Taking the Prison Service into the 21st Century

Sir Martin Narey
Monday, 10 May 1999

I am reminded that two weeks ago at a prison on the Isle of Wight, the Chairman of the Board of Visitors introduced me as the Director General who he believed would take the Prison Service into the millennium. I thought at the time that it would have appeared ungracious to point out that only necessitated my surviving seven months in this infamous job. I knew of course what he meant and was touched. Yet there is an element in this job which encourages me at least to count off the weeks as I survive each one (its nine by the way).

Tonight I want to give you a flavour of my vision for this Service. But I would not want anyone to think that it is completely novel. Because what I believe about the task of imprisonment - the deprivation of my fellow citizen's freedom - springs from the example and teaching of some who have gone before.

In my first, nerve wracking, speech as the Prison Service's future Director General, which came almost immediately after the announcement on Christmas Eve that the Prime Minister had approved my appointment, I told the Service's annual conference that I hoped one day to be remembered as part of the 'Tilt-Narey' era. It is a tremendous privilege to be following Richard Tilt as DG. But it is also an immense challenge. There could hardly be a greater contrast between the manner of Richard's introduction to this awesome responsibility and mine. Where Richard inherited a Service that had lost the confidence of ministers and the public, I inherit a Service that has regained much of that confidence. Where Richard inherited a policy that saw incarceration as an end in itself, I take over as we begin to concentrate on what we do with offenders in addition simply to locking them up.

The Service will miss Richard for sometime yet. I miss him as I will also miss the advice and guidance of two other inspirational colleagues, Al Papps and Tony Pearson.

Al is now formally my mentor. Informally he has always been so. I will spend some time this evening describing my personal beliefs about what prisons should be like. Those beliefs have been formed by seeing prisons in action, by real examples of the leadership an outstanding Governor can bring. Al was much the most influential of the six Governors to whom I worked and no other individual as a boss, colleague and friend has influenced me as much. He has a great deal to answer for.

But I want to dwell, too, on the influence on my thinking of someone very well known to this organisation and this audience. Tony Pearson was responsible for persuading me back into the Prison Service some 2 years ago. He is not an easy man to refuse, though the sensation of finding oneself doing what he wants is so gentle as to be almost imperceptible. He has governed some of the country's most demanding prisons, and in recent years, helped see the Service through some dark days. He never takes a decision without considering what is the right thing to do, no matter how pressing the competing demands of organisational or political expedience. His sense of humanity underpins everything. In his autobiography, an earlier Director General, Derek Lewis, criticised Tony for admitting to be committed to "easing the pain of imprisonment" only those who know Tony realise that was not a criticism but a compliment. I invite those of you who know him to have him in your mind as I deliver this lecture. If you do you should understand what I am trying to convey.

I hope you will forgive my starting with a roll call. The point I want to make is that leadership in the Prison Service requires a personal and moral courage , which Richard, Al and Tony epitomise. This is not a job that can or should be done in a detached or neutral way. We must never be unmoved by a prisoner's premature death, by the sight of a teenager arriving from court alone and afraid, or by the sight of staff putting their personal safety on the line for the benefit of their colleagues and the prisoners they care for. There is an inescapable moral dimension to the Service's work. Those of us who aspire to lead within it have to know what we believe to be right, and to trust that instinct both in moments of crisis and in charting a strategy for the future.

But the moral instincts of those of us in the Service may not be enough. So the informed, objective scrutiny of those who understand and care about our prisons is vital. I very much welcome a strong, independent Inspectorate. David Ramsbotham has shown the way on the care of women, in the care of the under eighteens and, just last week, on reducing suicides. He and I will disagree from time to time. But much more of the time we will be at one in wanting to improve the care of prisoners. I welcome a Youth Justice Board that will demand high standards of us and I will say more about that later. I want Boards of Visitors that really get under the skin of an establishment, listening to prisoners, asking uncomfortable questions from a basis of close knowledge. I want all visitors to expect and receive high standards of courtesy and efficiency. I want a Service that welcomes the recruitment and secondment of people with a range of different experience. Above all, I want a service which is safe and decent for all those in our care.

