Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Second Report


The Welsh Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1. In May 2000, the Health and Social Services Committee of the National Assembly for Wales published a Report recommending the establishment of a Children's Commissioner for Wales.[8] The Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 11 December 2000, and is currently before the House of Lords.[9] Two issues have been raised during the course of the debates on the Bill in Parliament, as well as in the wider debate on the role and functions of the Commissioner, which are of particular interest to us—

    (a)  what powers, if any, the Children's Commissioner should have in respect of children held in young offenders institutions; and

    (b)  whether, and to what extent, the Commissioner's powers should extend to children from Wales for whom services are provided outside Wales.

2. These two issues coincide particularly in the case of juvenile offenders since the vast majority of juvenile offenders from Wales are held in prison establishments in England. By "juvenile offender", we mean a young offender aged under 18. The term "young offender" applies to all those aged 15-20, including juvenile offenders. The table below shows the number of young offenders from Wales—both juveniles and those aged 18-20—and where they were held in October 2000.

Number & location of Welsh young offenders in custody, October 2000
Held in Wales
Held outside Wales
Males under 18
Females under 18
Males 18-20
Females 18-20

Although almost half of all young offenders from Wales are held in prison establishments in Wales, this is mostly accounted for by the fact that the majority of 18 to 20 year-olds are held in Wales. Almost all juvenile offenders are held outside Wales.

3. We did not have sufficient time before the likely dissolution of Parliament to conduct a full inquiry. However, we felt that the Committee was well placed to make a contribution to this debate, since it turns on the relationship between matters which are the responsibility of the National Assembly for Wales (the Commissioner), Parliament (the primary legislation necessary to establish the post of the Commissioner) and the UK Government (the Home Office and HM Prison Service). We decided to visit the young offenders institutions where the majority of these young people are held to see for ourselves what particular problems, if any, were faced by young people from Wales incarcerated in England.

4. On 30 April and 1 May we visited Ashfield Prison and Young Offender Institution, Pucklechurch, and Eastwood Park Prison, Young Offenders Institution and Remand Centre, Falfield, both of which are located near Bristol. We chose these prisons because, in October 2000, Ashfield held 113 of the 151 male young offenders held outside Wales, and Eastwood Park held 8 of the 15 females.[10] We are most grateful to the staff and inmates of both prisons for the time and effort which they put into our visit. The visit was extremely informative and, even though the end of the Parliament is approaching, we decided to produce this short Report to identify some of the issues arising from the visit, both to inform the House of the direction of our work to date and in the anticipation that it might form the basis of an inquiry by our successor Committee at some stage in the next Parliament. Although this interim Report contains a number of observations, it contains no recommendations for the Government nor suggestions on policy areas which fall within the responsibility of the National Assembly for Wales; therefore we do not expect a reply.

The Prisons

5. Ashfield is a private prison, opened in November 1999 and operated by Premier Prison Services Ltd on a 25­year contract. The annual cost per inmate in March 2001 was £38,906, though it should be noted that Premier's contract includes both building and running the prison and this accounts for at least part of the difference in cost between Ashfield and Eastwood Park.[11] It holds about 350 prisoners, though its normal capacity is 400 and its maximum capacity 440. Of these, the majority are juveniles: on 17 April it held 282 juveniles and 69 young offenders aged 18-20. About 10 per cent of the juveniles were unconvicted and about five per cent were convicted and awaiting sentence. None of the young offenders had been sentenced: 40 were unconvicted and the remainder were awaiting sentence. The prison receives between 150 and 200 new prisoners per month, so these figures could change significantly in a comparatively short space of time.

6. Ashfield is contracted to provide 35 hours per week of purposeful activity for young people and the overall average figure for the prison (including adult prisoners) is 28.3 hours. Activities available include academic courses such as maths, science and foreign languages; vocational training such as motor mechanics, information and communications technology, catering and industrial cleaning; and other practical courses such as bedsit cooking, life and social skills and computer games and programming. A wide range of accreditation is available, including GCSEs, NVQs, City & Guilds and RSA qualifications.

