Criminal Justice and Courts Bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Georgina Holmes-Skelton, Matthew Hamlyn, Committee Clerks
Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Commissioner, Office of the Children’s Commissioner
Richard Monkhouse, Chairman, Magistrates Association
Frances Crook, Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform
Sarah Salmon, Interim Director, Criminal Justice Alliance
Professor Malcolm Davies, Professor, Law School, University of West London; Civitas
Penelope Gibbs, Standing Committee for Youth Justice
John D’Abbro, Head Teacher, New Rush Hall School
Sandy Davies, Principal, Education Links
† attended the Committee
First, please could electronic devices be switched to silent? Tea and coffee are not allowed during sittings. The notice period for amendments is three working days. Starred amendments—those that have been tabled with inadequate notice—will not normally be called.
Today, the Committee will first be asked to consider the programme motion on the amendment paper; debate on this is limited to half an hour. We will then consider a motion to report written evidence and one to permit the Committee to deliberate in private in advance of oral evidence sessions; I hope that we can take these motions formally. Assuming that the second of the motions is agreed to, the Committee will sit in private. Afterward, the witnesses and members of the public will be invited into the room, and our oral evidence session will begin.
(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 11 March;
(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 13 March;
(c) at 8.55 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 18 March;
(d) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 20 March;
(e) at 8.55 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 25 March;
(f) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 27 March;
(g) at 8.55 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 1 April;
(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 5; Schedule 1; Clause 6; Schedule 2; Clauses 7 to 17; Schedule 3; Clause 18; Schedule 4; Clauses 19 to 28; Schedule 5; Clause 29; Schedule 6; Clauses 30 to 46; Schedule 7; Clause 47; Schedule 8; Clauses 48 to 57; new Clauses; new Schedules; Clauses 58 to 63; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
Examination of Witness
Sue Berelowitz: Thank you for inviting me here to give evidence this morning. My name is Sue Berelowitz, and I am the deputy Children’s Commissioner for England and chief executive of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. I should add, given the context today, that I chaired our national inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups, hence I am able to talk about rape pornography, and I lead on our youth justice work, hence I am able to talk about those aspects of the Bill.
Q 1 Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): To start things off, may I ask about your opinion on the secure estate? In particular, there has been some discussion about reasonable force. When, in your view, is force reasonable and when is it not?
Sue Berelowitz: First, I would say that force is not reasonable when it is used for the purposes of good order and discipline, so we are concerned about the introduction of that in the legislation. Force should always, obviously, be a matter of last resort, and that is clear in the UN convention on the rights of the child. It is sometimes inevitable when the situation requires it, such as when a serious fight is taking place between two young people and they need to be separated quickly, but it should always be preceded by attempts at de-escalation. I have seen good examples of that on CCTV footage, and frankly I have seen evidence of force being used when there has been a failure to use de-escalation.
I recognise that there is a place for force, but it needs to be reasonable, and I would exclude the application of pain for the purposes of control. There are times when nothing else can be done to separate people, and to bring back safety, one may have to use a degree of force.
Q 2 Dr Huppert: That is very helpful. I have heard some interesting arguments—we will probably come to them later—that one problem with providing a secure college for young people, where there is an educational focus rather than a prison focus, is that it may make it more attractive for judges to send people there. Presumably the counter-argument would be that if we made them really unpleasant, fewer young people would go there. What is your comment on this issue?
Sue Berelowitz: First, I think we should be under no illusions: a secure college is a prison, just as a secure training centre and a secure children’s home are prisons. They may go by other names, but prisons they are. They are, with one exception, which is down in Southampton, surrounded by barbed wire, and in all of them, the children are locked up and locked into their rooms. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that because they have another name, they are not prisons.
Education is laudable and of course children have to have education, whatever type of prison environment they are in at the moment. We would endorse that, but you need a holistic environment. To take your point about whether they should be made unattractive to prevent children being sent there, prison should always be a placement of last resort for children. The numbers have fallen substantially in the last couple of years, which is pleasing to all of us, and that is an indication that it is increasingly a placement of last resort, but
I am worried about a number of aspects of this secure college, but clearly we would not endorse anything that made it an unhelpful or punitive environment. I visit children’s prisons of all three types every month, and I talk to children. In fact, we are the only organisation in the country that visits all three types of children’s prisons. There is no inspectorate or anybody else who does that. That is our particular mandate, so I have a unique overview of all three types of secure estate.
I have never yet met a young person there who did not come from a very troubled environment, who did not need a lot of intense support and who did not need help in forming relationships. Many of them are attachment disordered. We are already finding that too often they are long distances from home. This is particularly the case for children who are London-based and who are then placed in prisons such as Wetherby or Werrington, where I regularly meet London children. They very, very rarely get visits from home because it is too far for their families to travel, especially if there are other children in the household. Again, under the convention, it is a requirement that when children are placed in detention, they should be supported to maintain their family links. If they are not in their family of origin and are in care, they should be supported to maintain their care links. I am very worried about that.
There are a number of aspects to the development of a very large unit to which children will be sent from all over the place, but whatever kind of unit it is, of course it has to be a place where the children are well cared for. We are talking about troubled youngsters who need their close family ties to be maintained. They need education, but they also need mental health services, physical health services and paediatric services. We know that large numbers of children in the secure estate have neuro-disability disorders. We did research on speech and language difficulties, for example, and on learning difficulties and disabilities—there is a very long list, and I could go on. Epilepsy and acquired brain injury also feature.
These children need a whole range of resources, including good staff-child ratios, because many of them have grown up in extremely difficult environments. Anything between a quarter and a half have had episodes or long periods in care, or a whole lifetime in care. This means that they have been victims of neglect or abuse in their childhoods. They need reparenting, in a sense, in order to be able to come out and re-enter society in the way that we would all like. That means good staff-child ratios to help them build those relationships and to develop a sense of what empathy is all about. You need a lot of components in a unit in order to make it a properly child-centred unit, which will enable these troubled youngsters to come out and reintegrate successfully into society.
Q 3 Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): Thank you for coming today. There is a lot of evidence that a very high proportion of adults in prison have learning difficulties. Could you speak a little about children, and
Sue Berelowitz: We are very pleased that, for those children who already had education, health and care plans in the community, those plans will follow the children into prison. That is a big step in the right direction. Given the statistics, we should assume that all children in prison have difficulties of one kind of another. About 60% have learning difficulties or disabilities, and there are high numbers with attachment disorders or attachment difficulties. Something in the region of about 45% have acquired brain injuries. Speech and language disorders are at around the 60% mark. We are talking about a range of different problems—some neurological, some acquired or developmental—but they all need to be addressed. It is not surprising that some of these youngsters end up in prison. We all know now about neurological development in very early childhood and the development of the infant brain. In my experience, a lot of the children in prison lacked love in their early lives, so their brains have not developed as well as they should.
Sue Berelowitz: You need a number of things. The residential or wing staff—whichever term one wants to use—need to have a very sound understanding of child development and child protection. They need to have the right personal qualities in order to be able to engage with young people. They need to want to work with young people. I think we are nearly there in the children’s secure estate; most prison officers now choose to work there, which is a big advance. They need to have some innate qualities to do with wanting to work with children.
They need to be trained in de-escalation, in restraint management, and in managing their own feelings, sometimes, because these are not easy children to work with, and they need to be supported in that. Then you need the mental health staff. You need good mental health teams.
This may sound a ridiculous thing to say, but those mental health teams need to be trained in child and adolescent mental health. I say that because I visited a prison a couple of years ago—I will not name it—where they had a mental health team of five in a young offenders institution, and not one was trained in child or adolescent mental health. They were all only adult-trained, and they were applying adult assessment tools to the children. We brought that to the attention of the Youth Justice Board, so it was all changed very quickly. It seems obvious, but it is not always happening. You need proper mental health staff, trained in child and adolescent mental health.
The teaching staff need to be trained. They need to understand special educational needs. You need psychologists on site. You need very good supervision for all the staff. By that I mean the sort of one-to-one oversight work that happens with staff, so that they are helped to work with awareness, in terms of their responses to the young people, and work in what I would call a mindful way with the young people. It is quite a long
Q 5 Sarah Champion: A final question. I think that the maximum time that the children and young people are likely to be in this facility for is 79 days. Do you think that moving them is likely to perpetuate their chaotic lifestyles and disrupt attachment even further?