Last summer, the Home Secretary delivered the annual Prison Reform Trust lecture. He called it 'Making Prisons Work'. What he set out was a challenge to the Prison Service to protect the public and, in close concert with others, to reduce re-offending.

Let me start with protecting the public. Last year 28 people escaped from prison custody, compared to 232 in 1992. This is the bedrock of our credibility, and it is right that it should be so. I do not intend to lose the gains made in this key area. Every police officer, every prosecutor, every magistrate and judge and, most of all, every victim of crime has a right to expect that the sentences passed by the courts will be enforced. The second element of the Home Secretary's challenge - to reduce offending - is of course an extension of the public protection goal. For the overwhelming majority of prisoners, custody is an interruption in their lives rather than a final destination. So it is perhaps surprising that the task of helping to protect the public from crimes committed following release has sometimes been portrayed as an optional extra. In fact it must be a core element of our work. It is the reason most of us joined this Service.

What is new, however, is an explicit objective to reduce re-offending. The rate at which prisoners re-offend following release has been remarkably constant for as long as researchers have measured it. It has fostered a 'nothing works' attitude that, in my view, is both sterile and manifestly ill-founded. Of course prison has educated some to commit more crime, and removed the practical and social support that might have helped others to go straight. But prison has always helped some offenders to avoid a return to crime on release. But for too long we have failed to demonstrate that the investments in work and education, which are considerable have made any real difference. It seemed enough for us to do a few things which, hopefully, might help.

I welcome the Home Secretary's challenge to reduce offending. It is an opportunity to be seized. I am not so starry eyed as to believe that we can achieve a reduction that is either quick or dramatically large. But I am convinced we can and will make a measurable difference. The key in my view is to make that difference while not losing our grip on security. There is no pendulum swinging between security and making prisons constructive places. Security, and the public and Ministerial confidence it delivers is the bedrock on which constructive regimes will be built.

Sir Henry, I would like to suggest three starting points for a strategy which can, for the foreseeable future, deliver the balanced, purposeful penal policy which the Home Secretary described as 'Making Prisons Work'.

First, we must bring the same discipline and skill to the task of reducing re-offending as we have to preventing escape and maintaining good order. That requires us to be much more scrupulous in learning from the evidence of what works and applying it more broadly. The Prison Service's current accreditation system for offending behaviour programmes has allowed us to intervene with a small minority of higher risk offenders in a way that evaluation is now starting to show can be radically more successful in reducing re-offending than many of us ever dreamed. We will double the number of programme completions over the next 3 years.

Accredited programmes are important, but are only one element of what we need. The Basic Skills Agency tell us that about two thirds of our prisoners, about 44,000 of them, have basic skills so poor that they are ineligible for ninety six percent of jobs. By increasing our investment in education by about thirty percent this year we can transform the employability of many thousands of prisoners. The discipline and skill to make this happen exists, and we have set ourselves a target to improve the literacy and numeracy of our least able prisoners by 15 per cent by 2002. We are doing this imaginatively, complementing traditional teaching methods by using prisoners to teach others and - recognising the aversion to the classroom held by many prisoners - training PE staff and Instructional staff in workshops as support tutors. We are beginning to get it right. At Huntercombe where I spent last Friday, in just the last six months, young people there have gained 230 NVQs in basic skills.

Drug related offending is another essential target. We have made strides in reducing drug misuse in prison (though there is much more to be done) and we now have a comprehensive, funded, plan to help reduce drug related crime. This includes a commitment to offer support for prisoners, where necessary, for 8 weeks following release.

