on the market,” they invariably dramatically improved. 

Q479 Mr Buckland: Just developing that, some concern has been expressed by Probation trusts that making the provision of quite a proportion of their work subject to competition will fragment the service and may undermine the future viability of the trust themselves. Do you share that concern? 

Martin Narey: No. It is like saying that privatisation of telecoms fragmented the phone industry. We have all been massive beneficiaries of the fragmentation of that industry. Competition has made phones, which were once an expensive commodity, a very low cost indeed. There would need to be some management coordination. It is simply the case in my experience, and I felt exactly the same in the five years that I ran Barnardo’s, that services which are delivered without any form of competition are not likely to be wellrun services. Although the Probation Service is full of terrific, dedicated people, certainly when I was running it, I thought some things done by the Probation Service, such as the management of unpaid work or community punishment as it was, were done very badly and very expensively. I always suspected from my own observation that the statistics we read about the number of hours of unpaid work that are not completed were a significant underestimate. 

Q480 Ben Gummer: I appreciate your bracing honesty, especially after the few hours that we have spent in the Chamber. You make a very interesting parallel here with the phone industry. An economist will say that competition works best where you have common standards for information and transparency of information. In the phone industry you have GSM standards or whatever you choose to have, which allows everyone to work on a common platform. Yet my understanding of the way that prison and probation works now is that there is no commonality of information. So, from the police to the courts, the courts to prison, and prison to probation, let alone integration with education, if it is a youth offender, or social services, no one really exchanges much at all. That was a preface to saying, is it possible to create that interchange of information without a huge great Government IT project which won’t work, or is there another way of doing it? 

Martin Narey: Certainly as I left, and I doubt very much whether this has changed, there were some continuing problems with the so-called “level playing field”. I have observed that, for the last five years, in running a charity in local authority commissioning, Barnardo’s would compete for a lot of work that was previously delivered by local authorities, and sometimes I didn’t think local authorities got their costs right, and underestimated, for example, backroom and pension costs. That criticism could be aimed at the early privatisation that was taking place in prisons and probation. I think we still managed through that. The growth of the private sector in prisons, which has pretty much come to a halt in recent years, was a demonstration that there was a way of getting it right. Although competition might be imperfect, it was better than no competition at all. 

Q481 Ben Gummer: It can work reasonably well, therefore, in the absence of commonality of information. 

Martin Narey: Yes, it can. You could improve commonality of information. Whenever we held a competition for the running of a prison we tried to be as honest as we could, irrespective of who the provider was, about who was offering us the best value for money. Although there might have been flaws in that—and I would have to plead guilty to accepting that we didn’t understand public sector costs in as sophisticated a manner as we should—there was still sufficient purchase to attract the private sector and for them to come in and say, “We want to do this work.” They came in and they did it well. 

Q482 Ben Gummer: One of the things that has struck everyone on this Committee is how poor the evidence base is within the MoJ for assessing the efficacy of punishments and understanding reoffending. This doesn’t necessarily seem to be a British problem: it is a global one. I wondered whether you had any thoughts about how you would improve that evidence-gathering rigour of data. 

Martin Narey: I would suggest the evidence base is really quite good. If you look at the annals of the research and statistics department or whatever it is called now in the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, you will find no end of very significant and very high-quality peer-reviewed research. The problem is that it doesn’t tend to do very much to influence the political debate. 

Q483 Chair: Sometimes it has been more influential in other countries. We found that, when previous members of the Committee were in Germany, they were well aware of research material produced often in Cambridge or elsewhere in the UK, which the MoJ had, but they were making more use of it than the MoJ was. 

Martin Narey: The Institute of Criminology at Cambridge is an outstanding establishment. I digress. The only Bill that Rab Butler had, who was Home Secretary for six years, was to create the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge. It is outstanding. You are right; it probably has as much influence internationally as it has here. The debate about crime and justice is at a troublingly low level in the UK. Sometimes, when I would meet people running prison services and probation services in the rest of Europe, they just couldn’t understand why crime and punishment was always, always on the front page of newspapers in the UK, and it has been really for some years, but not always. I remind you that, when I was a very young prison governor, Douglas Hurd was a Home Secretary working for Margaret Thatcher, when he coined the famous phrase, “Prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse.” He talked down the prison population by 4,000, by 10%, from 43,000 back to around 39,000, and he was working for Margaret Thatcher. The level of debate was, I am afraid, significantly more mature. I was a Private Secretary to a Minister of State when the 1991 Criminal Justice Act went through. It was very much Douglas Hurd’s creation, but David Waddington was Home Secretary when it went through. I was working for a Lords Minister. I followed that Bill through 13 days in the House of Lords, but there was no party politicking at all. There was almost complete unanimity about the intellectual basis of a Bill which set out to move people from short-term prison sentences into community penalties.