Sue Berelowitz: Most of them have come out of very chaotic lifestyles. They desperately need stability. I have seen some children flourish in the secure estate. I am not against the secure estate; it just has to be run well. So, yes, if children are going to be placed there, it needs to be with good reason. I would not like to see prison sentences extended, but where a child is sentenced and sent somewhere, very good use needs to be made of that time.
Q 6 Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): As I understand your evidence, I think we have got to the stage where, sadly, no one disputes that there will be a limited number of cases in which children or young people have been involved in offending on a scale that means that there has to be form of custody. That has always been the case, in your career, and in my career before I came here.
Q 7 Robert Neill: We understand that. Sometimes within that secure regime it will be necessary, as a last resort, to use a degree of force. I think your view was that it is generally not to be done for coercion, but it is legitimate to use it if there is disruption of such a kind that it is either a threat to other individuals or it makes the running of the establishment impossible. That is the sort of level that we are talking about.
Sue Berelowitz: May I add something to that? It is also very important to look at the context. I have been to places where there is very little use of restraint because the environment is such that the general atmosphere is one of good order and control, and therefore you do not get a lot of disruption. Where the environment does not facilitate and enable that, you get a lot of restraint being used. I would be concerned if people said that they had to use restraint because young people were being very disruptive. You have to look at the whole context. I will give you an example.
A couple of years ago, I was at a secure training centre, a relatively small environment that did not have a separate segregation unit. On that day alone, I saw three children brought down, under restraint, to the health wing, which was being used as a segregation unit. The noise levels across the whole prison were just extraordinary, as were the levels of aggression and tension. Restraints had gone rocketing over the previous month because things had got out of control. The leadership was just not in control, so nobody felt safe. You have to have both of those together.
Sue Berelowitz: That is not my experience, with all due respect. In particular, if I look at some of the secure children’s homes, some of them are very small indeed. They have high staff-to-child ratios—higher than the other forms. Those staff tend to be well trained and get a lot of continuing professional development. You are talking about people with high levels of awareness. In terms of the specialist staff, they bring them in from the outside.
I was at a unit two weeks ago, and happened to be there on the day that the child psychiatrist was there—he is in every Wednesday—and there is a psychologist. They are community-based, but they are there every week and available on call. There are other members of the mental health team. There is a nurse based there permanently. In terms of size, you can have—and places do have—the right amount of expert and specialist support, even when they are very small. They just do not need to be there all week.
Q 10 Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): What a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, in my first intervention. I hope I have got the etiquette right. I agree with the Secretary of State that the figure of 69% of young offenders reoffending is far too high. Do you think the secure college will have any impact on the rate of reoffending by young people?
Sue Berelowitz: It is of course difficult to predict entirely. The figure I have seen is closer to 73%. Whether it is 69% or 73%, it is worrying and not good enough. I am concerned if children are not placed in an environment where they can repair some of the damage that they have already suffered. Under article 39 of the convention, children have the right to rehabilitation.
Whatever they have done to others they tend to have done because of what they have suffered themselves. If they are to reform themselves, they need help with that. Being placed in an environment that is impersonal, and where there is not a lot of good-quality adult-child contact, is not conducive to children being able to repair the damage that they suffered in their early childhood, develop a sense of empathy, begin to experience what a good-quality relationship is between adult and child, and so on. You need very good staff-to-child ratios.
I will go back to the issue of children being a long way from home. It is always the case that, for some children, home can be a very damaging environment.
Of course, release on temporary licence is very important. Ideally, they would be doing ROTL close to home, so that it would be linked to work experience, apprenticeships or education and training that they might take up on leaving, rather than have all of that happen a long way from home, and in a sense have to start again when they come out and are sent back to their local community. There does need to be that close interaction.
There are some good models of that. The enhanced resettlement projects that are now taking place in a few youth offending teams around the country are a good example. The YOT is working with the young person from early on in their sentence, particularly on detention training orders, to plan for what happens when they come out, and there is good continuity. You do need to have that local connection in order to do that.
Q 11 Mike Kane: I completely agree. The relationship between the trainer and the offender in any such institution is critical. As a former outstanding teacher myself, I know that those relationships are based on character depth and discipline. I would die with a 79-day school year; I do not know how you establish those relationships in that period of time. The Secretary of State also mentioned that we do not have that expertise in the public sector and we will have to go to the private sector to get it. Does that expertise to run the educational side of this exist in the public sector at present?
Sue Berelowitz: I see some very good education being run in some of our children’s prisons and it is salutary, and sometimes quite upsetting, to speak to the children. For example, I have in mind a young lad who said to me, “I couldn’t read or write when I came in here at 15, but now I am on level 4.” He was tremendously proud that he could read and write, and it is regrettable that they have to go into prison for that to happen. We have plenty of fantastic public sector educators, both in and out of our prisons, and I am sure that some of them would be more than able to run such an educational establishment.
However, I go back to my point that children need to have education as a critical component, but it should not just be education itself, because you are running prisons, not a school. Running a prison is a very different experience from running a school and we should not conflate the two. They are not the same thing and that worries me. That is why I think the terminology is so important, if the college is seen as a school and not a prison, because it is a prison that includes a lot of education on site.
Sue Berelowitz: There are others who are better experts at this. I know that there are some very interesting models in Spain that have been looked at and were posited a couple of years ago. I can point you to some people to whom you can talk to get more detail on this. I am better talking about this country than others.
Q 13 Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Recent figures demonstrate that by far the largest number of children in custody are male. What assessment has been made of the impact on women and girls who will go into these institutions? Do you think there will be a particular impact?
Sue Berelowitz: There is anyway an impact, absolutely. There are very few girls in prisons. There is a sort of mythology developing that we do not have girls in prison any more. Of course we do; they are just not in YOIs, but in STCs—those that take them—and secure children’s homes. They are among some of the most troubled youngsters I meet in prison. I do not ask them what they have done or about their stories, but they tend to tell me quite a lot and it is rare that I meet a girl who does not have an early history of really shocking violence and abuse, usually sexual abuse of one kind or another.
Partly because there is greater awareness and partly because of our inquiry, we now know that many of the girls in our prisons have been victims of sexual exploitation, which has sometimes contributed to or been the actual cause of their offending behaviour. I would add self-harm. In terms of self-harm, it is worrying enough with the boys, but in terms of the girls, I have a couple of girls in mind whom I met a couple of weeks ago, and there was sometimes really grotesque self-harming taking place. These are girls with very high levels of need, so there is an impact on them of being in prison, as with the boys. Sometimes, given their life histories, it is important for them to be in a contained and closed environment, because they are so unsafe in the world outside that the only way anybody can work with them effectively is to put them somewhere where nobody else can get to them.
That is why sometimes children are sent to welfare beds in secure children’s homes, but it makes it even more important that the right work is done with those girls to make sure that they are supported in their mental health needs. With the ones I met last week—I met the psychiatrist as well—it is difficult to describe the extreme extent of their psychological needs and their self-harming, and the challenges that this posed to all the staff in that very small unit. They are in a very small secure children’s home and the psychiatrist is on call 24 hours a day for three of the four girls because of their extreme self-harming. In his view, they needed to be there rather than in a mental health facility and he felt it was the right placement, because I talked it through with him in some detail. Their needs are very, very acute and cannot be forgotten.
I would be very concerned about girls being put in a large environment with a lot of boys because of issues of sexual violence, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and misogyny. You get hypermasculine environments in these places. A lot of the boys have come from a world in which you have to be hypermasculine to make it on the street. Whatever their internal vulnerabilities, they are hidden inside that outer shell. The power imbalance is huge. Even if they are in separate wings in STCs, which of course they would need to be—although they can be on mixed corridors in secure children’s homes—they come together for education, for example. Again, I have been in places where you can hear boys making truly inappropriate comments either directly to the girls or
Sue Berelowitz: I would like not to see them in secure colleges. My preference is for them to continue to be placed wherever they need to be placed based on their offences, which is in small units, such as the small, secure children’s homes that I visit or STCs. STCs need to be much more gender-aware than they are at the moment. The size of secure children’s homes means that there are high levels of watchfulness and vigilance, because staff are always around, so it is less likely that girls will come under the power of boys and all that goes with that. They are exceptionally vulnerable.
Q 15 Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): I will ask you briefly about the most effective way of delivering education to offenders, but I want to return to the question that Mr Neill asked about scale. What do you think is an ideal size for a secure college?