It is often suggested that prisons encourage drug mis-use: as the Observer put it in an editorial last Sunday, that they are awash with drugs. It might once have been so. But levels of misuse as measured by random testing have fallen sharply and are now down to about 17% compared with levels of drug misuse in those arrested of more than 60 per cent. Two weeks ago I spent the day at Parkhurst a prison with a dark and depressing reputation. There levels of drug misuse are less than 2%. And nearly every prisoner I spoke to told me that, as a result, Parkhurst was now a safe place in which to live. Drug misusers who had been on treatment programmes spoke with optimism of avoiding a relapse into misuse after release. At Moorland where I spent the last two days the governor was still coming to terms with the astonishing fact that last month, though ten percent of the population were tested, there were no positive results at all.

The second key element of a robust, long term strategy is that we must enmesh our operations with the work of others. We need to become so interdependent with the work of probation services, for example, that it will become unthinkable to portray our objectives as in any way competitive or separate. We are already embarked on exercises to produce joint planning and joint training. I am especially excited by the very rapid progress we have made in setting up a joint accreditation panel for offending behaviour programmes. It is hugely significant that this panel will be personally appointed by the Home Secretary, that its membership will include some of the world's leading experts in what works, and that its chairman is to be someone of the calibre and experience of Sir Duncan Nichol. Area drug coordinators will ensure our involvement in drug action teams. We are and will work closely with Youth Offending Teams and we are forging, through Welfare to Work, a critical relationship with the employment service. Cementing our strategy means constantly looking out to the communities to which prisoners are returning.

My third heading is perhaps a little less obvious, but in many ways the most important. It harks back to a lecture given by one of my predecessors, Joe Pilling, at this same event in 1992. To give staff and prisoners confidence about our seriousness about making prisons work we must scrutinise the way we deal with prisoners every day.

That means demonstrating fairness. We must remember all the lessons from Woolf about disciplinary procedures, and about due process in the minutiae of institutional life. It is why we must review the way the incentives and earned privileges scheme operates, in the light of Alison Liebling's excellent research. Above all, it requires us to deliver a non-discriminatory service to ethnic minority prisoners, on which I know we still fall short.

This heading also requires us to show respect for prisoners as individuals. That means decent living conditions. It means avoiding the abuse of authority through unnecessary rules or worse. Sadly, it still requires vigilance in weeding out a small minority, thankfully a very small minority, of staff who physically abuse prisoners. As I told the POA conference this morning there is no place for such people in this service.

I want to conclude by offering you a suggestion for a litmus test for whether we are serious about pursuing a genuinely constructive penal policy.

There are many who deeply regret that it should ever be necessary to incarcerate a young person who has not even reached their eighteenth birthday. The reality, of course, is that many adolescents do continue to defeat the best attempts to divert them from custody. The Prison Service has the task of caring for the majority of these young people. We have to recognise that very often their behaviour has been out of control, chaotic and sometimes dangerous. We have to deal with their rejection by other organisations and agencies, and the history of suspicion and failure they bring with them. The number of under 18s in our care, who number about 2,400 at present, has barely been recognised as a discrete group with particular needs. We now urgently need to demonstrate that we can make meaningful differences for these young people. The Prison Service can look after under 18 year olds well. We have some way to go to convince everyone but some very positive signs of what we can do are already being seen at Huntercombe and at Werrington for example - and it was only 12 months ago that Werrington was the subject of a damning report by Sir David Ramsbotham. At Huntercombe, where tomorrow Lord Williams formally launches an initiative to tackle care crime, sponsored by Nissan, casework has been transformed by employing a senior manager from social services to inform our practice with the best from community based residential care. Werrington is in the lead in developing child protection arrangements which have been brokered nationally with the Association of Directors of Social Service, ACOP, ACPO and the LGA. Steadily, a real improvement in all establishments which care for this age group - including the now infamous Feltham - will become apparent. But first, let us make no bones about it, we have to invest new resources. The local authority secure accommodation to which young offender institutions are so often unfavourably compared cost on average six times as much as the typical YOI. The achievements at Werrington and Huntercombe are, in part, due to extra funding which we managed to find last year. So it has been immensely encouraging that the Government has given the Service an additional £51 million over three years to replicate this achievement elsewhere. These funds will help develop two broad initiatives:

* The creation of a distinct estate in which almost all under 18 year olds will be held separately from other young people and adults; and

* The development of high quality regimes.

