Select Committee on Home Affairs Third Report


Memorandum by The Church of England Board for Social Responsibility Home Affairs Committee


  1.  This short paper submitted by the Board's Home Affairs Committee to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee will focus its evidence narrowly on our concerns surrounding levels of resourcing for young offenders under the age of 21 particularly in relation to proposed arrangements outlined in the Crime and Disorder Bill for the effective supervision of identified offenders and preventive measures for those at risk. Our concerns about these issues are further fuelled by the Home Secretary's willingness to allocate an additional £70 million towards the expansion of prison places, some of which will be dedicated to supplying extra places for young offenders.

  2.  In the light of the Government's two year moratorium on public spending we contrast a position where little or no extra money will be made available for the proposed youth offending teams yet at the same time public money will be made available for the insatiable demands of the custodial sector with an anticipated prison population of all eligible age groups of 70,000 by the end of year and, possibly, 90,000 places by the millennium.

  3.  We suggest that if the ambitious and laudable aims of the Home Secretary in relation to the reduction of crime among young offenders are to be met, a better balance needs to be identified as an adequate funding pattern for community based interventions and containment of the escalating numbers within the penal estate.

  4.  The Home Affairs Committee of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility is grateful for the opportunity to respond to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee in its Inquiry into Alternatives to Prison Sentences. The Church of England has had a long involvement with the penal system, both through the provision of chaplaincy and through the work of individuals within the system. In addition, there are charities and churches which work with offenders, both in custody and in the community. Within the Church of England, matters of criminal justice policy are discussed both in the General Synod Board for Social Responsibility, through its Home Affairs Committee, and in Lambeth Palace. The Home Affairs Committee is chaired by the Bishop of Lincoln, who as Bishop to Prisons also has pastoral concern of prison chaplains. The experience of chaplains, and of churches providing pastoral care of offenders, feeds into the thinking of the Home Affairs Committee, but it is the issue of policy which is the concern of that committee.

  5.  Questions of policy may be raised by Bishops in the House of Lords during debates on criminal justice legislation, and Bishops have taken a particular interest in the Crime and Disorder Bill currently in Parliament. Other ways in which policy may be discussed are through the speeches of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the speeches of individual Bishops and conferences organized by dioceses. In particular we would draw attention to the series of conferences held in Lincoln during the 1980s-1990s and hosted by the Bishop of Lincoln. Finally there is the work of the Home Affairs Committee itself, which responds to Government White Papers and publishes leaflets and reports on criminal justice matters. In 1996 the Committee published Private Sector Involvement in Prisons, which was submitted to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. In 1998 it published the leaflet Young People and Crime. It is within this broad context that the Board for Social Responsibility now makes its submission to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee.

  6.  Theologically, there are two points which we would wish to stress. One concerns the importance of relationships, and the other that of the family in contemporary society. The Archbishop of Canterbury in his speech to the Prison Reform Trust as their annual lecture in 1996 (published by the P.R.T. under the title Restoring Relationships) emphasized the need to keep the purposes of punishment in balance. The aim of restoring relationships means that there must be a constructive balance between the role of punishment, deterrence, reparation and rehabilitation. The Crime and Disorder Bill takes a welcome step in encouraging reparation between offender and victim. Secondly, the importance of the family background of offenders must always be kept in mind. The Church of England, in partnership with the Children's Society and other agencies, seeks to build up the strength of family relationships against the pressures of modern society. In our leaflet Young People and Crime we draw attention to the troubled family background of many young offenders. The centrality of the family in Christian teaching is central to our submission, and it is within this perspective that we now turn to a detailed examination of the resources for young offenders under the age of 21.

7.   The Characteristics of Young Offenders

  Much has been written in recent times about the characteristics of young people which place them at risk of crime. The Audit Commission Report on "Misspent Youth" identified the following risk factors. Young people:

    —  in families with inadequate parental supervision;

    —  with problems in school such as truancy or school exclusion;

    —  who mix with others who offend;

    —  without a stable family home;

    —  who are not in employment or education;

    —  with a heavy use of alcohol and drugs.

