Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


1. Memorandum from Rt Hon John Denham MP, Minister of State, Home Office

  Thank you for inviting me to give evidence at the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 18 November. I found it to be a very constructive session.

  During the discussion I promised to provide some additional information on:

    —  the education of juveniles in custody and the provision for those with Special Educational Needs;

    —  the effect of the abolition of doli incapax on defendants aged between 10 and 13;

    —  the protection of young offenders from committing suicide and self-harm in custody; and

    —  widening the Children Act.

  I hope the Committee find the enclosed information useful. Please contact me if I can provide any further information.

  I look forward with interest to reading the Committee's report.

9 December 2002


Do you know how many children there are under the statutory school leaving age in custody and how many are receiving full-time or part-time education in line with the national curriculum?

  There are currently 493 young people in custody under school leaving age. 227 are housed in Local Authority Secure Units, 104 are in Secure Training Centres and 162 are based in Young Offender Institutions.

  All custodial providers are required by the Youth Justice Board (YJB) to deliver full-time education and training to young people and these requirements are set out in the individual Service Level Agreements (SLAs). This is normally achieved in the Local Authority Secure Units and Secure Training Centres.

  The core curriculum for prisons includes basic skills, information technology, social and life skills and preparation for work, all of which are assessed using nationally recognised qualifications based on the YJB's National Specification for Learning and Skills.

  Provision is available in a number of establishments for trainees to begin or continue GCSE courses. But the majority of juvenile offenders do not have the skills to study at this level.

  For Young Offender Institutions the YJB has a target of achieving 30 hours a week by March 2004. We estimate that currently they average between 15 and 20 hours education and training meeting the National Specification, depending on location. The YJB is providing additional investment to ensure the 30 hours is delivered on time.

Do you have figures on how many (children under the statutory school leaving age in custody) have special educational needs and what provision is made for that?

  A recent Youth Justice Board audit of education provision in custody indicated that as many as 50% of all young people in custody would qualify as having special educational needs (SEN). However in only 1% of cases was there evidence that LEAs had made formal SEN statements. To address this the Youth Justice Board is funding over 250 additional learning support assistants across the whole of the custodial estate to achieve a ratio of 1:10.

  Each juvenile establishment has a Special Needs Co-ordinator responsible for assessment of learners, drawing up specialist learning programmes, supervising Learning Support Assistants and supporting all staff on special educational needs issues.

  To improve identification of particular leaving needs including dyslexia, the Prisoners' Learning and Skills Unit based in the Department for Education and Skills is:

    —  trialing new national diagnostic indicator tools for dyslexia covering, literacy, numeracy and ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages);

    —  ensuring all establishments have access to the practitioners guide for all teaching basic skills to people with learning difficulties, "Access for All";

    —  offering all education and instructional staff accompanying training.

The 1998 Crime and Disorder Act abolished the principle of doli incapax which put the burden on the prosecution to prove that any defendant aged between 10 and 13 understood that the offence committed was seriously wrong—do you know whether the Home Office has made any assessment of the effect of the abolition of doli incapax on defendants of that age?

  There has not been a formal Home Office review into the abolition of doli incapax. We have not had a surge of representations about this issue, and have checked with key sources that no problems have been identified. Some of the feedback is very positive, indicating that this provision was sometimes being misused, which delayed trials and was of no benefit to the offender or victim.

  There are still safeguards in place for anyone, adult or juvenile, not fit to stand trial. The court will consider reports submitted by the defence, including medical reports, and can, taking all the evidence into account, declare that the defendant is unfit to plead because of a mental illness.

The issue of the protection of young offenders from committing suicide and self-harm in custody—Is it not fairly clear that prisoners on the juvenile estate need more staff and staff need better training and more appropriate practices need to be implemented and conditions need urgent improvement? Is the Government going to take remedial action very quickly?


  The Prison Service is working with the Youth Justice Board to improve the conditions in which young people are held and transform the services provided for young people involved in the Criminal Justice System.

  A new Safer Custody strategy was launched in 2001. This is a three-year strategy, which applies to all prisoners, and is due to be completed by March 2004. This includes an initial focus on five high risk local establishments (Wandsworth, Winchester, Leeds, Eastwood Park with Feltham, and Birmingham) with planned improvements to reception and induction, detoxification centres and mental health in-reach support. The commencement of inter-related projects will also improve pre-reception arrangements including inter-agency information exchange, reception and induction, cell-sharing, prisoner care, detoxification, prisoner peer support, and the learning from investigations into deaths in custody. The strategy also includes the appointment and training of over 30 full-time suicide prevention co-ordinators in high risk establishments, the launch of a project by the Samaritans to recruit and train more prisoner "Listeners" in high risk establishments, and the development of safer prison designs including, "safer cells".

  The Youth Justice Board has fully embraced the Safer Custody strategy and is working closely together with the Prison Service to ensure funding of additional first night and healthcare staff in juvenile sites. This includes the setting up of a pilot scheme for the new "meet and greet" system for reception/induction currently under development. Existing juvenile trainees will give information and advice to those entering custody, particularly if this is for the first time. Funding for dedicated juvenile outreach teams to work at Prison Service headquarters as part of the Safer Custody programme will specifically assist juvenile establishments to further develop and maintain their suicide and self-harm prevention strategies. There is also funding for the completion of 30 "safer cells" in the juvenile estate.


  A number of intervention strategies have been introduced into prisons and young offender establishments for people who self-harm. These include counselling, support groups, and specialised psychological interventions. Evaluation of these interventions is, at present, very limited. A pilot study with male young offenders/juveniles at Wetherby reported benefits from a programme combining psychological intervention with physical exercise. Evidence from research in non-prison settings suggests that male and female adolescents who self-harm repeatedly may benefit from group therapy. A network of establishments is being set up to develop interventions, to facilitate evaluation and sharing of good practice. Guidance to staff in establishments on managing people who self-harm and developing interventions has been circulated.

Would it not be right to widen the Children Act to provide that in any acts concerning children the best interests of the child are a primary consideration?

  On widening the scope of the Children Act 1989, Mr Justice Munby handed down judgment in a judicial review brought by the Howard League against the Home Office. The judge found that the Children Act 1989 applied to children in prisons subject the requirement of their being in prison. He did not believe it would be proper for him to comment on whether the Act needed to be widened. However, he did comment that the particular piece of Prison Service guidance under discussion, with the exception of the incorrect sentence about the Children Act itself, was commendable in the vision it set out for the treatment of children in prison, including cross-boundary working.

  We are not convinced that a legal formulation declaring general principles which would apply across the whole range of sectoral law is the best approach. We need safeguards suitable for circumstances that will work in practice in the particular areas concerned.

  As regards custodial establishments for children and young people, for example, we have already indicated that we fully agree that the principles of the Children Act should be fully applied to children within the juvenile estate. This needs to be done in a way that takes into account the needs and circumstances of our secure institutions.

  The development and implementation of recent Child Protection and Safeguard Policy has meant that considerable progress has already been made within juvenile establishments. The Juvenile Safeguard Development Programme will ensure that the Prison Service will, in partnership with public and voluntary sector agencies, continue to draw up safeguard standards. A Child Protection Committee has been established within each Young Offenders Institution in the juvenile estate.

  A considerable amount of work has already been done in this area. We are fully aware of the need to continue to develop and implement our programme, in partnership with the Youth Justice Board and the Department of Health, in order to ensure the welfare and safety of young people in Prison Service establishments.

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