Unless we accommodate under 18s separately we cannot easily or effectively identify and meet their needs, abilities and aptitudes, which really are different from those of other young offenders. The significant investment we are making in the 14 establishments of the under 18 estate will facilitate the really important changes.

As I have mentioned already, the under 18 year olds for whom we care have largely failed or been failed by schools, families and the interventions of other agencies. At Moorland more than 50 per cent of young offenders there have spent time in care. At Wetherby 20 per cent of young offenders have children of their own; 50 per cent have fathers who have been in prison. Most of the under eighteens at Wetherby had been excluded from school from about the age of thirteen. I have been learning a little more recently about school exclusion and the way schools market themselves from Jan, my wife who is studying for her PhD in that area. According to 'Education, Exclusion and Citizenship' by Professor Carl Parsons from the University of Kent, exclusions have increased by a factor of more than four in seven years and now stand at more than thirteen thousand. And some schools now market their strong record on exclusion as a means of attracting middle class parents like us. Thankfully the government are now tackling this determinedly. There is no doubt in my mind that the population of under eighteens in custody will fall as exclusions fall.

Whatever has happened beforehand, when they arrive in our receptions these young people are usually leaving lifestyles which are chaotic and sometimes dangerous. We are determined to ensure that their time with us provides some stability, a chance to reorder their lives, to catch up on what they have missed. So the new regimes will quite rightly place great emphasis upon education - remedial and vocational. These young people will learn responsibility in personal relationships and self-respect based upon recognised achievement. Critically our approach will not simply be about doing things to and for them: we will seek to nurture their initiative so that, to borrow Sir Alexander Paterson's words " they will regulate their conduct aright".

These changes are crucially dependent upon the role of staff. So we will recruit and train staff specifically for this work. I come to this event fresh from having completed myself, with Officers from Moorland, a two day training course on Understanding Adolescence designed for us by the Trust for the Study of Adolescence. It will be entirely routine for Prison Officers who care for these young people to have more specialist training of that nature and I expect to see those Officers out of uniform. We know that adult role models matter to young people which is why we are placing great emphasis upon staff performing the role of the 'significant adult', modelling attitudes and behaviours in the development of good relationships with young people. We know that young people can change and that we can influence that change for good.

Within the next fortnight we will publish standards for the delivery of regimes for the under eighteens. We have consulted widely in their drafting and we believe they are ground breaking. They will require us to deliver on the statutory task of preventing future offending by putting the young person's welfare at the centre of the regime. I believe that we will be well placed to meet the needs of the Youth Justice Board when the Detention and Training Order comes into force in April next year. And I positively welcome the pressure that the existence of alternative providers will create for us to meet and maintain high standards.

I offered you our performance in caring for under 18s as a litmus test for our health as a service. Why?

Well, first because it is a real test. We need to show the Youth Justice Board that we can be trusted to deliver to a high standard. The Board, not me will judge our success. But secondly because the fundamental values we need to care properly for this population are those that must also inform our care of adults. A Service that cares properly for teenagers will know how to care for all prisoners. And experience shows me that many of the Service's most influential leaders and staff have had their commitment moulded by their role in looking after the youngest and most vulnerable of those sent to us by the courts.

I am grateful for your patience. I hope I have given you some feel both for the traditional values of the Prison Service to which I would cling, and for the ambitions I have for the future. For those of you who were also here in 1992, I would be delighted if I have stirred memories of Joe Pilling's lecture. How quickly the picture changed soon after that. But I genuinely believe that there is now an unparalleled opportunity to make a balanced, moral and purposeful penal policy part of the permanent landscape in this country. I very much look forward to the challenge of helping to make that happen.

Martin Narey, May 1999