  8.  Sir William Utting's report "People Like Us" (1997) on children leaving care further highlighted the vulnerability of a particular group who fall into the criminal justice net. He highlights their social and educational deficits as well as their over representation in penal institutions.

    —  More than 75 per cent of care leavers have no academic qualifications of any kind.

    —  More than 50 per cent of young people leaving care after 16 years are unemployed.

    —  30 per cent of young single homeless people have been in care.

    —  23 per cent of adult prisoners and 38 per cent of young prisoners have been in care.

  9.  Utting's Report exposes deficiencies in the implementation of Section 24 of the 1989 Children Act suggesting provisions need to be strengthened because child care services are taking a poor second place to child protection and community care demands. He concluded that Section 24 "should be amended to extend the duty of local authorities to give assistance to young people they have looked after, including foster carers to continue providing support". He also observed that "local authorities should exercise their duties and powers under the Act in the spirit of responsible parents. No responsible parent, however, turns a child away at 16 or even 18—unsupported financially and emotionally without hope of succour in distress. We are particularly concerned by the volume of anecdotal information about young people ceasing to be looked after at the age of 16 which suggests that some authorities operate informal policies of encouraging premature "independence".

  10.  The linkage between the Audit Committee observations, Utting's Report and the Chief Inspector of Prisons Thematic Review of Young Prisoners in October 1997 is telling. In profiling young male prisoners, Sir David Ramsbotham observes:

    —  A staggering proportion of young people had a history of care or social services contact (over50 per cent of under 18s)

    —  50 per cent excluded from education

    —  Two thirds no educational qualification

    —  Two thirds unemployed at the time of custody

    —  Two thirds were drug misusers

    —  One tenth admitted to self harm

    —  50 per cent of remanded young males and over 30 per cent of sentenced young have a diagnosable mental disorder.

  11.   Of young females, Ramsbotham reports

    —  27 per cent had a history of care

    —  49 per cent had experienced sexual abuse

    —  37 per cent had attempted suicide

    —  39 per cent had children of their own

12.   The custodial population of young offenders

  The population of young offenders, aged up to 21 years under sentence, which fell by half between 1980 and 1993, has risen by 30 per cent in the three years to 1996.

  For 14 to 17 year old males there is an upward trend in the use of custody. Custodial sentences fell from 14 per cent between 1986 and 1988 to nine per cent in 1990 but have since risen to 13 per cent in 1996.

  For 18 to 20 year old males the use of immediate custody rose to 24 per cent in 1996, from 22 per cent in 1995 and 15-16 per cent in the early 1990s.

  For 18-20 year old females the use of immediate custody has risen to nine per cent from three per cent in the early 1990s.

  By June 1996 the remand population for young offenders (15 to 21 year olds) reached 2,934 of whom 2,833 were male and 101 female, 74 were aged 15, 197 were 16 and 503 aged 17.

13.   The Impact of new legislation

  The rise in the sentenced and remand population of young offenders reflects not only public disquiet about the most appropriate form of punishment for young people but also the increased maximum sentence length for juveniles from one to two years as part of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The Crime and Disorder Bill in its penal aspects will extend the powers of youth courts and crown courts to lower age groups in the proposed Detention and Training Orders, as will the phased implementation of Secure Training Centres for 12 to 15 year old boys which become available from 1 April 1998 under the terms of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

  14.  The new Detention Training Order requiring offenders to spend approximately half their sentence in detention and half under supervision in the community is primarily focused on the age group of 15 to 18 year olds. However, courts have the discretion to make such an order in cases of offenders under 15 if they are of the opinion that they are persistent offenders. In cases where the offender is under 12, the court shall not make an order unless it is of the opinion that only a custodial sentence would be adequate to protect the public.

  15.  In addition to the above, we have learned that the Prison Department are seeking planning permission to build another young offender institution for 15 to 21 year old males adjacent to Belmarsh Prison in Woolwich. London already has Feltham housing over 850 young inmates. The new YOI is planned to take an additional 600 plus beds.

