Interview with Martin Narey

Clare Jerrom, reporter with Community Care and, interviewed Martin Narey, the new commissioner
for correctional services.

Clare Jerrom: Why was the new role of commissioner for
correctional services created and what exactly does your role

Martin Narey: I think it was created because of
the home secretary’s wish to have a more co-ordinated and
coherent approach to reducing re-offending. The government has done
a lot recently, establishing the Youth Justice Board, establishing
the National Probation Service, put a lot of money into prisons to
reduce re-offending.
In my old job of director general I was being drawn into a role to
co-ordinate that activity across the piece, for example,
recommending spending priorities to the home secretary and so
forth. So to some extent this role is a bit of a progression from
that and I am now pulled out in an independent role overseeing all
three services, managing the director generals of prison and
probation and working closely with the chair and the chief
executive of the Youth Justice Board.

CJ What would you like to achieve in your time in this
role and what are your top three priorities?

MN Well what I would like to achieve is a
demonstration that the three services, Prison, Probation and the
YJB can achieve reductions in re-offending and maintain them. The
reality is that has never been done. Over many decades there has
been periods of optimism about reducing re-offending, getting
people’s lives back on track, but they have been rarely
realized. And I think that’s what I want go make sure we do
now and that’s the main priority which the home secretary has
set me. We are well on the way, some encouraging statistics coming
out about offending by those leaving prison and community
sentences, and as you have possibly heard, very encouraging
statistics of reduction in re-offending for children who are
subject to final warnings and reprimands where there has been very
significant reductions against expected re-offending.

CJ So that’s the main priority – are there
any others?

MN I think that on its own encompasses so much
of the work. But I think in a few years time, when I leave this
job, if we have achieved that reduction in re-offending, I will
believe that we have been successful. How we do it is a challenge
and I certainly know it is going to require much closer working
between Prison and Probation and between those two agencies and the
There are some dislocations at the moment which we need to fix at
the moment if we are to be effective.

CJ What dislocations are you referring to?

MN Well for example I think there are
dislocations between what happens between a young person when they
turn 18. I have been hugely welcoming of the extra investment the
YJB have bought, not least to the care of those in custody, but I
am rather alarmed at the huge gulf between what happens to a
17-year-old in custody and an 18-year-old and indeed in some
circumstances what happens to a 17-year-old when they turn 18 in
custody. And I think we need to make sure there is a much greater
sharing of good ideas and some of that I am delighted to the extent
to which the innovative intensive supervision and surveillance
programme has influenced the creation of a new disposal from the
Probation Service, the intensive change programme. But the three
so-called services still need to work together much more closely to
get the maximum impact. But there are some very big gulfs between
prison and probation not least on the discharge of prisoners and
the supervision in the community after prison.

CJ I’m going to come back to rehabilitation later
and in particular the conditions for 18 to 20  year olds in prison
but if I can just take you back to early on in your career, you
started off in a Young Offenders’ Institution didn’t
you, which one was it?

MN It was Deerbolt in the north east.

CJ And what were the main problems that you were
encountering because it was the early 80s wasn’t

MN It was the early 80s and I joined and had
these idealistic notions about rehabilitation. And I was quite
fortunate in terms of places I could have gone in the Prison
Service in the 80s, Deerbolt was a bit of a flagship. But in terms
of what might reduce re-offending, there was precious little of it
taking place. There was quite a lot of activity, prisoners were
rarely locked in their cells, but very little engagement on work
which would make a real difference.
And in later years, after I left Deerbolt and as the Prison Service
came under pressure, even the amount of time that young prisoners
could spend out of their cells was radically reduced. The service
didn’t really begin to get any serious investment in the
things that might start to reduce re-offending until 1997.

So do you think there has been a lot
of progress over the last 20 years since you yourself were working
in a YOI?

MN Yes, I think there is, not least in the
approach of prison officers. We recruit very different prison
officers now, and prison officers who have been in the service for
many years have largely changed. They perceive their role much more
as simply being custodians or awarders. It is now very common to
see prison officers engaged in drug treatment programmes, sex
offenders’ treatment programmes. I was at Hull prison very
recently and witnessed a prison officer working one to one with a
prisoner who couldn’t read and write, teaching him on a
one-to-one basis some basic skills. And I hugely welcome that
change and there’s a nice balance I believe now in the
service between the proper concerns of security and the concerns of

Are some of your former colleague
who you worked with at the YOI still working in YOI’s now and
what sort of problems are they coming up against?