Sue Berelowitz: If I can leave aside whatever something is called and just talk about a good size for a children’s prison, it needs to be small enough and with high enough staff-to-child ratios such that children do not feel lost and there is a degree of intimacy—if I can put it like that—so that it does not feel impersonal. These children have grown up in very difficult circumstances for the most part. I would not want to have 25 or 50. There is a secure children’s home that takes 25 children, which is almost bordering on what our secure training centres look like. The STCs are not an unreasonable size—the biggest takes around 90 children—which means that you can break the population down in smaller houses. The overall size feels manageable, and it is not daunting when you walk on to the site. Places like Hindley, for example, are also broken down into units, but when you walk into the Hindley site—it is the biggest children’s prison in Europe, but there are plans to re-role some of it—it is a very intimidating environment. The environment is equally as important as the size and staff-to-child ratios. There needs to be a degree of intimacy. Some children’s homes have as few as 10 or 12, and they tend to work well with troubled children, because of the amount of intense care that children can get.
Q 16 Dan Jarvis: In terms of the most effective way of delivering education, you mentioned an example in Spain, but you said that your particular experience and expertise relates to this country. Are you able to recommend a model of best practice, or to give an example of how it is being done well in this country?
Sue Berelowitz: I have seen good examples in YOIs, STCs and secure children’s homes. It is always down to the quality of the leadership. There needs to be a good head teacher who understands the needs of the children. There need to be good education plans for every child,
Examination of Witnesses
The Chair: We shall now hear from the Magistrates’ Association, the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Criminal Justice Alliance. First, please will the witnesses introduce themselves for the record?
Richard Monkhouse: It should be ladies first, but I am Richard Monkhouse, a magistrate in Trafford in Greater Manchester and chairman of the Magistrates’ Association. I have been a magistrate for about 17 or 18 years in the adult and the youth court, although not in the family court, so I have some experience of the practical issues.
Sarah Salmon: I am Sarah Salmon, interim director of the Criminal Justice Alliance, a coalition of 74 organisations that focus on various things to reduce the size of the prison population and to ensure a responsible, accountable and effective justice system.
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): I want to follow up on the issue of secure colleges, since we have just been discussing them. I read the Howard League’s briefing. On the issue of how effectively we are going to use staff, it seems to me that one of the problems is that we have some very dedicated speech and language therapists, for example, who are having to be peripatetic at the moment. Could one of the advantages of a secure college be that we could have a permanent presence of specialists in place, which would allow a day-by-day rapport to be built up with individual young people who need intensive help?
Frances Crook: I am very worried by size. We have to remember that these institutions are the children’s homes. First and foremost, they live there. This is a home and it has to replicate a home environment. On top of that we then build an edifice of treatment, education and training, but the most important thing is that it has to be a home
The money that has been indicated to build this is tiny. Prisons normally cost three or four times that amount for this number of people—that is for adults, never mind children. Looking at the history of investing in buildings for education in custody, it costs a lot more than this. It looks as though the capital expenditure and revenue expenditure is going to be done very spartanly. I doubt, therefore, that the money will be there to be spent either on making these places homely and safe, or on providing the range of speech and language training, educational training, health therapy, physical therapy and outdoor exercise that the children will require.
Q 17 Mr Buckland: If there is a consolidation of some of the other, smaller units, surely there will be a ploughing back into the system of the revenue that would have been spent on that. With careful design will come some of the benefits you rightly raise. For example, there will be a cohort of young men with, let us say, SLT needs, and another cohort with attachment disorder. Would there not be more prospect of day-to-day involvement than—with the best will in the world; I am a great supporter of SLT services—with the peripatetic approach? Sometimes, once a week will not be enough for the young people we are talking about.
Frances Crook: Most of these children will be there for only a short time. They will have come from very disruptive backgrounds and will be very angry. Identifying their needs will often take several weeks, and then they will be ready for release. That is the experience now in many of our institutions. Most of the children are there for only a short period.
Frances Crook: There is a fundamental problem here. The assumption behind your question is that we are sending children to custody to get services to deal with their language or educational needs. That is not what we should be doing. We have to make sure that those deficits are dealt with in the community. Furthermore, even if such services are intensively provided for a few weeks in custody, what happens afterwards? The focus on custody is misplaced; it sucks in limited resources, which are then taken from the community. I am very worried about that.
The research that we are about to publish shows that many of the young people ending up in custody are there not because they have committed serious and violent offences at all, but because they have failed, or been failed, in the community. The community sentences and children’s services are not delivering the support that those children need, so the sentences are being breached and the children are going back into custody as a result. It is a wrong-headed and expensive approach
Mr Buckland: The Children and Families Bill will do a lot, I think, to try to bring together services around young people. Everyone in the room agrees about the importance of early intervention. However, there will still be a cohort who slip through the net whose needs are not identified at an early age and who end up in the criminal justice system. The point is that there will still be a small—reducing, I hope—number of young people who will need such intensive help. If it is administered and done correctly, is not this more concentrated approach potentially more helpful to the young people who end up in the criminal justice estate, as opposed to a more pick-and-mix approach, which can happen now?
Frances Crook: I would like to say something very positive about what has happened in the last two years. The Government have overseen a significant drop in the use of custody for children; there are only about 60 young girls in custody today, which is a fantastic achievement and much to be welcomed.
The small, local authority-run secure homes remain. They have a track record of success and provide a model of success for children. They are safe, the children are not restrained in the same number of ways, the reoffending rate is better and the care that the children receive is much better as a whole, looked at in the round—all the services that they need are provided. That is the model that we should look at: a home for children who need it.
Q 19 Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): As you rightly said, there will not be a lot of money for the secure colleges that are being proposed. It is not clear at the moment whether they will be segregated by gender. Bearing in mind that 95% of the children in question are male, would it be appropriate to have both genders together in the same institution, given the psychological, social and other backgrounds of the children?
Frances Crook: I think that would put the children at considerable risk in a big institution, with hundreds of boys and maybe a small number of girls. Think of the ratio at the moment—there are about 1,200 children in custody, of whom about 60 are girls. If you put that ratio into one large institution, that is putting the girls at considerable risk. I have seen it happen.
One of the secure training centres, which has about 100 children in it, had both boys and girls; the girls were so seriously at risk and things were going so seriously wrong that the girls had to be taken out. It now takes only boys. When you have big institutions like that, the girls are at risk of sexual assault and exploitation. More subtly than that, it is not just about the levels of violence; it is actually that the girls cannot flourish because there are so few of them and the institution is run for men by men. They cannot flourish into young women because of the threats they experience daily. It is a completely inappropriate environment for girls.
Q 20 Yasmin Qureshi: Leading on from the challenges that occur in these secure colleges, a proposal is to be debated about using reasonable force in secure colleges to ensure “good order and discipline.” How do you see that working in reality and what do you think “reasonable force” means?
Frances Crook: I think this was slipped in by mistake, and I hope the Government will look at the mistake that has been made and take it out. I know that the Minister in Parliament said that it was not in the Bill and it is because it is in the schedule. I think there has been an error, because it is illegal at the moment to inflict pain and force on children.
The Howard League for Penal Reform is also a law firm and our lawyers have represented children who have had their arms broken by staff in secure training centres and had serious injuries from staff. Many staff in the STCs are not qualified teachers and not qualified psychologists. They are barely trained and they are not able to deal with many of the very complicated issues the children bring in challenging them.
Allowing staff who are not qualified to deal with children to use pain and force to secure compliance—“You will go to your room”; “No, I won’t!” Those of us who have had teenagers know that that is what happens. If you then allow staff to use force, you put the children at risk and you also set up conflict. We know that the deaths of the two children who died in the secure training centres were linked to exactly that kind of interaction. One child died while he was being held down by staff in a restraint—choked on his own vomit. The other 14-year-old hanged himself after just being restrained. It was in exactly that kind of conflict. The restraint was not part of a violence reduction; it was to secure good order and discipline. This is unlawful and it is very ill advised. I am sure the Government when they look at it will withdraw this.
Q 21 Yasmin Qureshi: I have a final question on this part and I will not ask any more questions after that. What do you think about the situation facing young women and girls—children aged 12 to 14—in secure colleges?