  16.  Our fears are straightforward. If you raise the total number of bed spaces in institutions for young people (be they in young offender institutions, secure accommodation, youth training centres or secure training centres) and, at the same time, lower the age threshold of eligibility for such regimes with fairly loose criteria such as "suitability" and "seriousness of offence" these bed spaces will be filled by a new and younger generation of offenders. All the sentencing trends over the past few years in youth courts and crown courts point in this direction.

  17.  The level of funding for such bed spaces is enourmously expensive by comparison to the costs of community based supervision and foster care. Cash limiting and the public spending moratorium which applies to local authority services and probation does not appear to apply to the custodial sector and youth court magistrates (many of whom are aware of the patchy nature of local young offender provision in the community), may be tempted to make full use of the custodial option contained in the detention and training order even though such programmes are unlikely to reduce the current re-offence rate for young offender institutions which stands at 73 per cent within two years of release.

  18.  Our last point in this secton returns to the characteristics of inmates in young offender institutions described by Ramsbotham. We are describing here a significant number of young people who are fragile, dysfunctional, poorly educated, lacking in family support and prone to bullying, self harm and suicide attemtps. Increasing the size and capacity of such regimes merely panders to society's desire to exile young people who appear qualitatively different from our own children. Their background, their stories, their pain, their crimes and the uncomfortable meaning of their lives are hidden from us. The complicated, messy debate about what is to be done becomes someone else's responsibility until the next time.

19.   Resourcing Options in the Community

  In this section we contrast the patchy and inconsistent provision in local communties for coping with young offenders to the growing provision in the custodial sector already described.

  20.  First, we acknowledge and support the Government`s initiatives to increase youth offending teams on a multi-disciplinary basis. Both the legislative proposals and the structural arrangements for such teams under the responsibility of local authority Chief Executives appear appropriate and well conceived. We also support the Social Exclusion Unit in identifying truancy and school exclusion and its linkage with criminal behaviour as a prime target for attention and remedial action.

  21.  We question, however, the funding assumption in the Crime and Disorder Bill as it relates to young people at risk of crime in the community. For the most part it is assumed that these proposals will be cost neutral with significant savings arising from greater efficiencies as a result of inter-agency collaboration and avoiding time delays. Part IV of the Bill does identify an additional £16 million to be spent on introducing reprimands and warnings and strengthening supervision orders. However, there has been no systematic study or audit taken of the state of existing provision at the local level, either in respect of those agencies which carry a direct responsibility for the management of young offenders, such as local authorities, the police, or the probation service or those agencies which have a wider contribution to make to the support and well being of young offenders at risk. Theses services might include child and adolescent mental health provision, youth and community workers, remedial services for disaffected pupils excluded from school and foster care, of particular relevance in bail support schemes.

  22.  Youth offending teams have a primary task in reducing offending behaviour but they also have a responsibility to assess a variety of needs and provide or purchase through negotiated agreements, services from other agencies that are available, promptly delivered and appropriate. The creation of youth offending teams will follow local audits of the availability of services and agreed local strategies. Expectations will be raised not only about the quantity of delivered programmes in the community and services to the courts but about meeting gaps in existing resource levels.

  23.  The accountability for youth offending teams will rest with the local authority Chief Executive and, further removed, to the proposed National Youth Justice Board but the team will also be required to liaise with a wide range of provider organisations, user groups, courts, parents and individuals in the fulfilment of its tasks (See Annex A)[82]. Part of our concern rests with the current resourcing level of key provider agencies located in this network process. We are concerned that many of these key provider agencies are inadequately resourced to ensure that the new arrangements are effective.

  24.  Basic information on resource provision is far from conclusive as it cannot always be obtained at the local or central Government level. However, here are some examples of patchy provision.

25.   Child and adolescent mental health services

  The House of Commons Health Committee in its fourth report on Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS, March 1997) agreed that the current provision of child and mental health services was inadequate both in quality and geographical spread. Even the Government's witnesses acknowledged the failings of the existing system.

