Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  60. That was my impression.
  (Lord Warner) Your impression is correct.

David Winnick

  61. In your note could you also enclose the decision of the Coroner's Court in such instances, if that is possible?
  (Lord Warner) I do not think we will be able to go back 8 years.

  62. In the more recent cases.
  (Lord Warner) We will let you have what we have.

Mr Prosser

  63. Lord Warner, your own research has shown that young people in custody have very low numeracy and literacy skills, can you tell us what actions you are taking to give them better access to education and training?
  (Lord Warner) What we have been doing in the last 12 to 18 months is several things, first of all we have used contracts with the Prison Service to try to expand the number of hours per week of access to educational training, which has, on the whole, been delivered. It has been patchy in one or two of the institutions where there have been issues of overcrowding and time out of cells for education, but on the whole in some places like Feltham there has been dramatic improvements in access to education and training. We have also had to grapple with this issue of why so many of these youngsters are failing in terms of literacy and numeracy. It is because they cannot cope with much of the material that is being used in schools. When you talk to them they talk about the extent to which they walked away from school, often some years ago, really because of an inability to cope with the material. What we have been doing, with external advice, is trying to develop more material which is bespoke for their needs in terms of literacy and numeracy. There is a raft of new material which is being used in young offender institutions which we are now trying to persuade FE colleges to use when these youngsters come out of the programmes, from the custodial part of their sentence back into community. That looks to be promising. We have also worked with the Prison Service to improve and extend the number of courses which can be operated on an individual basis through IT, so the youngsters have some sense of progression at their own rate, they can work through literacy programmes, they can work through education programmes of one kind or another at their own pace, typically in a group of 8 or 10 with a tutor in the room. They are not forced to go at the same rate as the fastest in the class. They also have a sense of being able to handle the material more effectively than using written material, which they often struggled with. Those are the kind of main developments that we have been developing.

  64. Your Review document talks about the Plus Programme, is that part and parcel of what you just described?
  (Lord Warner) Yes.

  65. At the moment that is a pilot scheme, are there indications that you might roll it out to be a national programme?
  (Lord Warner) What we are trying to do now is roll that out, I have forgotten how many places we have piloted it in. Four, I think. I have been to Feltham and watched it, I have seen it in action and talked to young people in Feltham who were very positive. They occasionally said they thought some of the material was a bit childish, on the other hand when you looked at their literacy performance it was not surprising some of it had to be slightly childish, in a sense, for them to cope with it. That is what we are expanding across the estate.

  66. The Board has committed itself to placing 90% of youngsters within 50 miles of their homes by 2004. Earlier on you talked about overcrowding difficulties, and we know there have been lots of movements to that extent on overcrowding. What are your hopes and aspirations for meeting that target?
  (Mr Perfect) It is going to be very difficult. So far we have managed not to go backwards by reaching the placement areas where people are sent to, and improving them. We have not deteriorated as accommodation has filled up. Over the last three or four weeks the numbers in secure accommodation have begun to fall again compared to four weeks ago which is freeing up space, so we hope to make more progress. We also need to explore things like video monitoring so when a child does have to be placed more than 50 miles away from home we can maintain good contact with the youth offending team and the family, which is vital to make the detention work.

  67. Could you give us a snapshot of what percentage today are within 50 miles of their homes?
  (Mr Perfect) It is round 82% or 83%.

  68. 90% is still your target.
  (Mr Perfect) Yes.

Mr Clappison

  69. Could you say a little about what happens to 15 and 16 year old girls who are remanded to secure conditions or sentenced to custody?
  (Lord Warner) I do not have the figures.
  (Mr Perfect) We have a weekly note on this and by and large 15 and 16 year old girls are going to local authority secure units and secure training centres.

  70. Are there any girls held in adult prisons?
  (Mr Perfect) There are because there are no specialist YOIs for girls. The Board's policy has been to try and get them out of the adult prisons into secure training centres

  71. This could be a mainstream adult prison which includes prisoners who are over 21, somewhere like Holloway.
  (Mr Perfect) We try not to keep them in Holloway, one or two end up there in transit. They will be on specialised wings in places like Newborne and Brockhill, where there will also be other adult prisoners. They are kept on their own wings.

  72. Do have you any plans to make specific provision for these girls?
  (Mr Perfect) There is a plan for building a secure training centre. One of the reasons for that is it wants to get the girls out of adult prisons.