Frances Crook: I would be absolutely terrified if that was my daughter—a 12-year-old girl going into an institution with hundreds and hundreds of boys. I cannot think of anything more dangerous and more ill advised. I will keep it as simple as that.
Q 22 Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): Good morning. I want to follow up briefly on the earlier questions. The ratio of female to male in our secure estate for children is one in 20. Is that because males are 20 times more likely to offend or are we more reluctant to send young women and young girls to these kinds of institutions? Perhaps you can answer that first and then we will see.
Frances Crook: You were right first time. Males are more likely to offend. Across the whole criminal justice system, if you look at arrests, prosecutions and convictions, males are between 10 and 20 times more likely to be involved in criminality than women. If you really want to solve the crime problem—I should not really say this, but I am going to—you have to make men more like women.
Q 24 Stephen Metcalfe: No. Why is it that, as we heard from our previous witness, girls who are in the system seem to be having more extreme experiences than their male counterparts? Is it because it gets very extreme very quickly? What could we do to help?
Frances Crook: I am not sure that that is true. The irreducible minimum of girls who are in there tend to be the most damaged and the most vulnerable, but there are also some very damaged and vulnerable young boys in there. My lawyers have represented boys, one of whom, for example—obviously, I cannot go into too much detail—had parents who were both heroin addicts, so when he was born he was just tied into his cot. He was tortured, basically, as a child, and he then acted that out and he was a very difficult, damaged boy later on. He was very vulnerable and very fragile, and his self-injury was a bloodbath, which was disgusting to hear about and really distressing.
So, there are some very damaged and challenging boys in the system as well. I think the trouble is sometimes that they are bigger, so you see these strapping great 16-year-olds, but actually they are babies inside and they have not developed emotionally. They have not had the opportunities, and they are very damaged. Both boys and girls can be very vulnerable.
Frances Crook: I am an educator, and my background is in special needs teaching. I think everybody should have the opportunity to have an education, right the way through, in every way. I am absolutely, passionately committed to giving people education as a route into being a responsible citizen and flourishing as a human being. However, it is one of many things that children need, and I go back to the original point I made—that this is meant to be a home and a safe place for them to be as well.
Q 27 Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I have got three questions, the first principally to Mr Monkhouse. The aim of clauses 24 to 28 is to simplify the process in the magistrates court. That comes out of the document “Transforming the Criminal Justice System”, in which the Government say that they want a system
It certainly looks as though it will be faster, but is there anything in this that makes you think it will not be right first time? I am thinking particularly of the fact that we have got the bare minimum of magistrate cover, going down from three to one, and we have also got decisions taking place in settings other than a formal courtroom session. Do you have any concerns about decision making having to be revisited—or, indeed, about transparency of justice?
Richard Monkhouse: Transparency of justice is the main issue. I do not think that we have got any real issue about single magistrates sitting in the sorts of cases
The transparency issue is quite important, because one of the problems is public perception. There was a report recently that suggested that magistrates might operate in police stations, and I remember the horror that went down our backs about that. That is an issue about transparency, and about the public thinking, “Is this not important enough for justice to be delivered in an open space where somebody could come in?”
We know full well that most regulatory cases—the uncontested motoring cases or the guilty plea to a motoring case—are simply served by reading of the guidelines and application of the guidelines, and there is very little argument. The safeguards that need to be there are for that magistrate who is sitting in that position to be able to say, “I’m sorry, but this one needs to go before a proper court. This one needs to be seen.”
There is an issue, particularly with motoring offences. Speed can often be ignored in driver records. We hear about drivers driving round with 40 points or more. We are not sure why that is. Sometimes it is because of exceptional hardship, but very often I suspect it is because of a lack of knowledge. These cases coming into that environment will actually present a lack of knowledge unless we are very careful. If the driver has not actually been given the information, or the motorist charged has not been given the information that the court might use, is that fair?
So I think there are elements where safeguards need to be put in. We also wonder whether the absence of a prosecutor is a good thing, because prosecutors can add value. They can add the discipline that two people sitting in front of a computer screen might not have. I think that that is potentially an issue.
Q 28 Mr Slaughter: Clauses 29 and 30 require the court to impose the charge to pay for part or all of the costs of the hearing. If this is an additional charge going on to other financial penalties and costs, how do you see this working? Given that you will be dealing with defendants of defined means, is it likely that you will simply have the same cake and you will divvy it up more between the different types of penalty that you impose? If so, can you see much point in it?
Sarah Salmon: The problem with this charge is that there are already a number of financial penalties. There are charges and you might get a fine or another sentence. By heaping this on top of the existing costs orders that are already made—court charges; the victims levy—it is just another sum that somebody sees when they are sentenced. If it is going to be added on to a custodial or other sentence, it is just another penalty that can be dragged out. It goes on for a long time for people on very limited means.
This has to be seen in the light of changes to the benefits system that people are already suffering from. When it is a financial penalty imposed on somebody—many offenders do not live on their own; they live within families in various relationships—it is just another cost to the household, and it might not necessarily reflect just on the offender. It is simply seen as a penalty.
We know that prisoners find difficulty with information. Generally, on offenders in the community, are they really clear about what they are being given? It is just a sum. They have to pay it off. It is going to be deducted from their income, whatever their income is. What is the purpose of it? I am not sure how much it is going to cost to collect the fines and how many are unpaid. I think more research is needed into what will actually be recouped by this extra additional charge.
Richard Monkhouse: It seems to us that the motorist is going to be the person who pays for this, because you have effectively got five financial penalties, only two of which are proposed to be mandatory. Those two are the victim surcharge and this new courts cost. All the rest are at the discretion of the sentencer. The only people who come in on a regulator basis who can afford to pay that are the motorists.
You talk about young 20-year-olds on jobseeker’s allowance of £56.25 a week, and you have got these five potential financial penalties that we could be putting on them. At the moment, there is already a little balancing out in practice in the court. We really need to have discretion for the sentencer, otherwise we will be penalising one particular cohort of people and this could be seen as a money-generating exercise, rather than as a financial imposition.
Q 29 Mr Slaughter: Frances Crook, you have given us a brief that deals with some of your specific objections to the changes in part 4 to judicial review, but if these changes go through unamended, how will that make a difference to the way the Howard League operates? You do not have to refer to any judicial reviews of the Ministry of Justice that you are taking at the moment—I do not want to upset the Minister too much—but more generally, how will it affect you?
Frances Crook: At the risk of being a little philosophical, judicial review is a fundamental protection for the individual against the overweening power of the state. It is absolutely right that decisions by Government, at any level, should be open to challenge to make sure, to test whether, they are lawful, appropriate and just there. Judicial review is that last bastion of support for the individual.
It is very rare for organisations like mine, charities, to take judicial review as themselves. Apart from the one we are doing at the moment, we have done it twice. The first one was 14 years ago, when we took the then Home Office and prison service to judicial review for child protection reasons for children in custody, and we won. We said that children in custody should get the same child protection support as children outside. The second time that we were part of a judicial review was more recent. If a child is arrested, if my son or daughter is arrested, I would want to know; otherwise at 2 o’clock in the morning, I would be phoning the hospitals and be absolutely terrified. We changed the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 so that all children under 18 have an appropriate adult and get the appropriate protection. This is really fundamental stuff that affects a lot of people’s lives, and it is very important that organisations can do this, but as a charity we will not be able to do it, because the financial risk and the financial penalties will be so great.
The other side to it is the suggestion that interveners should also be at risk of huge financial penalty. We have done interventions in judicial reviews, sometimes at the
Q 30 Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I should probably start by making a declaration, which I hope will cover the entirety of the proceedings: I am a former prosecutor and legal aid lawyer and I am still owed money by the state, so I have a vested interest. Will the legal aid Minister please organise the backlog? Four years on and I still have not been paid for a number of criminal cases—don’t worry, that’s standard. Also I wrote a book called “Doing Time” of which, amazingly, a few copies are still available in the shops—all proceeds go to charity not to me, I hasten to add—which addressed a number of these issues.
Q 31 Guy Opperman: Okay. Without characterising or criticising in any way the Howard League, which I know very well, or the Criminal Justice Alliance, is it a fair comment that your views are strongly influenced by your fundamental desire to see fewer people go to prison?
Sarah Salmon: Our views are based on evidence that is gathered in a variety of ways—on academic research, practice and what our members see, reoffending rates and what we know happens to people in prison. It does not seem that sending large numbers of people to prison has the outcome that most people would want: that they would stop committing crime.