  26.  "The Provision of Mental Health, not just as it applies to children and adolescents but across the Board, has historically been considered a Cinderella Service" (Mr Burns).

  27.  Services provided by local authorities to CAMHS by seconded psychiatric social workers and educational psychologists have increasingly been withdrawn. Additionally, in a chapter on anti-social behaviour and conduct disorder the Committee concluded that under current arrangements there is little effective alternative education provided for excluded children which may well contribute not to reducing but to perpetuating patterns of conduct disorder and anti-social behaviour. Clearly, these concerns should be addressed by the newly formed Social Exclusion Unit in their proposals to the Prime Minsiter and we await their findings with interest.

28.   Youth and Community Workers

  The Audit Commission report "Misspent Youth" outlined the important role social workers play in providing constructive leisure pursuits in local communities. We have, through the National Youth Agency, sought details about the number of youth community posts which have been lost or withdrawn over the past five years as a result of pressure on cash limited local authority budgets. While we have not been able to find hard data, anecdotally, we understand there have been considerable losses amounting to hundreds of posts.

  29.  We recommend that the Department of Education and Employment provide through local authority data an accurate assessment of the current provision of youth and community workers, indicating the number of lost posts.

30.   Bail support and foster care

  The Audit Commission Report on "Misspent Youth" and the Home Secretary's White Paper entitled "No More Excuses" have both outlined the need for bail support schemes that are focused on structured activity that reduces the chances of young offenders committing further offences on bail. While the majority of Social Services Departments provide some form of bail support, there is uneven provision in England and Wales. There needs to be a dual provision, not always currently available at the local level, whereby the local authority or an independent provider not only offers a structured day programme for young bailees but available access to foster care for those defendants, particularly aged 16 to 17 with no family support.

  31.  The Audit Commission survey of 600 sentenced young offenders found that one third of those remanded in custody who were subsequently found guilty were not given a custodial sentence. "Some remands can be avoided, and resources saved, by the use of intensive support for those on bail. While extra costs fall on local authority Social Services, they would be offset by savings to the Prison Service, requiring some transfer of resources." (Audit Commission Report, 1996).


  The discussion of options in the community has focused on a number of concerns about the level of services for youth at risk in the community. While there is no doubt about the goodwill of agencies at the local level forming together to create youth offending teams, there has been little public discussion about the level of support services that currently exist and their ability to cope with rising expectations of demand and high quality interventions which focus on health, recreational outlets, education, residential care including fostering and supporting families and children at risk.

  33.  Jerry Miller, the Director of the National Institute for Sentencing Alternatives in Washington DC in a book describing his experiences as the Youth Corrections Commissioner for Massachusetts in the seventies observed the following.

    "The less the resources, the more punishment was seen as beneficial for the youth. When the person making the diagnosis is aware of the variety of alternatives or non-institutional options for treatment and handling, he or she gives less extreme, less rigid and less restrictive diagnosis. Wanting this, the diagnosis becomes more judgmental and punitive.

    It seems that if we are to make progress in understanding and controlling delinquents, the treatment options must be guaranteed before any diagnosis is made. Unless this is clearly understood, diagnostic and classification procedures will mislead us and label youngsters to fit organisational needs. When clinicians routinely label a youth "anti-social in need of institutionalisation" they are more likely to betray their lack of imagination concerning less restrictive options than any particular insight into the young offenders character" (Jerry Miller, "Last One over the Wall", Ohio University State Press, 1991.

  34.  While there will always be a need to place the most serious and persistent of young offenders in some form of institution to protect the public and address their developmental needs, expanding the numbers of places and lowering the age range of eligibility may be at the expense of funding a fully developed range of options in the community, which could if properly resourced make a significant impact on the reduction of crime through the involvement of a range of appropriate providers and committed individuals.

The Bishop of Lincoln

The Church of England Board for Social Responsibility

Home Affairs Committee

10 March 1998

82   Not printed. Back

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Prepared 25 August 1998