7. The prison provides 24­hour nursing cover and a local GP spends 20 hours per week in the prison, offering daily surgeries. All new arrivals are offered dental and optical check­ups. We were told that lack of access to child and adolescent mental health services and services for people with learning disabilities was a problem and some staff were of the opinion that the prison was holding some young people who should have been in hospital, rather than in prison. Ashfield is contracted to test 10 per cent of new arrivals for drugs, though in practice they test considerably more both to ensure compliance with the contract and for practical purposes. Of these, about 84 per cent test positive. In random tests of existing inmates, the positive rate is 16.4 per cent, the vast majority (95 per cent) for cannabis and the rest for opiates.

8. Eastwood Park is run by HM Prison Service. It was built in the late-1960s, and was originally a Junior Detention Centre for boys aged 14 to 17. In 1989 it became a Young Offenders Institution and following refurbishment in 1996, it re-opened as a multi­functional establishment for female offenders.[12] The annual cost per inmate in March 2001 was £22,143. It holds about 300 prisoners, though its normal capacity is 280 and its maximum capacity 328. Unlike Ashfield, the majority of inmates are adults: on 17 April it held 242 adults and 52 young offenders, of whom ten were Welsh. The Welsh inmates were serving sentences ranging from two months to life. As with Ashfield, we were told that lack of access to child and adolescent mental health services and services for people with learning disabilities was a problem and some staff were of the opinion that the prison was holding some young people who should have been in hospital, rather than in prison.

9. Like Ashfield, Eastwood Park offers a range of education and training opportunities for its inmates. Much of the education is provided under contract by a local college. During our visit, we saw the hairdressing salon (which is fairly similar in appearance and facilities to a commercial hairdresser's shop) and the painting and decorating training area, which consists of a series of cubicles which participants decorate in a range of different ways. We met a group of young women who had recently completed the enhanced thinking skills course (ETS). This programme is based on the premise that an offender's thinking, values and reasoning play an important part in his or her offending. ETS addresses six areas of thinking that are associated with offending: lack of self-control; inability to see situations from another's perspective; poor problem-solving skills; poor reasoning skills; inability to reflect on one's own thinking; and a rigid, concrete thinking style. The people who had completed the course were generally very positive about it and told us that they thought some of the skills they had acquired would be useful in helping them to avoid re-offending after they were released. We discussed the role of education with prison and probation staff as well as inmates and many thought that general education, especially job-related qualifications, was important for young offenders, both to help them find employment after release and to raise their self-esteem and status in the eyes of others.

Proposals for future inquiry

10. We have taken no formal evidence on the subject of young offenders—other than the submission from HM Prison Service which is appended to this Report—and we are in no position to make recommendations at this stage. Although our visit served as a useful introduction to some of the issues surrounding young offenders, we are conscious of the fact that this is a complex subject area, and one which would require a great deal more examination on our part before we could produce a substantive report. However, as the end of the Parliament approaches, we are keen to identify some of the issues which have arisen from the visit for the benefit of our successor Committee in the next Parliament and for other Members of the House and Members of the National Assembly for Wales who might have a particular interest in these matters. In the following paragraphs, we set out some of the questions which might be considered in relation to young offenders from Wales who are held in prison establishments outside Wales, as well as some more general issues relating to young offenders. Some of these more general issues are matters for the Prison Service and the Home Office but since April 2000, there has been a separate area management structure for the five prisons in Wales,[13] which provides an opportunity for an inquiry into the Prison Service in Wales.

11. The first question raised in relation to young offenders from Wales is whether it is desirable that so many of them are held in England. We were assured by prison staff that bullying of Welsh inmates was not a problem per se—though bullying in general is a problem throughout the prison system—but that there was an element of "tribalism" which saw tensions between groups from different parts of the country: London, Birmingham, Wales, Bristol, etc. The inmates from Wales who we spoke to invariably thought that there should be provision for them to serve their sentences in Wales rather than in England, the principal reason being that it would be easier for their family and friends to visit them. It may be that a YOI in Wales, depending on its location, could lead to some inmates being more isolated from their families than they are at present.