MN There are some working there and
coincidentally I’m going back to Deerbolt this weekend
because it’s the 30th anniversary of the event and some
people who were there when I worked there are still there now. And
I think they would see some similar progress but I think a lot of
that progress has been made in recent years since this government
first of all put a lot of investment into the Prison Service and
since it became quite clear that what the home secretary required
of the Prison Service was much more than simply locking people up
but he wanted to see this reduction in re-offending. So I think
staff at Deerbolt now will see a greater emphasis on, for example,
basic skills, education, making young people employable, trying to
get them into jobs and so forth.

CJ What do you think their main complaints would be
about problems in YOIs now?

MN I think the main anxiety in almost any
establishment would be about the through put of young prisoners.
Because of the problems of over-crowding we are having to move a
lot of prisoners up and down the country.
It’s not just the overcrowding, for example, a lot of
institutions dealing with young people and particularly those
dealing with children are not overcrowded. But because we have so
little space capacity we are having to move a lot of young people
up and down the country to where there’s a spare bed and
frequently moving them very far from their home. For example some
children who might have been in Feltham, which is somewhere we
wouldn’t want to overcrowd again, and have had to be moved by
the Prison Service up to institutions in Northumberland which is
where there are empty beds.

CJ And what problems can that create in itself being so
far away?

MN Very grave problems. It significantly
reduces the chance of getting parents properly involved. The Prison
Service has made a lot of strides in recent years in trying to get
parental involvement in a young person’s time in custody and
parents are now routinely invited to sit on progress boards so they
can hear from staff about how their son is doing. That’s
quite a challenge to secure that co-operation when the parents live
20 miles away, if they are 300 miles away it’s going to be
very difficult indeed.

CJ What is the current population?

MN There has been a welcome steadying in the
population of juveniles in custody. Indeed it has fallen from its
peak and has grown very little in 2003, I think because the YJB
have done an excellent job in promoting alternatives to custody,
such as ISSP. I am very taken when I speak to sentencers’,
judges and magistrates about how impressed they are with the nature
of the ISSP and I think the YJB have provided the courts with
something which they see as a genuine alternative and a more
constructive alternative to a short sentence of custody.

CJ So you think magistrates do have faith in the

MN It is clear that is the case because the
population of those 17 and under in custody has not grown anywhere
as near as fast as the population of those aged 18 to 21. My view
is that Norman Warner (the former chairperson of the YJB and now
health minister) deserves a great deal of credit for that. I think
he was very resolute in selling alternatives to the courts and
being very frank with the courts where they were using a lot of
custody. I have tried to join him in being frank about the futility
of very short detention and training orders. Obviously serious
offenders need to be sent to custody, but no-one should think that
a very short detention and training order is likely to make much
effect on a young person’s behaviour.

A couple of weeks ago the new
minister for children Margaret Hodge has taken over a great deal of
the children’s services within the department for education
and skills – children’s social services away from the
department of health, Connexions, Sure Start, the majority of
children’s services apart from children’s health and
youth justice. Do you think that separating of the majority of
children’s services from youth justice will cause any

MN No I don’t. One of the things that
government has got much better at in recent years is working across
departmental boundaries. The fact that, I’m obviously glad
youth justice has been retained here in the home office. I think
it’s vital we have those synergies between youth justice,
probation and prison to reduce re-offending, but it doesn’t
mean we won’t be working very closely with other departments
to make sure we have the maximum impact on reducing

CJ So you think the key to it is this working

MN The meeting I had before seeing you has
been, for example, with a senior colleague from the OPDM who is
responsible for housing policy and we have been discussing how we
can work together to get more offenders when leaving custody into
housing. And that’s the sort of thing you have to do and
mustn’t be constrained by departmental boundaries?

CJ So you don’t think it will cause any major

MN I think it will be fine. I think more
problems have been caused by the divorce of the Youth Justice Board
from prisons and probation.

CJ Hodge is also going to be taking responsibility for
the green paper on children, which is supposed to be coming out
soon. Have you had a great involvement with the formation of that
Green Paper?

MN Obviously some involvement advising my
ministers on aspects of that as it relates to offenders and
reducing re-offending, but as you know the green paper will look
much wider than that.

Do you think there will be many
recommendations that are targeted towards the youth justice system
or do you think it will be looking earlier in the process than
that, such as earlier intervention?