Q484 Ben Gummer: It is a function of the centralisation of the service that, the more you do that, the more a Minister is responsible for the individual. Is that the core of the media problem, do you think, and what you ran up against? 

Martin Narey: It might be possible to do that. I have to say that, much as I loved my time there, trying to keep Ministers from getting involved in day-to-day happenings in individual prisons and probation services is pretty difficult. They invariably do. Part of the reason for that is, if something goes very wrong, then it is an issue in the House of Commons. I suspect only you, Chair, witnessed the time that Michael Howard was Home Secretary following the escape of some category A prisoners from a prison in Cambridgeshire, and then another group from a prison on the Isle of Wight. It very nearly cost him his job. Things that go wrong in prisons have an immediacy and a vulnerability for Ministers which makes it hard for them not to want to have some assurance that things are being done properly in every local place. When I became Director General, the rough deal with Jack Straw was that he would give me lots of money for education and drug treatment if I stopped escapes of category A prisoners and riots, because that is what brings Ministers down. 

Q485 Ben Gummer: Can I just ask one final question on that? It is on data. You talked about bringing reoffending rates down at the beginning of your period at NOMS. How easy is it to measure these things against general European trends? 

Martin Narey: There are two things that I wanted to say before I left the room today. I must have been saying this for 20 years now. The way we measure reoffending is almost completely useless. The reconviction measure is utterly useless. First of all, it measures reconvictions and not reoffending. Secondly, even if it is a proxy for reoffending, it measures no reoffending. What we need to know when we are looking at what we do with offenders is whether they offend less, both in terms of quantity and gravity of offending. If someone leaves a prison after a 10-year sentence for an armed robbery and is convicted within the next two years for a petty theft, that is seen as a failure, when actually that is probably a great success. The reconviction measure is almost useless. 

Q486 Claire Perry: .... Could I press a little bit on the failure of the reconviction and reoffending measure? One of the rather startling things we have heard, particularly from the Probation trusts—and it is not because they are bad people or don’t get it—is just how difficult it is to get almost any data on reoffending and also how unimportant that measure is in assessing what kind of job they do. Lots of people have criticised the current measure. Why is it so difficult to get people to focus on a simple measure of reoffending across the system, with all the flaws that you have raised with that simple measure? 

Martin Narey: It is very difficult for a number of reasons. One is that there is such a long time between somebody finishing a community penalty and leaving prison and getting involved again in reoffending, certainly before they get through the criminal justice system again and are reconvicted. In my view, it is sometimes very difficult to draw the causal link between the two events. That is why I was very much in favour of more straightforward proxies. Despite the flaws in the research, what the research tells us over and over again is that, if you get a prisoner, or someone on a community penalty, somewhere to live and into employment or training, they will offend much less, by about a half. There is lots of analysis to prove that. A valid measure of success for community penalties or for prisoners would be having somewhere to live and in a job after release. That would give you a dependable indication of the likelihood of someone not reoffending. It would be in the hands of the Probation trust or the prison to do those things. 

Q487 Claire Perry: I agree with you in terms of the causality, although I suppose it is a little bit more difficult to justify it if you are doing payment by results—to be paying for actions rather than results— but does the data exist in the system? I accept that it is complicated, but we are not Amazon; we are not trying to ship out 1 million parcels a day. We are trying to deal with the offending habits of effectively 250,000 people who are in the Probation Service at any one time. Why is it so difficult just to get the basic data in one place and track a person through their prison and probation journey? 