Q 34 Guy Opperman: I understand that. I want to come back to you, Frances, on the point on which you were originally questioned by Robert Neill. You seemed to suggest, and I want to be clear that this is what you are really maintaining, that having irregular once-a-week
Frances Crook: The children we are talking about need a very wide range of interventions appropriate to their particular needs. My experience, many years ago, of teaching children with special needs, and what I have seen in institutions—I have visited two thirds of prisons and all children’s prisons—is that you cannot sit many of these children in a classroom and give them a lot of time in that way. They need a wide range of different things. They need a lot of physical exercise—they are teenagers and are like puppies; you have to run them about a lot.
Frances Crook: They don’t stay still. It is right that they need intensive support, but often it is better delivered in short bursts rather than over a longer period, because they will need a whole list of interventions and support if they have attention deficit disorder, learning difficulties or mental health problems or if they have been abused. They need a whole range of different things. It is not the intensity but the range that matters.
Q 35 Guy Opperman: No one is disputing that you need an holistic approach and a range of interventions to deal with the vast majority of young people, male or female, who are in these institutions. I want to press you on the point that if the fundamental purpose is changing the character and behaviour of the individual through mentoring and education, that is best done on a relatively intense basis, even though that may not constitute non-stop education, as in a normal classroom. I suggest that you do need a more intensive training regime.
Frances Crook: I absolutely agree, but would add a caveat. I would be very careful because I am having flashbacks to the discussion we had when the secure training centres were set up. Exactly the same debate took place. It was of course bipartisan—the idea was introduced by one party and the actual establishments by the other party—so it is not a partisan argument I am making. There was exactly the same discussion about how the secure training centres would provide intensive support, lots of education, language training and all that—and they have failed so to do. We keep repeating the mistakes of the past and thinking that that is somehow going to change. The argument that it is going to be a bigger institution and therefore better is fundamentally false.
Sarah Salmon: Before I had this role, I worked for many years for an organisation called Action for Prisoners’ Families. It is now widely accepted that prisoners, offenders, children—whatever you want to call them—people in custody need links with their families. Not all families of these very damaged children who end up in custody are going to be the nuclear family that you want, but there may well be somebody in that familial role, whether related by blood or other links important to that family. Holding people many miles from home means they cannot make those links.
We know that this is a very short intervention that is going to be given. They are going to go back to their home area. It is impossible for people to keep in touch over long distances. They need to have relationships with whoever it is—older brother, sister, aunt, step-grandmother—for them not to be someone who is terrified and a long way from home. People need to be near their local communities so that they are able to link in with the services that will be provided to them when they are released.
Q 36 Guy Opperman: On localisation of prison services, I do not think a single person in this room would disagree with you. Regarding the persons involved, do you agree—I accept that it is a broad principle—that what matters is not necessarily the amount of money that you spend, but the quality of the leadership, the mentors and the individuals carrying out the programmes?
Frances Crook: Yes, that is absolutely the case. Sometimes, a bigger institution, if it has strong and excellent leadership and high-quality, well trained, well paid and well supported staff, can work reasonably well. My slight problem is that, if that is not the case—if you get a bad leader or if your staff are not well trained, well supported and well managed—a big institution can go fundamentally wrong incredibly quickly. If you read the inspection reports of the big YOIs over the past 10 years, you will see that they go up and down, up and down. In a 300-bed institution while it is on a down, you have hundreds of children who are being damaged and made worse by that institution. In purely practical terms, an institution with 12 children that is going through a bad patch is only damaging 12 children; an institution that has 300 over two or three years will be damaging several thousand children.
Q 37 Guy Opperman: In reality, the broad principle is that it is no different from a school, which we all see in our constituencies. If it has a bad head and governors, similar comments would apply. Clearly, all of us would want to see better quality leadership and mentoring.
Frances Crook: But it is much worse when you are locked up. If you are in a school, you can go home and get tutoring or your mum to help you, but if you are locked up for several months in an institution that is out of control, or where there is a lot of violence and bullying, that is really bad.
Q 38 Guy Opperman: Would you agree that there is scope for increased involvement of organisations such as the Shannon Trust, the St Giles Trust and others in an institution of the sort that the Government are thinking about?
Frances Crook: They should be children’s charities that are specialists with children. It is proposed that very young children could be held in these institutions, which is completely contrary to what everyone else in Europe does. I know that there has been some concern among children’s charities across Europe, and reference has been made to the United Nations and the Council of Europe because we seem to be out of step with our international obligations—
Sarah Salmon: The danger of putting so few girls in is the same as in the adult estate: everything is run for the male contingent, and there will be no specific provision. Provision for those small numbers is going to be expensive, because there are so few of them.
Q 42 Guy Opperman: My last question is about judicial review. [ Interruption. ] Not at all. I must disagree with you on judicial review. There should be financial risk relating to the application. When I took legal aid judicial review applications, the state assessed the merit of the case. If you believe that you have a case with better than 51% prospects of success, or you have such a strong and passionate belief that you must get involved in the case irrespective of the prospect of success, should you not have a financial risk that you should pay for that?
Frances Crook: There are already stringent tests to go through the judicial review hurdle. That is, as you say, absolutely right. However, you need to make the risks and the hurdles proportionate and appropriate. The proposals in the Bill are not.
Q 44 Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): I have some quick questions on some points that came up earlier. I want to ask you all—although you may not have an opinion—whether you think the proposed secure colleges will be cost-effective and a good use of public money?
Richard Monkhouse: I have not talked about this yet, but I have experience of two establishments in our area—Hindley and Barton Moss. The latter is secure accommodation and concentrates on training, and I know which I think is the better of the two: Barton Moss. Hindley is such a horrific place; Barton Moss has a lot of things going for it.
I would like to see more of this outside prison. I would like to see us stop sending people to prison because there are real alternatives. That is why, over the past 10 years, magistrates have reduced the percentage of people they send to prison. There are realistic alternatives
Q 45 Valerie Vaz: As the proposals stand, do you think there will be sufficient skills in the college? You mentioned children being kept down, but do you think that the wide range of skills required are present in the proposals?
Frances Crook: I am completely mystified as to where the idea came from. The prison population of children has plummeted. We do not need to invent new ways of locking children up. What you need to do is get rid of the secure training centres as the contracts come to an end, because they are very expensive and not helping children. We need to keep and maintain the local authority secure homes, which are very effective, child-centred and small; they are primarily homes. Then, provide all the services that the children need and take them out of prison. That is happening—we are on that trajectory and the magistrates are leading it. Everybody agrees that it is the right direction to go in—I have no idea where the idea of a secure college came from. It is a complete mystery and a terrible waste of public money.
Richard Monkhouse: It has been very easy for them to come in because whereas a situation that arises in a family home would not involve the police, the same situation in a care establishment would. To cover all angles, the police are called, and the child comes into court and is automatically criminalised. The outcome depends on the seriousness, but looked-after children have been a real issue. It has gone up and down, and we really think that a better way could be organised to reduce the number of looked-after children coming into court in the first place.
Frances Crook: I would just like to add that an experiment has been going on in several areas, but particularly Manchester, wherein local authorities have been given money to incentivise them to keep children out of custody. That is starting to pay off and work well, so it is a good use of public money. It is much cheaper and it means that the children get long-term, consistent care. Rather than getting a short battering for a few weeks in an institution, then being dumped somewhere without any support, and all the educational facilities falling away, the pathfinder experiments have given the money that would have been spent on custody to the local authority to spend on the child. That provides consistent support—often for many years—which is exactly what they need. It keeps them out of trouble, reduces reoffending, which I think we all want, and also supports the child throughout their formative years, rather than them having short bursts of interventions. That is something to look at. It works—why not do what works?
Frances Crook: It is run by the local authorities together—I think there are 10 local authorities in the Manchester area. It is a partnership with the Youth Justice Board and the 10 local authorities in Manchester. Money has been taken out of the secure estate and given to the local authorities to keep the custody rate down. The money follows the children and support is provided. It has reduced reoffending and crime and made Manchester a safer place.
Frances Crook: No. This country has a history in the last 100 years of reinventing ways of locking up children. We had borstals, secure training centres and lots of other things, but the only way that has worked well are the small, secure children’s homes. They offer support to some of the difficult children, who often have to stay for long periods because they are very damaged and quite dangerous. That has worked well. That is the only time in the past 100 or 200 years that we have locked up children and it has worked well. We should be looking at small children’s homes. If we have to lock up children, it should be a small number and that is the model that works.