12. Evidence from the Prison Service suggests that young offenders from Wales aged 18-20 are held on average 50 miles from their home—four miles closer than their English counterparts—and that juvenile offenders are held on average 68 miles from home, whereas for those from England the average is 55 miles.[14] It is worth noting that the people we spoke to were almost exclusively from South Wales and that a proper examination of this question would have to include an examination of people from other parts of Wales. A broader inquiry might consider the overall configuration of establishments in Wales, how the distribution of prison places relates to the distribution of offenders and what would be the impact on sentencing, if any, of the creation of more prison places in Wales.

13. Another important question is whether or not the Children's Commissioner for Wales should have responsibility for Welsh juvenile prisoners, either in Wales or in England or both. At present, the Bill has not completed its passage through Parliament and the Commissioner's exact powers are still uncertain. It appears that the Commissioner will have a general power to consider and make representations to the Assembly about any matter affecting the rights or welfare of children in Wales, but that this power will not extend to young offenders held in England.[15] This has been the subject of much debate recently, not least of all during the standing committee stage of the Bill in the House of Commons.[16]

14. More generally, there were some issues which have wider application and might usefully be included in a future inquiry. We were concerned by some of the problems relating to the health care of young offenders, both in prison and in the community. Access to psychiatric services is clearly a major problem in some areas, and we were disturbed to learn of one particular case in which no satisfactory psychiatric care could be found, even though it was the opinion of prison officers that the person in question required in-patient medical care rather than imprisonment. One senior Prison Service official suggested to us that as many as 70 per cent of prisoners suffered from some kind of mental health problem at some time during their sentences. Drug and alcohol abuse are significant factors behind many of the offences which young people commit and the majority test positive for drugs on arrival in prison. We were told that there was anecdotal evidence that the abuse of prescription drugs was a particular problem in Wales. We were told that there was a shortage of psychologists in some areas which meant that some young offenders had difficulty getting access to essential services.

15. The general conditions in Welsh prisons and English prisons with a high proportion of Welsh inmates might also be a fruitful area of inquiry. As we have already noted, the new regional structure adopted by the Prison Service provides an opportunity to examine the prison service in Wales independently of that in England. Education and training is obviously one area of particular importance to young offenders. Other issues of concern are the quality of prison food and the operation of the policy that prisoners should not be held more than 50 miles from their home. We were concerned that essential information, such as a medical history, which is available to the court at the time of sentencing was not always passed on immediately to the prison when the prisoner arrived. Throughcare, probation services and other support in the community—areas such as housing, education and training, employment and health care, especially mental health care—are also areas which we believe are worthy of consideration.

16. We hope that these are issues which our successor Committee will find time to address during the next Parliament.

8  A Children's Commissioner for Wales, The Report of the Health and Social Services Committee, National Assembly for Wales, May 2000. Back

9  Bill 3 of Session 2000-01. Back

10  Figures supplied by HM Prison Service in February 2001. Back

11  See paragraph 8. Back

12  Report on a Full Announced Inspection of HM Prison Eastwood Park, 14-18 February 2000, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. Back

13  They are Usk/Prescoed, Cardiff, Parc and Swansea. See Hansard, 16 March 2000, col. 264W. Back

14  Ev. p. 2. It is worth noting that the court at which a person is convicted is used as a proxy for home town in compiling these figures and that about 80-85 per cent of convictions actually take place in the convict's home town. Back

15  An Amendment to the Bill to this effect, tabled in the House of Lords by the Attorney General, was printed on 6 April 2001. At the time when we agreed to this Report, the Bill was still waiting for its Report stage in the House of Lords. Back

16  Standing Committee Debates (2000-01), Standing Committee F, Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill, 30 January 2001. Back

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