Martin Narey: I don’t think it is intellectually difficult, and it could be done. There are identifiers now on individual offenders and it is possible to track their time through the justice system, but there is such a long delay. If someone leaves a prison and gets straight down to reoffending again, as some do, it is going to be a long time before they reappear again on a reconviction statistic. Offenders are disarmingly honest about what they have done. Self-reported studies on offending are much more accurate as a way of telling you what people are doing after release. But I couldn’t stress too much the fact that the reconviction measure as a measure of offending or non-offending is virtually useless. 

Q488 Ben Gummer: On the back of that, because I think it is a fascinating point you are raising, as we are moving towards PbR, what outcomes is it appropriate to use for letting those contracts? Would you favour going for a single outcome on reoffending or reconviction, whichever you wish to use, or do you want to have a whole series? I know that Barnardo’s might be interested in this. 

Martin Narey: I have left Barnardo’s now so that wouldn’t matter. I don’t feel I know enough about the formulation of the current contracting process, but my view is that you need measures which are easy to obtain. If I were giving advice to Ministers now, I would advise them to look at some fairly straightforward proxies which are very easy to measure, such as having somewhere to live and in employment. I stress that it should not be the week after a sentence finishes but three months after a sentence has finished, for example. 

Q489 Ben Gummer: As well as the reconviction rate or reoffending rate. 

Martin Narey: I could put an argument together for abandoning the reconviction rate. 

Q490 Mr Buckland: What about the reconviction rate of sentences of equal or greater seriousness than the index offence? Isn’t that a valid measure? 

Martin Narey: Yes, it is a measure but we don’t have the reverse measure. It is a very important measure to see whether someone’s offending has escalated and is getting greater and probably greater in seriousness, but we don’t record the victory when it goes the other way. 

Q491 Chair: I am all in favour of raising the level of debate, but that wouldn’t convince me that I could persuade the public that somebody committing another rape was not a relevant piece of information when assessing what had happened since he left prison from the previous rape. 

Martin Narey: I would accept that entirely, for offences like that. I am not suggesting that you wouldn’t follow people’s individual criminality and watch what happens to them. As an overall measure of what happens to prisons, obviously I haven’t read the details of the debate you have been involved in today, but the bandying about of statistical shifts of 5% or 6% in a reconviction rate over time is in my view fairly useless. I have no confidence that there is any significant causal link which has made that difference. Even though I was pleased to have driven through the first significant statistical reduction in reoffending, I never pretended to any Secretary of State I worked for that I thought it was terribly important in the real world....If I may say, this Committee, when it was the Home Affairs Select Committee, did a really impressive piece of work looking at something called the drug testing and treatment order. That was largely abandoned, because reconviction rates were seen as high, and they were, because this was an order given to drug addicts. The Committee here did a fantastic piece of work which demonstrated that, although reconviction rates were high, the amount of offending done by people on that order was significantly lower than before the order. But it didn’t save it in the political world. 

Chair: Mr Narey, thank you very much indeed.... 


There's a fine example of the political reality of what Gove has to deal with here as fellow Tory MP Philip Davies expounds on Criminal dishonesty over jail sentences in the Yorkshire Post. The situation is put into further context on the Transform Justice website:-

Can Gove change the prison debate single handed?

“It is because I am a Conservative that I believe in the rule of law as the foundation stone of our civilisation; it is because I am a Conservative that I believe that evil must be punished; but it is also because I am a Conservative, and a Christian, that I believe in redemption, and I think that the purpose of our prison system and our criminal law is to keep people safe by making people better”.

This was Michael Gove’s riposte to MP Philip Davies’ accusation that he had “gone native”. The Lord Chancellor’s words are music to the ears of penal reformers and mark a sea-change from the rhetoric of Chris Grayling,and Jack Straw. But unfortunately Philip Davies echoes the views of many ordinary people in believing that the criminal justice system is too soft on criminals. Nearly half the population would like to bring back the death penalty, 70% think sentences are too soft, and over half think prison is an effective deterrent. These are deep rooted feelings, which one Lord Chancellor will find it hard to uproot.

There are also messages from other bits of government which reinforce the Philip Davies view. This week the Sentencing Council brought out new guidelines on how judges should deal with robbery. Nearly all the headlines suggested tougher sentences for street robbers. In fact the guidelines are not designed to increase sentences. The same day it was reported that the information commissioner felt staff who sell stolen data “must face jail”. A couple of weeks ago, the Attorney General’s office publicised that the number of appeals against “unduly lenient sentences” were going up. All these articles reinforce the public’s view that sentences need to be harsher, and that prison works.