Q 53 Valerie Vaz: Thank you. May I move on to the single magistracy, which you mentioned, Mr Monkhouse? Are you satisfied that people who appear before a single magistrate will have had legal advice on their case? You mentioned uncontested DVLA cases, but we all have colleagues who have ended up in a difficult position because of simple DVLA issues.
Richard Monkhouse: That is where the safeguards are. The intention is not to have people who want to come to court be dealt with by a single magistrate. In a normal court, if any part of the process is contested—for example, if somebody pleads guilty to speeding, but they make a request for exceptional hardship—it must be heard by a bench of three; there is absolutely no doubt about that. Many cases—we have heard about television licence evasion over the weekend; 12% of cases come to court, and I have never seen a defendant come in to contest a case—can be dealt with perfectly appropriately by a single magistrate, but that single magistrate must have the authority to say, “In this case, no. This is going back to a court.” That is where some of the difficulties lie. If you are dealing with a case
I have seen some of the software developments, and they look really promising. At last, we are getting a digitisation system that is next year’s, rather than 10 years ago. It is up to date. In those circumstances, yes, that will be able to work, but until we have that in place, it will be difficult to process those cases, which are often used as fillers in the magistrates court. Something goes down, the trial goes off, and rather than send people home, you can deal with these types of cases. That can be dealt with perfectly well with one magistrate, but safeguards must be put in so the magistrates can say, “No, this needs to be seen by a bench of three.”
Q 54 Valerie Vaz: I am slightly concerned about uncontested cases that may suddenly turn into something more difficult. It is up to the magistrate to do that. Do you envisage there being many collapsed cases?
Richard Monkhouse: No. The principle is sound, but the practical issues must be gone through in some detail, because they will cause the difficulties. Should a prosecutor be there? That might help the situation. Should we have a legal adviser or a court associate? A legal adviser provides the legal knowledge that a magistrate does not have—we may have it, but magistrates do not need to have any legal knowledge. Safeguards must be built in, and access to the safeguards must be available. That is why they need to be somewhere in the court building. It is about the practicalities.
Richard Monkhouse: It still is the clerks. It is proposed that the clerks will still remain, but that is down to the detail. A lot of work must go into the detail of how it is implemented, and that is where the safeguards will be built in. The principle of one magistrate dealing with an uncontested case or several uncontested cases, where you can dispose of them very quickly simply by looking at guidelines, is perfectly logical.
Q 57 Valerie Vaz: Thank you. You know that the Home Department has conducted the Ellison review into the Stephen Lawrence case. Will that review have an impact on the simple cautions? Should we wait for a further review before we move to simple cautions?
Richard Monkhouse: I am glad to note the outcome of the work that we have done in the past four or five years. I should have said in my introduction that I am a statistician, and I did a lot of the physical work in trying to dig out all the information as to why the out-of-court disposal system was inappropriate in many cases and was being overused. The simple caution is very, very valuable, but only in the right cases—only for those cases that are not so serious, or where the offender is not a repeat offender. In the latter case, we need to look at how you define a repeat offender. For a summary offence, two years is fine; for a serious offence or an indictable offence, is two years actually the right level? A lot more work needs to go into the detail of how that will work.
The worry is that you get to a senior officer in the police, and that is where the problems always started, because with 43 chief constables, there were 43 ways of handling it. That is why in one area you can get 73% of people being given a simple caution or being dealt with out of court, and in another area 30% of people are dealt with out of court. All of that needs standardising, so that people know that wherever they are picked up for an offence, they will be dealt with in the same way.
Frances Crook: There is some interesting research going on, which does not happen much in the criminal justice field. There is a randomised controlled trial going on in the west midlands. It is a scientific research project in which they are randomly taking people either going to court or being dealt with through police cautions and other police interventions, which involves restorative justice interventions. It will be very interesting to see what comes out of that project, because a lot of legislation is based on emotion, not on science. It is about time that we did a scientific study of what we do with people on a large scale. Of course, we should treat people as individuals, but if you can show that one big intervention works better than another one, we should follow that. The introduction of proper randomised controlled trials and scientific interventions in justice would be a great step forward.
Sarah Salmon: On the simple caution, limiting the discretion of well trained professional officers may lead to injustice and to more people being caught up in the criminal justice system, and we would not want to see a net-widening effect.
Richard Monkhouse: Can I add that the addition of the scrutiny panels is very valuable, where you have different parties who look retrospectively at cautions that were given and at whether they were appropriate. It is a learning exercise, and those that have been set up in places such as Cheshire have been very valuable.
Q 58 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright): On the subject of youth detention, I am not sure whether it was part of the case put by any three of you, but want to be absolutely clear: are you saying that all of those young people currently accommodated in the custodial estate could properly be accommodated in secure children’s homes, or do you concede that some other type of institution is necessary for at least some of those young people in custody?
Frances Crook: I think that there are around 1,200 in custody, mostly boys. A third of them are on remand, and there is a real question about whether they should be in custody at all, because most of them will not get a custodial sentence. You could therefore take a good third of those children out of custody and deal with them in the community straight away. Another significant cohort of children have gone into custody for minor offences, or for breaching the support network that they are given in the community. Again, those children should not be in custody, because they could be dealt with in the community. That trajectory is already taking place
Q 59 Jeremy Wright: You may be right, but that was not the question I asked. I was simply asking whether you think that a secure children’s home is suitable for all those who are sentenced to detention in the youth estate.
Q 60 Sarah Champion: I should like to bring the panel back to the simple cautions. Will the restrictions that are being proposed have an impact on the flexibility to do things such as restorative justice?
Richard Monkhouse: I hope not. I think that restorative justice could be used an awful lot more if courts were allowed to use it. Currently only magistrates courts in Thames Valley use that as part of their disposal. If it is such a good disposal, which I think everybody would agree it is, why not broaden it throughout? I do not see why the simple caution proposed would restrict the use of restorative justice.
Q 61 Dr Huppert: Mr Monkhouse, how much information do you get on what happens to your sentences? Whether they are about reoffending after particular types of sentences or in the context of the court charging proposals, what fraction of the money that you charge ever comes back?
Richard Monkhouse: We get very little and we wish we had an awful lot more. We are looking at ways of involving the magistracy in case reviews and sentencing supervision. Hopefully that will start to give us more information. But the information we have is very sparse and getting sparser.
Q 62 Dr Huppert: And on court charging in particular, do you get any information at all about how much is ever repaid? Do you have any way of assessing how much of the money charged for this could ever come back?
Richard Monkhouse: No, and we have tried to do some work on this to try to split Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service funding to try to decide which is which. They cannot tell us, so it is guesswork. We know an allocation was made with victim surcharge. We do not know whether that was recouped; that allocation
Sarah Salmon: As with the detention and training order, I would hate it if it were seen as a glossy, new, wonderful secure college, and not as a prison, and that more children were sent into custody as a result of the creation of this new-build, all-singing, all-dancing secure college.
Q 64 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Shailesh Vara): Mr Monkhouse, you spoke of transparency in the magistrates court. That is very important. But in your experience in low-level cases where you have non-payment of TV licences, where people have three extra points added to their licences, how many members of the public or journalists turn up to hear the papers being read?
Richard Monkhouse: Very, very few, but I do not think that is the point. The public need to know that it is transparent. To try to make it not transparent and to shut the doors on it is to say, “This is private. You cannot come in.” That is a very dangerous move.
Examination of Witnesses
Q 65 Dr Huppert: Thank you all for coming. We have had some interesting discussions about what the proposed secure college would look like and the current provision. In your view, if you had a completely free rein, how would you design a youth justice system, particularly the secure estate element of it?
Penelope Gibbs: From the point of view of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, we would raise what is called the custody threshold, which would mean that
Sandy Davies: I certainly agree that small is a benefit. In alternative provision we work with small groups, which means you can build relationships and deal with issues more effectively than when you have a larger number of young people. Communication is key. Those children who need to be in custody or in secure institutions, whatever it might be, have come from somewhere and they will go somewhere when they leave. Communication across all the areas as they come in and out of custody is important and an area that needs improvement. Chiefly, I think that early intervention is more important, and working with all the agencies, trying to identify the young people at risk and working with them to stop the behaviour that is going to lead them into custody in the first place.