MN The final composition of the green paper is
a matter for ministers and not for me as an official. But I expect
it to be a very important document with significant ramifications
for how we deal with young people who are offenders, not least
because as we know a lot of the problems that offenders have are
exactly the same as a lot of young people who may have got into
criminal behaviour and ended up in custody. But aspects of
homelessness, lack of education, poor employability are pretty
common characteristics.

CJ One of these characteristics is children in care as
very often children in care end up in the youth justice

MN Very frequently.

And in custody. Will that be part of
your job to be looking at that and what can be done to eradicate
that where possible?

MN I think that’s an example of where we
need to work across departments to maintain links. I’m in no
doubt at all that efforts elsewhere in government for example to
reduce the number of children in care or to reduce the number of
children excluded from school will have a long term benefit in
terms of the number of people being sent to custody because those
two characteristics feature so heavily in the population of young
people who are in prison.

So its children excluded from school
and children who have been in care that are the two most common

MN That’s right. As efforts are made to
reduce those it will lead in time to a smaller population of young
people in custody.

CJ Is any work being done now?

MN There’s a lot, a great deal of work
being done in this area and we are concentrating with young people
who are coming into custody, for example, who might have been
excluded from school, we’re trying very hard to use the time
they have with us to provide compensatory education and we are
having some success at moving young people who have got no
qualifications at all whether in school or perhaps have been
permanently excluded. We’re having quite a lot of success in
getting them educational qualifications, and for the first time
raising in their minds the possibility of becoming part of
mainstream society and getting a job.

CJ Another piece of legislation that came out in March,
is the Antisocial Behaviour Bill. A lot of children’s
charities have been quite critical about some of the measures and
said they are quite punitive. Would you agree with

MN It’s not an area for which I have any
responsibility and I wouldn’t really want to comment on that.
I understand the concerns of charities, but I also have some sight
of what are often the beginnings of behaviour which can lead to
greater criminal activity.

CJ So low level anti-social behaviour can

MN I’m absolutely sure it does. If
there’s one lesson we’ve learned in recent years from
trying to reduce re-offending is that early and effective
intervention is likely to be more effective than later

CJ So you are quite supportive of things like
Identification Referral and Tracking, likely to be in the green
paper and the youth inclusion and support panels created by the

MN I am keen on anything which tries to deter
young people from eventually ending up in custody which is
something which we should avoid unless it’s absolutely
necessary by the nature of serious offending. If we can do things
earlier in a young person’s life to stop them drifting into
offending, and lots of young people do drift into offending, then
obviously I would welcome that very warmly.

CJ So if people are saying the measures in the
Antisocial Behaviour Bill are punitive, you don’t think it
will end up drawing more people into the youth justice
MN I don’t think we should look at measures
and measure them by whether or not they are punitive – we
should measure them by whether or not they are likely to be

CJ Scotland is planning a single correctional agency. Do
you think that given your new role that is something we will head

MN It’s a possibility but only a
possibility and it’s not something that is yet being
discussed with ministers. I am trying to do work to pull the three
main players here closer together and beginning to have some
success with that. But it may be at some point in the future it
will be considered that a single correctional agency is needed to
make sure we have a more coherent management of offenders, but
that’s not something that ministers have yet discussed and
clearly that’s a decision for ministers.

A lot of the problems are when
people are coming to the end of their time in prison or YOI,
it’s the lack of continuing in services.

MN That’s absolutely right and whether or
not we have a single correctional service we have to eradicate
those dislocations.

CJ But would that help?

MN It may well help but I’m not going to
suggest that I think it’s an absolute prerequisite. I think
we need to explore a little further what can be done with current
structures and then at some point in the future ministers will no
doubt want to make decisions about whether they want to go further
and make structural changes. But it’s not an issue on
ministerial agenda at the moment.

CJ The Howard League judgement in December ruled that
the Children Act should apply to children in prison have you seen
any changes since then?

MN The judgement was pretty sympathetic to the
Prison Service if you read it, it acknowledged significant changes
which have been made and we had to amend perhaps one sentence in
our guidance. The Prison Service has sought to enshrine the
principles of the Children’s Act very much in what we are
doing and certainly I have seen a transformation in recent years in
the extent to which the Prison Service approach is much more child
orientated than it ever was before and that’s carrying on.
It’s a transformation in attitude which is underway and
there’s more work yet to be done.
But I think anyone who was visiting YOIs five years ago and were
looking at how we were looking after a 16 or 17-year-old and went
to visit one now would believe that some sort of revolution had
taken place.

CJ But some of Anne Owers reports are quite critical of
YOIs, particularly for the 18-20 year olds.

