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The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng): I thank the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) for his careful and measured approach not only to this subject, but to a range of home affairs issues about which he has very real knowledge, not least from the days when he served with such distinction as the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman on these issues.

The particular interest that hon. Members take in custodial institutions in their own constituencies is valued by the Home Office and by Ministers. It enables both the Government and the House to hear at first hand the experiences of prison officers and of constituents. I take very seriously the concerns that have been expressed to the right hon. Gentleman, as I certainly do those that have been expressed to me as I have visited institutions across the country. Although I have not yet had an opportunity to visit Castington, having heard his account of that institution's experience since the introduction of detention and training orders, and linking that with the experience of other institutions, I have been given occasion to reflect very carefully on the operational impact of the orders and all the limitations that he has outlined.

The good order and discipline of our custodial institutions are of the utmost importance. They are particularly important in institutions that cater for young offenders and their needs. As hon. Members on both sides of the House will appreciate, if rehabilitation of young people is to be effective, there has to be an ordered and structured environment in which the causes of their offending can be dealt with. Anything that undermines good order and discipline is a threat to that process.

We are therefore absolutely determined to bear down on any who seek to disrupt the good order and discipline of our establishments, by using the full force of the criminal law; by utilising such incentives as are available to us within the establishments; and also by recognising the important role of effective management in maintaining and delivering regimes, which should not be underestimated in creating good order and discipline within establishments. Variations between establishments' performance on those matters tells us something about the effectiveness or otherwise of the management and the strategies that the management has adopted to cope with a group of inmates who are problematical and volatile at the best of times.

I note what the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said about assaults and other disorder at Castington. Especially worrying are assaults on staff, who are entitled to feel protected. We are determined that they will feel protected, but it is interesting to note that the total number of adjudications, including those for fighting, showed a significant reduction in the third quarter of 2000 compared with the first two quarters, when DTOs first came into force.

That should in no way lull us into a sense of false optimism or complacency, but the decline gives an impression of a service in which staff and governors across the whole youth offender estate are getting to grips with the problem. That is wholly admirable, and to be commended.

We have to examine how best to respond to the situation, and to do so in a way that does not undermine the rehabilitative impulse that propels and guides DTOs

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and their implementation. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to the survey and the research into these matters that was commissioned to be carried out by the Prison Service. I can tell him that the picture that is emerging is one in which there was a fairly high overall level of indiscipline, with some 8,300 adjudications--that is, four per trainee--in the first six months of the DTO. That bears out the experience that the right hon. Gentleman shared with the House.

The research shows that one quarter of the adjudications were for violent offences, and that three quarters were for other offences. It found marked variations between establishments in the pattern and incidence of offences. There has been a year-on-year increase in adjudications, but it is interesting to note that the pattern is uneven. The establishments at Brinsford, Castington, Huntercombe and Onley all experienced disproportionate increases in adjudications relative to population, although the House must bear in mind the caveat that I gave in relation to Castington. The establishments at Lancaster Farms, Thorn Cross and Wetherby showed absolute or proportional decreases, although it should be noted that Wetherby was not functional for most of the year. Werrington and Stoke Heath showed modest increases.

We need to reflect on the causes of that variation. Where good practice has been developed, it can usefully be spread as a means of addressing the problem outlined by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. The focus of the DTO is on a clearly structured sentence with an obvious end-point, which allows for sensible sentence planning and proper engagement with the young offender. The sentence aims to give the young person a better chance of living a crime-free life on release. It is therefore necessary for regimes to focus on rehabilitation and constructive behavioural change.

I doubt that there is any disagreement between the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Government about the importance of that approach, nor about the importance of ensuring that any remedial action that we take to deal with the problem that he has identified does not undermine that focus.

As a result of the fact that extra days in custody as a disciplinary measure are not available for young offenders serving a detention and training order, there has been an increase in the incidence of disorder in some institutions. There undoubtedly is an element which has seen the absence of such a power as a green light for unacceptable behaviour. They would be mistaken, however, to believe that we lack the resolve to address the problem. We can and we will. We will expect the prosecuting authorities and sentencers to recognise the significance of the phenomenon that they are required to address.

I am bound to say that in some of the sentences handed down in the examples that the right hon. Gentleman gave, I am surprised--I put it no higher than that in this forum--by the leniency of the approach taken by

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sentencers. There are some restrictions, which the right hon. Gentleman outlined, on the capacity of the courts to deal with incidents of juvenile criminal damage, but the assaults that he described, I would have expected a more condign punishment. We shall continue to bring home to sentencers the importance of their role in ensuring good order and discipline in these establishments.

Nevertheless, we have taken the view--and I am not, at this stage, persuaded to change it--that it would be premature to legislate to restore added days, and that the new juvenile regimes have not yet been given the opportunity to bed in. I feel that more time is needed before any definitive conclusions can be drawn about how disciplinary strategies, which are being taken forward with vigour by the Youth Justice Board and the Prison Service, are working and about the extent to which they are getting to grips with the problem. Castington is a good example of improvement, and I want us to build on it.

There is also the issue, of which the right hon. Gentleman is aware, of deciding on any particular legislative course before the outcome of the current European convention on human rights challenge to powers concerning adults has been determined. I am absolutely committed, as are the Youth Justice Board and the Prison Service, to bringing about a number of non-statutory improvements. We are taking those forward as a matter of urgency. A comprehensive package of measures will focus on effective practice in Prison Service regimes and address the understandable concerns of staff with supportive measures to help to deal with situations in which the law may have been broken.

We believe that improvements can be made in the present law. The Prison Service and the Youth Justice Board have already started working on these. We intend to continue to develop strategies along those lines and to ensure that they are properly resourced and supported. We intend to publish research findings about positive staff and trainee attitudes to good reward and incentive schemes, to improve staff guidance and to provide consultancy support and training, particularly in restorative justice methods. That is being done at Wetherby. We also intend to build disciplinary compliance into more explicit sentence plans, and hence qualification for early or late release. All that can and will be done.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for enabling the House to have this short debate. We recognise the challenges that management and staff face in running custodial establishments. We are enormously grateful to them for all that they do. I give a clear commitment to ensuring that we continue to monitor the situation very carefully. There will be a vigorous and determined response from Prison Service management and from the Youth Justice Board--

The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Madam Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

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