John D'Abbro: I echo the comments my colleagues have made, but I think we need a two-pronged approach. We need a short-term strategy and a long-term strategy. It concerns me how many young people we still put within the secure estate, but we have to get the balance between compassion and understanding and deterrent and punishment. It is to that end that we need a two-pronged approach. Although Glen Parva is not the sort of institution I would personally want to run, and I do believe that small is beautiful, I think we are going to have to take some time to ameliorate some of the reasons why there are so many young offenders within the system, and to that end I think we need a two-pronged approach.
Penelope Gibbs: No, it is not fit for purpose in young offender institutions. It is good in most secure children’s homes and in the STCs, but overall the problem is that these young people’s lives have meant that they are not really ready for education in the formal sense when they arrive at these institutions. After all, their liberty has been taken away, so the opportunity should be taken to look at the issues in their lives which are a barrier to them both learning and also behaving in a non-criminal way out in the community—family issues, health issues and speech and learning issues.
For a long time Lord Ramsbotham has been pointing out how many under-18 year olds who are in custody or in the criminal justice system have very profound speech and learning issues. If those are not dealt with, there is no way that these children can be educated in any formal sense. I know that the Government have said that they would like this other provision within these institutions; we would like that assurance in the Bill.
John D'Abbro: I would echo those points. My own view is that it is not fit for purpose for a number of reasons. One is the vested interests of the people who are trying to run the education provision. It is just not rational. I take the point about emotional availability and learning, but we know that there are certain things which can work for all young people and particularly those with difficulties. Education has to be at the heart of that process. It seems to me that if we are going to invest so much of our time and resources, we need an effective education system.
The fact that in the 21st century we do not have a core curriculum for the secure estate beggars belief. The fact that we release people from custody without an education plan just does not make sense. We know that we can teach children to read through rapid recovery programmes. If children feel better about themselves, they read more effectively. The more effectively they read, the better they feel about themselves. Why do we not have a commitment to rapid recovery programmes at the core of our curriculum within the secure estate, where we baseline-test children? This comes back to my comment about the short term and long term. Unfortunately, at the moment too many young people come back into custody after having been in custody.
A young man I was talking to recently said that he had been to three separate institutions. Every time he went, he was baseline-tested. He said, “I’ve made loads of progress, but they’re still giving me work that I was doing two years ago.” If we are going to invest all this money, why can we not have a system whereby, when a youngster comes in, we find out his or her level and give them the whole package, not just education but the therapeutic and other interventions that they need to support them in their learning? If they get released and come back in, we should start at the point at which they came back in.
We should also incentivise, which might sound controversial—“bribe them” is not very PC. We could say, “If you get your reading age up quickly, you can earn early release. If you carry on with this programme when you leave this provision and go to a further education college or an alternative provision, and you’re prepared to carry on with your learning programme, we will incentivise you to do that.” To me, that has more currency and more validity than what we are currently doing, which clearly does not work for 72% of young offenders.
Sandy Davies: Education is not just about their academic progress. It is also their personal progress, so that they can learn the strategies they need so that they can succeed once they are back in society, not make the same mistakes and understand why they made those mistakes. That is just as important as academic learning, and they go hand-in-hand.
Professor Davies: May I make a comment, not on the specific question but on the general context—the premise of the whole development? I understand the importance of putting education at the centre of the youth justice system, and the importance of restorative justice. However, I caution against the idea that one solution will solve all these problems. I remind people that we are in the youth justice system, not the youth education system. There have been many attempts in the past to provide a
Who am I to argue about the benefits of education? I am a professor in a university. But we already have an education system, and we spend a lot of money on it. It is important to recognise with a lot of young people that they have already had the advantage of an education system and they have chosen, by their own actions, not to take advantage of it. Are we going to duplicate more education without considering the other purposes of the youth justice system?
In terms of the specific proposals on secure colleges, I think they might play a useful role if the details are correct. Colleagues around this end of the table know more about this than I do. Let us not forget that the principles of criminal justice cannot be achieved simply by waving one particular flag, whether it is more education or more religion.
To say that the cost of sending people to young offenders institutions is similar to that of sending people to expensive public schools is to miss the point, really. Private schools are not dealing with young people who have very complicated and difficult lifestyles, and who are, more importantly, a threat to the people they live with. There is a role for keeping them away from the community. They have turned their backs on education, and they have very often turned their backs on their family and the community in which they live, and they constitute a threat to that community. They are not merely complicated people who have had difficulties in life; they have actually committed crimes, and that has brought them into the system. Therefore, whether in an affluent suburban housing estate or in an inner-London housing estate, we must consider the importance of a justice system that not only educates, rehabilitates and tries to transform young offenders, but that protects the community and exacts proportionality in punishment and the interventions that we seek to achieve. Without that, you risk the loss of public confidence, which is rather an important thing if we want to encourage the rule of law and respect for the law in this country. Many of the reforms mentioned in the Bill address those issues, but, as in all matters, they require some attention to detail.
Q 67 Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Following on from what you have said, it would appear that young people who enter institutions have either been failed by, or failed within, the current education system. The things that you are saying about the need for that wider education—it is about emotional as well as academic education—would lead one to think that that would be better delivered in a larger institution, but that seems counter-intuitive to what those young people need. The question is: how do you deliver that package in a smaller institution, or do we need to go down the road of having a larger institution where all those things can be delivered? Who should be delivering them?
Penelope Gibbs: I come back to the fact that the overriding and most important needs of many of these children are welfare needs. Education is important as well, but a third of these children have been in the care system, and I would say that what has happened in the care system is that they have committed offences that have led to custody. Equally, if you look at other indicators, many of them are on the at-risk register, they have very profound mental health problems and so on. If you take that as the most important point, I would come back to my colleague’s reference to needing to work in smaller institutions and in small groups, and the importance of family links. Secure children’s homes—I encourage all of you to visit a secure children’s home—are all under 40. They deliver very good education, and they have quite a wide span of age and ability to do it for. So it can be done in a small institution.
Sandy Davies: I think it not only can be but is done better in small groupings, in small settings. That may vary, depending on the setting you are looking at. I am an expert in alternative provision, I would like to say, but I can see the parallels. The issues that succeed for us, which I hope stop some of these young people going down that route and ending up in custody, is about building relationships and dealing with them in a closer way than you can when you have got a large group, such as a class of 30, thinking of something more traditional in an education setting. They have got lost already in mainstream education, whether it is because of their family situation, because they have undiagnosed learning difficulties, they are a victim of bullying or entrapped by gang culture. Whatever it is that is lacking in their background, they have already fallen through the gaps. In a smaller setting, with staff they can build trustful and respectful working relationships with, you can tackle those issues.
I certainly understand the sense of a larger institution and value for money if, within that, you could have smaller groupings, smaller settings. It would take hard work to create, I am sure, but those relationships are going to heal some of those issues and enable people to learn both academically and from their mistakes so they do not repeat them. If they can go back into society and feel a little more whole as a person, that would be the route I would take. I do not think it follows that large is best. I definitely feel that small is best.
John D'Abbro: I am going to ask for a mixed economy. I take Malcolm’s point. We should not lose sight of what the functions of youth custody are. While I am an educationist at heart, I believe passionately that good education is about good life chances and the reality is that it is not going to be one size fits all. Some children will work better in smaller groups and some children, because of economies of scale, may work better in larger institutions. Going back to my point, I think we need a short-term and a long-term strategy. In the short term, yes, I would much rather have smaller provisions, but realistically in the next few years we are going to need a mixture of both—some secure homes and some bigger institutions, for economies of scale and to save money, being pragmatic.
Penelope Gibbs: This Government, and actually the last Administration as well, have been cutting secure children’s homes places for about the last eight years. So now there are not many left, and there is no provision in the Bill to guarantee that vulnerable children will be able to go into secure children’s homes.
John D'Abbro: As an educationist, it is going to be very difficult to put 11 and 18-year-olds in the same provision. I would want to see bigger demarcations around the logical key stages—between pre-teenagers and post-teenagers, very loosely. So 7, 8, 9 as one core group, key stage 4 as years 10 and 11, then key stage 5.