Mood music matters. Government voices (as translated by the media) weekly reinforce people’s deeply held belief that long prison sentences are the best remedy for crime. Cumulatively, they undermine Gove’s message of redemption, and hamper efforts to reduce prison numbers. If the government is to persuade the Philip Davies’ of this world of a new penal direction, they need also to persuade every tentacle of government to be super careful in the words they use.


  1. Political nepotism, the chums' charter of 'quid pro quo' overrides any and all common-sense or objectivity, i.e. you scratch my back... :

    "When I became Director General, the rough deal with Jack Straw was that he would give me lots of money for education and drug treatment if I stopped escapes of category A prisoners and riots, because that is what brings Ministers down."

    The true meaning of "I'm alright Jack", perhaps?


    1. The outgoing chief inspector of prisons is explaining why he is so keen to get out of the job. It’s not the budget fights Nick Hardwick had with the Ministry of Justice, nor the fact that he wasn’t actively encouraged to apply for another five-year stint. It’s not even the fact that the previous secretary of state for justice, Lord Grayling, “robustly” tried to influence him – as Hardwick revealed to a select committee last week.

      No, he simply feared that he was becoming desensitised; that he was getting prison-horror fatigue. “You shouldn’t do this job for too long because you get used to things you shouldn’t get used to,” he says. “I’ll give you an example of something that is objectively shocking, but how do you keep the outrage going? Take the level of self-harm and suicide. On one level, one bit of your brain is thinking, ‘Oh well, they’ve only had two suicides since we were last here, good.’ On another level, that is appalling.”

      Hardwick, 58, barely takes a breath before providing another example: dirt. He recently did an inspection with a man who normally does police custody inspections. At the end, the inspectors discuss what they found. “We went through the physical conditions, saying, ‘Lots of people doubled up in cells mean, for one, toilets not adequately screened, next issue’ … and he went, ‘Hang on a minute, that’s disgusting.’ And we all said, ‘Yeah it is.’ But when you’ve seen it so often … In my early reports I used to bang on about two men in a small cell with an unscreened toilet, one of them eating their meals sitting on the bed next to a toilet, and I’ve stopped banging on about that now. But actually we should keep banging on about it because it is disgusting.”

      If Hardwick has got compassion fatigue, he’s making a good job of hiding it. His outrage could not be more visceral. Throughout his five years as chief inspector, he has been an outspoken critic of the conditions he found in the prisons of England and Wales.

      When Hardwick took up his post in 2010, the incoming coalition government promised a “rehabilitation revolution”. In his final annual report, in 2015, the chief inspector said he was “still waiting for this to happen”. The same report quoted an inspection at Wormwood Scrubs in which a guard urged him to look at cells the officer “wouldn’t keep a dog in” – broken windows, filthy, inadequately screened toilets and cockroaches everywhere.

  3. It's interesting to read Martin Nairey's comments about recognising the relative power imbalance of probation staff going into prisons, and all the more disappointing that he failed to do anything significant about it. I don't think there was anything inherently wrong with the idea of bringing prisons and probation together in one service, but given the massive disparity in levels of funding between the two, it would take an intensive and clear effort from the top to avoid Prison Service dominance. I would also argue that the internal hierarchical structure of the Prison Service, compared to the much looser and localised Probation Areas as was, made it much easier for ex-prison staff to slot into the similarly-organised Whitehall set-up.

    All of which meant that end-to-end offender management was doomed to fail under the NOMS that we ended up with. It makes much more sense for one member of staff to be responsible for the same client throughout their time in custody and then on release, but in reality probation staff little, if any, influence over what happened in the first half of that time. Sentence planning became a matter of "what can this person do in this prison?" rather than "what does this person need to do, and how can we help him do it?" Expediency over effectiveness.