MN Well I made the distinction early on between
those who are 17 and under, those who are children and covered by
the Howard League judgement and those who are 18-20.
As director general of the Prison Service I did not have the same
investment to put into the care of 18 to 20-year-olds as I had to
put into the care of those aged 17 and under. But if you look at
those dealing with and looking after children then with the
exception of one establishment which has been in some difficulties
I think the chief inspector shares my view about considerable
progress that has been made.

CJ How would you describe conditions for the under 18s
and how would that compare to the over 18s?

MN We’ve had a lot of money to put into
the care of those who are under 18. To give you an example at the
once notorious Feltham in west London, the additional investment
that I received from the Youth Justice Board has meant we were able
to build a brand new state of the art education block for the
children there so typically a 16 and 17-year-old in Feltham is more
or less in full-time education including PE, will be having a great
deal of help to overcome educational deficits, the approach will be
a child-centred approach, individual training plans, there will be
somebody in the institution who is leading on issues of child
Now for those aged 18 to 20, some of those benefits are accrued.
They too have had an increase in education provision, but of a much
more modest nature and there is no doubt at all that the Prison
Service isn’t able to offer the same educational
opportunities or the same time out of cell to some of those aged 18
when compared to some of those aged 16 or 17. But we have to make a
start and I think it was right for us to start and the government
to with the most vulnerable age group.

CJ Do you think the improvements will work up to the 18
year olds?

MN I hope so and there has been some additional
investment in that age group and I was fortunate in the most recent
Spending Review to get quite a lot of new investment from the DfES
and that will be spent, much of that will be targeted towards
meeting the educational deficits of those aged 18-20.

CJ Would you say that’s a big priority for the
Prison Service?

MN It is. I think what the Prison Service wants
to do is to further improve the care of children in custody but to
try to ensure that the care in custody of older prisoners,
particularly those aged 18 to 20, begins to catch up.

CJ What are the dangers for those aged 18 to 20 if this
doesn’t happen, if they are locked up in their cells for 23
hours a day?

MN There will be very few of them locked up for
23 hours a day and none of them locked up for 23 hours a day on a
regular basis. But it’s just a matter of what prison can
achieve. I believe that with the necessary investment, prison in
dealing with that age group, can characteristically get somebody
off drugs, get them de-toxed, get them into a drug treatment
programme, get them some educational qualifications, help them to
find a job on release and somewhere to live. If we can do all of
those things we have a very good chance of reducing re-offending.
The down side of that is it is difficult for us to do that when the
pressure of numbers are so very grave and it’s difficult for
us to do that for anywhere near as many people in custody as the
Prison Service would like because obviously despite, by any
measure, very significant investment he government has put into
improving prisons, clearly the pressures of the very large,
difficult, uneducated and troubled population leading chaotic lives
in the community means the charges are very, very high.

CJ You don’t think the current tabloid obsession
with youth crime could increase pressures on the

MN I think news coverage of crime issues does
put pressures on the population. The fact is that crime has fallen
in this country since 1997, and if you read a tabloid newspaper you
would not believe that.

CJ The social exclusion unit’s report figures for
re-offending were about 75 per cent, would you say that’s
reduced as that was a 1997 figure?

MN We don’t yet have statistics on the
re-offending rates for young people who have done DTOs. The
significant reductions in expected re-offending are for those
children who have been punished in the community, particularly for
those who have been dealt with short of court, those who have had
reprimands and final warnings. There has been a very, very
encouraging apparent reduction in re-offending.

CJ So that’s the way forward?

MN It strengthens my point about as early as
possible intervention. Some of those people are very young, they
are not just getting an old fashioned police caution, which
didn’t amount to very much, they are typically getting a
proper final warning system and alongside the final warning system
they are being given some help or they are having to provide some
reparation for the crime committed.

CJ What about re-offending rates for those in

MN The re-offending rates for those in prison,
you’re talking about the most troubled group, are very high
indeed. But I believe that things we are doing now will lead to a
reduction and overall – I can’t separate out age groups
– but overall there is some evidence now that there is some
reduction in re-offending being achieved by the Prison
What I would very much like to achieve is the biggest possible
reduction in re-offending for those children in prison. Not, for
one moment that I am in any way wanting to advocate or encourage
anyone being sent to prison and particularly for children custody
should be absolutely the last resort when no other reasonable
alternative is there. But I think when a court has to make that
decision then I think there are things that can be done in a
residential setting that can change people’s lives.

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