Penelope Gibbs: We are strongly of the opinion that the younger children should not be held in a secure college with 17-year-olds. Already 96% of those in custody are 15 to 17 anyway, so it would be totally possible to take the youngest children and still keep them in a secure children’s home, given their vulnerability. If you read inspection reports about YOIs and some of the behaviour issues with the older boys, we do not feel that younger children, aged 12 or 13, should be in the same institution as children who, in maturity terms, are so very different. All young people are vulnerable, but in terms of welfare, health and other issues, all the evidence is that the youngest children in custody are much more vulnerable.
Penelope Gibbs: The secure college should be 15 to 17. Other children should be in either secure children’s homes or other smaller institutions. Equally, we are concerned about girls. There are very few girls in the system. Can an institution like this provide properly for girls with very different needs and often criminal profiles? Girls were kept separately in youth offender institutions. We supported the decision to close those units because they were getting too small and claustrophobic. The danger is that, with the same tiny number of girls in a secure college, they will have to be kept separately. What is the specific provision for them? We would again say to keep them in the other institutions; you do not need to have them in the secure college.
Sandy Davies: It certainly seems to me that, to satisfy all the requirements of delivering justice and improving their education to reach a point when they leave that they are not going to reoffend, you cannot treat them all the same across the age range. Equally, girls are a particular issue. It would be much more likely to succeed by segregating the ages. I agree with 15 to 17, while being aware that, even within that bracket, there are different educational needs, and the reasons that brought them into custody might require looking at a more detailed plan.
In education provision, I would advocate individual plans. It would be an advantage to look at the process again, from why they are coming in, from their starting point in education and their background. You should look at what the aim is, for however long they are in custody. What target are we trying to reach for them and the establishment? We must ensure that it is a realistic target that they can achieve. Putting a large number of young people all together is not to my mind necessarily going to achieve that.
Q 71 Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): May I start by complimenting New Rush Hall school? I am slightly biased because it is in my own constituency, where I have visited it. The work you do there is tremendous, and I would like to put that on record.
You have all mentioned the importance of smaller units. The point has just been made about smaller units with different year groups, as would happen anyway in an educational establishment, and the separation of boys and girls, as happens in the more adult population of Peterborough prison, which houses males and females, but they are kept separately. With those provisos, would you agree that the small units offering a home and family environment that you want could work within a larger establishment if the right mechanisms are put in place?
Sandy Davies: If the right mechanisms are in place, yes. That would show that, forward thinking, the different situations that you are dealing with cannot all be solved by one solution. There needs to be a balance between the education and the detention. That lends itself to a building that has different areas set up in different ways. There might be different staff for different roles. All that planning is what is important.
In some situations over the years, things have happened—in education as well—just because we need a quick fix. That has then perhaps created more problems. I think it is feasible. As has been mentioned, you may not need the same solution for everybody, but you need to think well ahead about how best to achieve it, to satisfy everybody’s aims. The key thing that we are all concentrating on is to reduce the reoffending by improving education outcomes.
Penelope Gibbs: The track records of large institutions, particularly the larger YOIs, are poorer on child safety, education and rehabilitation. It looks as if, however hard one tries to break down those institutions into smaller groups, the barriers are still there. The other issue about a large institution is that of distance from home. If this secure college has 320 beds, that will be a high proportion of the whole child custody population at the moment. That produces a system where children inevitably will be further from home. All the indicators are that for any child that is not a good thing. If you have secure children’s homes or similar places dotted all over the country—not too many, I hope, because you do not want too many in custody—that means each child can be nearer home.
John D'Abbro: There is some evidence from Sweden. The name has escaped me. I am aware of a provision in Sweden that has 150 youngsters in it, and they have small family groups within the larger estate. There is some evidence that they get a much lower rate of reoffending. I could get the reference to you, but it is gone from my memory at the moment.
Q 72 Sarah Champion: I have been to a local authority secure unit. I think they are fantastic and, Miss Gibbs, I am grateful that you have put very clearly that education is going on at a very high standard in the secure units. I am struggling with what benefit, other than purely a punitive one, the panel thinks there is from creating one of these very large secure units. I think the word “college” is a bit of a misnomer; it is not about education. What benefit do you think is likely to come from this?
Penelope Gibbs: I do not think there is much benefit, beyond economies of scale. The Ministry of Justice has big cuts to make in its budget. If you have a bigger institution, it is easier to get economies of scale. We do not have any other reasons why we think this is a good idea.
Sandy Davies: I applaud the intention to make education the focus. I have certainly had young people who have left our provision to go into custody and then their education really breaks down. If they come back to us, we have a lot of work to do to make up for that. Education has definitely got to be at the top of the agenda. As for the size of the establishment, for all the reasons I have mentioned, I do not think it is actually going to work to be honest. If investment is to be made, which hopefully will see a saving of value for money further down the line, it is in early intervention. A lot more could be done at that point, particularly with the age range that we are talking about, and then this will not be such a big problem in the future, if it is done well.
Professor Davies: The only advantage that I can see is that there might be some security custodian advantage. I say that in the context that I understand education is a primary activity within it, but I do not think that we do anyone a service in the community, or the people who go there, if we pretend this is just another college. These are people who have got in trouble with the community. They have very often got into trouble in the community many, many times. It is usually not the first time that they have been sent to a custodial situation. They will have gone through a whole range of community orders and other activities before they get there. There has to be something to remind people that this is for people who have done something out of the ordinary. They are not in the mental health system or the medical system. They are people who have broken the law, usually on a sustained, systematic or serious basis.
First, we do have to educate them, train them and try to change their behaviour. Secondly, we have to understand that they are in a custodial setting for a purpose. It is true that it is partly punitive, but it is also to protect people from their escape, because that can be an issue. I hate to draw the point about the riots of August 2011, but a lot of those people were on community orders, had had cautions and had come through the system many times, and they were out in the community. They were the people who wilfully joined in a lot of the looting and the other mayhem caused during the riots. Therefore, I do not think that we should apologise for the fact that some of the institutions look a bit like prisons, even though the internal regime is primarily concerned with the rehabilitation of those people. Resources, energy and the good efforts of the people you hear around us try to achieve that goal.
Professor Davies: I have worked for the California Department of Corrections. There was a huge prison complex where, because they had huge land areas, they could build five or six different prison regimes and keep them apart. The only thing I would say to you is that when the tax budget gets tight, the economies of scale become more and more important, so there is more sharing of resources and more danger of different age
Q 74 Angie Bray: I wonder whether I can move the discussion on to the slightly different issue of automatic release. Does the panel think that the current system of automatic release for dangerous offenders gets the right balance between rehabilitation and ensuring that the public are protected from serious harm?
Professor Davies: This is the clause in which the extended determinate sentence will be reviewed at the two-thirds stage. The presumption about automatic release will be changed, plus for those on standard determinate sentences. The release at halfway point will no longer be automatic if they have been convicted and sent to prison for a list of serious sexual offences against children or terrorism. I think that it is an excellent idea. I do not see why anyone who committed such serious crimes should be entitled to automatic release, given that they are mainly there for public protection. The issue should be whether they are a continuing threat to the public. If your other question is whether I believe in IPP, the answer is that I do not. I think determinate sentencing is much more important. However, within that framework, we must protect the public.
My only concern would be that there clearly will be increased work for the Parole Board. It is important to ensure that the right people are selected for the Parole Board, that there is the right training for members and that they clearly understand that their job is an arduous and difficult one, making decisions on questions that have no scientific answer. It is a judgment about what they think a person will do when they go out. If anyone along this bench here can tell us exactly who will or will not offend, despite the apparent failures of the education system, parents and all other systems, then they are wise people. I do not think we have that trick, so I think that it is a difficult thing to do. However, we must put our faith in the Parole Board to do that, with the appropriate resources and training.
John D’Abbro: I think that it is a balance. It is out of my league, to be honest, to make a judgment call on whether someone should automatically get released.
John D’Abbro: This is tied up in other legal processes, is it not? If one of the functions of prison is to rehabilitate people and it does not rehabilitate them, and we release people knowing that there is a high chance that they will reoffend certain offences then, yes, we need to review that. I do not think it follows that just because you have done your sentence, you are ready to take up your place in the community as a reformed person.
John D’Abbro: That is where I think that Malcolm has made a good point. Who is going to make that judgment call? You cannot. I have worked with children for 20 to 25 years. Some I would put my money on that they would never end up in secure, and some I would not, and guess what? They always prove me wrong, both ways round. That is the nature of young people.