    And of course now we are as far away from end-to-end management as it seems possible to get: NPS staff with no idea of what CRCs are offering, because the operational models aren't in place - and won't be effectively in place for months if not years; courts blindly grasping at a random number of RAR days and punitive requirements without (or despite) a meaningful assessment of risk or need; and CRC staff picking up cases from court with unworkable orders, or short-term custody cases with basic custody screening assessments that are worth far less than the paper they're not supposed to be printed on (gotta love the paperless office) because the TTG staff are woefully undertrained.

  4. Probation and Magistrates used to have a joint project where we would go to local groups: neighbourhood watch meetings / Rotary meetings (as after dinner speakers) to give an interactive talk about community sentencing. They were a hard nut to crack but most concluded by the end of the evening that in most cases probation would be a more effective sentence than prison. We need more of this so the public have more knowledge and don't unquestioningly listen to the media. Although perhaps with social media the old media have less of an influence now than they did.

    1. LCCS Local Crime: Communuty Sentencing

    2. Yes, I remember the regular meetings we would provide in our office for magistrates. They would pack out our tea room, and we would have a formal programme each month or so, with a main topic, but open for other questions asked by the magistrates. And likewise, they would provide us with a greater awareness of their work too, and sometimes why they came to a certain decision in a particular case. The meetings went on for many years, but ceased in the early 2000's. Some magistrates showed an unintended racist, sexist naivety and were sometimes astonished by our responses, but always learned from them. And they always left, hours later, after being well-plied with refreshments, and well-satisfied with the information which very often opened their eyes widely.

      These meetings were enthusiastically attended, as they often had little understanding of the structure of Probation and what we exactly we did, and likewise we would learn too, and they would take up the whole afternoon and into early evening. I recall one meeting going on until about 6 30, with our guests, on first name terms,(but not in the court) in no hurry to leave. Some offices held meetings after 5pm with differing levels of involvement, but nonetheless still with the purpose of providing clarity, understanding and sense of purpose - from both sides of the bench.

      All gone.

  5. One of the problems with regard to lack of influence from probation officers on the prison system was by the physical moving out of POs from prisons and the requirement that prison officers took on much of what were once described as welfare work that had been done by POs who were seconded to work in what were once (probably wrongly called) Welfare Departments in prisons.

    The prison officers were never trained to do the welfare work mostly do not having either the social work experience or training that POs once received about interacting with the whole gamut of UK social welfare provision.

    Understandably prison officers, who are in any event short of time and do not have access (at least when I worked in prison/borstal) 1981/2 1997/02 - to basic facilities like telephones and typists, are not enthusiastic about taking on the work.

    In the year before I went to work in a London local prison the probation staff were cut by almost half, at a time there was a paper requirement for Sentence Planning, but POs were just struggling to constantly prioritize with a turn over of an average of about 70 prisoners a day - by then proper reception interviews had been abandoned. Whereas as a student PO in 1974 on placement at a North West open prison, it was the established practice that within the 2 or 3 days of a prisoners arrival - they all received an assessment interview from a PO - but at that time and even at that small prison the welfare work needed was far greater than the resources available allowed.

    And yes Ministers do intervene inappropriately and put political expediency above all - three personal experiences involving Ministers come to mind, in one case where the intervention made a supervision break down more likely, and where on two occasions truth was disguised with obfuscation that was not effectively challenged.

    Narey is right, it is getting the truth out into the public domain that is a major problem, and in my opinion our current electoral system & commercialised media make changing that a very tough challenge. Hence my pessimism expressed yesterday.

  6. Look I'm not backing gove till Hatton gives his backing to gove

    1. Oh well said Anon at 12:59.

      Your analysis is profound and inspires me, I was only going to keep going until June 1st 2015, but it is such comments as these that keep me fired up with enthusiasm to even now spread the word of the wreck of probation, in the hope that eventually Joe Public demands better than Cameron and Gove are giving us.

  7. Narey makes sense however the qiestions were tepid clearly from a poorly briefed panel - one area I absolutely agree is probation should have far more influence and responsibility within the prisons even to the extent of holding the deputy governor position - the reason they are 'shut out' esentially by uniformed staff is as identified by Narey they are in the most graduates have topical knowledge regarding insight into human behaviour. Uniformed staff can be insecure and themselves carry very low self esteem/self worth - hence they fear being undermined or exposed.

    1. There's some weapons-grade self-aggrandisement going on there, 21:19.