  73. The National Association of Youth Justice said that you have contingency plans to put girls under 15 in prison, is that right?
  (Lord Warner) No.

  Mr Clappison: Very good. Thank you.

Bridget Prentice

  74. That is reassuring that you are not going to put under 15 year olds in prison. Is it the case that you think one of the reasons that we raised this question is there seems to be a contradiction between your understanding of the law and that of the Association for Youth Justice. Is it correct you are saying that it against the law to put girls under 15 into prison?
  (Lord Warner) We think it is highly questionable, although it has not been tested in law. Actually much more significantly we think it is wrong as a piece of professional practice to put them into a prison environment. We are arguing very strongly, and will continue to argue as a Board, that we should not put boys or girls under the age of 15 in Prison Service accommodation, that is wrong in principle. We have also continued to push on with this expansion on the secure training centres, for example there will be provision for girls in a secure training centre which we hope will be built. We also think working with the Prison Service that there is a case for 17 year old girls possibly being in a specialist wing, as in New Hall, because some of the girls of 17 do say they do not wish to be with younger children. However they do not wish to be with older people so there is a case for having a small number of specialist prison places which may be attached as part of an overall adult complex but which has a specialist facility working with the 17 year olds where many of the services provided to them are brought in from the outside the Prison Service by the youth offending team and others. That is purely for 17 year old girls. Our general view is that 15 and 16 year old girls should be outside adult prisons, and that is what we are working towards.

  75. The new training centres that you are building, will one of these be exclusively for girls or will they be mixed? Is it because there are more girls offending now, is there a steady increase in girls offending?
  (Lord Warner) There has been a proportionately high increase in young women sent to custody by the courts, however it is still pretty small in overall numbers. The overwhelming majority of young people sent to custody are boys. In absolute terms the number of girls are still relatively small. I think what we are trying to say is that there was a commitment by the Government to take 15 and 16 year old vulnerable boys and girls out of adult prisons, out of Prison Service accommodation. That is what we are trying to deliver. That is the objective. If you take the Milton Keynes project which will have eighty places we would not be justified in handing over all of those eighty places to girls, we would not fill them in all probability. What we are looking at is a wing that would be for girls, programmes and regimes would be specifically for girls, the staffing would reflect the fact there were girls and they would have access to the same main facilities as the boys but their regimes would be to meet their needs, they would not just be piggy-backed on to the boys' regimes.

David Winnick

  76. Up until about three years ago Feltham was one of the most notorious, if not the most notorious, of the young offender institutions. It is where a murder occurred, am I right?
  (Lord Warner) That was in the 18 to 20 part. Zahid Mubarek who was unfortunately killed in a racist attack was in the 18 to 20 part of Feltham, not in the juvenile part.

  77. It was Feltham. You have mentioned previously today the improvements that have occured, is there room for further improvements?
  (Lord Warner) There is always room for further improvements.

  78. A recent inspection found quite a number of continuing problems, it is not just a matter of there is always room for further improvement.
  (Lord Warner) I am looking at our monitoring. They were compliant with contract requirements on everything except time out of cell, which is 10 hours per day out of cell. That was in the month of September. That is Feltham. They are not in any breach of the service level agreement other than in the time out of cell, which is lower than one would like. I do know, because I have spoken to the Governor a week or so ago, that he has had very considerable recruitment problems, which is now improving in Feltham. Given its location it is not always the easiest place to find staff. I have to say having been there I thought that the mood and moral amongst the staff in Feltham was extremely good, very positive about education and training. I think it has an outstanding governor in the way he has changed the place. One of the good things is that finally there has been some stability in the Governor there, he has been there a reasonable period of time and has stuck with the agenda. Where so many of these places go wrong is the turnover in governors.

  79. Some of us have met the Governor and I was duly impressed. One of the criticisms in the very recent inspection is the lack of training for staff and the care of adolescents. That is being pursued, is it?
  (Lord Warner) We do have a requirement in the contract with the Prison Service that staff are put through approved training programmes working with young people. Where there has been difficulty is on releasing staff at times of shortage for some of the training programmes, I suspect that may be a problem.
  (Mr Perfect) We have opened up one or two more wings in Feltham so new staff have come in. All of the staff are expected to do training, preferably jointly with the youth training teams. I suspect the new staff have not done that.

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