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STCs, planned by the Conservatives but in fact a creation of this Government, now cater for around 275 children, some as young as 12, and have a strong emphasis on education. I have seen some very good work by dedicated individuals in these STCs, particularly at Hassockfield since its recent changes. The Carlile inquiry, however, led by my noble friend, illustrated unacceptable use of restraint—in the course of which one child died—and of segregation and forcible strip-searching. They do not have the trained staff to deal with the difficult range of needs I have described. Contact with parents, carers and families is often minimal instead of central, and contact with localities to which they will return often non-existent; they are, after all, often miles away, and logistics do not allow for easy or regular contact. A constant theme from those working in STCs is the

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difficulty of creating proper resettlement plans with the relevant agencies, and children sometimes leave with no idea of what is to become of them.

It is these latter key elements of family contact, local contacts, appropriate staff training and living in an environment which is primarily child-centred and welfare-based that are lacking. These are hugely expensive places involving resources which should be ploughed into the LASCHs, which are predicated on these elements, which already provide a roughly equivalent number of beds and where it is generally accepted that the best level of care is to be found. That is what matters, but STCs over the past nine years have been expanded at the expense of the LASCHs.

It seems that we have different standards when it comes to children who offend and are in trouble as opposed to children who are troubled but have not done anything wrong. My noble friend Lord Carlile said:

The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights in its report on the Convention on the Rights of the Child stated:

And we know that children in prison do, indeed, lose out on such rights. But if children had painful restraint used on them—as indeed occurred 768 times in the STCs, resulting in 51 injuries in 2004-05—or if children committed suicide in a school or hospital in the community, what then would our reaction be? We would find it appalling, would we not, and demand an immediate end to the places where that could occur? Think of our own children, grandchildren or others we know. When they have done wrong or get into trouble, what do we do about it? We want them to know that wrong has been done and there must be some appropriate way of paying back or making amends. We want them to understand what is wrong and why, and what the effect of what they have done has been on the victim or victims. We want them to say sorry, to mean it and to determine not to do it again. They must understand the consequences of their actions and do whatever is within their means to make amends.

If I am right, if this is indeed true, would we then want to send them away, far from where the event took place, far from the person or people affected, and incarcerate them with other children, all of whom have also offended, detached from what they have done and with a multitude of other difficulties and issues into the bargain? Would we want them to be sent to a place where they are often unsafe, where there may be violence, including by those who are in charge of them or supposed to be caring for them? Would we expect our children or any child to learn positive lessons from such an experience, or why he

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should not do it again, and indeed will not do it again? I think not, yet we shut our eyes and minds to this reality of what we are doing today to nearly 2,000 children. It is now our turn to make amends. I beg to move.

10 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I very much support this excellent amendment moved so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone. We have grown to expect that every time she rises to her feet.

I particularly thank the Children’s Rights Alliance for its excellent brief which was sent to us all. It drew together the efforts that have been made over the years to get the Government to agree to what the amendment once again asks for. This matter has been raised over an impressive number of years. The brief mentioned the comments of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham when he was Chief Inspector of Prisons in 1997. He described some conditions in youth offender institutions as institutionalised child abuse.

Yesterday, we debated the Statement on the Green Paper on children in care, with its many excellent ideas for compensating the disgracefully inadequate support that over many years we have failed to provide for children in care, with a disastrous detrimental effect on their life chances. Prevention is a major government aim, which would have all our support, and compensation for children in this situation—with all those ideas and many more to come no doubt from the consultation that has now begun on the Green Paper—is an excellent beginning. However, we must be hoping to reclaim at least some of the children who we have failed so far that they have arrived in a situation where still, deplorably, we put them into custody.

On the education side, which has been mentioned, those children are not even getting the required 15 hours, except for in one institution, and there is even a doubt about that. They are getting about half—some eight hours—of education. When we think of people trying to provide that education in the complete chaos of overcrowded prisons, we can see that the situation is clearly going to get much worse. The financial case against imprisoning children is strong, with the Audit Commission in 2004 talking about the reformed youth justice system and saying that custody is the most expensive and one of the least effective methods. Certainly, some sentences deliver better outcomes for children and are less expensive than others. The Local Government Association clearly appears to agree, saying that it is time that we explored more effective and sustainable ways of dealing with children in trouble rather than resorting to locking them up.

We have already heard that 70 per cent of those leaving custody are reconvicted within a year, so this clearly is not working. I very much hope that the Government will listen sympathetically to this excellent opportunity to put all the aims and excellent ideas that they have for prevention into practice by preventing the obvious downward path that children are going to follow if they go into custody.

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Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, I start by declaring an interest as the president of the Howard League for Penal Reform. As has already been said, I was able to spend a considerable time in the past year or so preparing a report for the Howard League on the use of restraints on children in custody. While preparing that report, I had the opportunity to visit a number of institutions and to talk to staff and children in them, and I learnt a great deal.

I applaud the initiative of my noble friend Lady Linklater, who moved the amendment very eloquently. In moving this radical new proposal, I would that we could debate it before the threshold of the dinner hour in a much fuller House, rather than in the twilight of the Horlicks hour. Having said that, the issue loses none of its importance through being put on the record in a rather empty House. The fundamental question being asked by my noble friend Lady Linklater is, “Should we be using the penal model for children, or is it now completely outdated, and should we not be moving towards a child-centred model?”. I support her view that we should be following the latter course.

I share the views of the noble Baronesses, Lady Linklater and Lady Howe, that some good practice takes place in the youth estate, but it is not universal by any means. My headline would be that if you look at what is happening in the juvenile estate and to children detained in custody, you will see that the system is destructive, underfunded and unfit for purpose.

Yesterday, I chaired a conference sponsored by the Greater London Authority, the Youth Justice Board and Nacro. Between 70 and 80 practitioners were there and I did not hear anyone demur from that view, including many chairs of youth courts in the Greater London area. All of them feel like King Canute and that is easy to understand.

Briefly, I wish to mention eight points that seem fundamental to the criticism that many others now make of how young offenders are dealt with. First, the system is outrageously expensive. If you think about it, it is extraordinary that it is cheaper to send two children to Eton than to keep one child in many of the custodial institutions that we have been discussing. To put it another way, if a probation officer was appointed to stand next to one young offender every day of the year, we would save a great deal of money and probably achieve much more than by putting that young offender in custody. These disposals are not working and they are vastly expensive.

Secondly, many young offenders are being sentenced to short terms in custody; nine weeks is a common period. Absolutely nothing can be achieved in nine weeks except to separate the young offender from his or her family, to dissociate them from normal life and to make them feel angry, vengeful and neglected. That view is based on my discussions of these short sentences with staff in young offenders’ institutions.

My third point relates to education, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. The education provided in many establishments that hold

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young offenders is patchy. Occasionally, it is excellent, but it is desultory in some places. It is not sufficient in quantity and there is a terrible variation in standards. It is astonishing that while populations of such institutions have been allowed to grow, the Government have neglected to deal with the shortfall in education. Many youngsters go into these institutions unable to read, write or count properly and they emerge just as unable to read, write or count.

My fourth point relates to something that astonished me as I visited these places. I was not aware of how small they were. You put sometimes hundreds of young males, all of whom have bags of energy, into an institution which has no playing fields. Young men spend months in these places and they never run. That is an extraordinary way to deal with young people. On any objective view of the education of the young, one of the first questions that a parent would ask would be, “Is there space for them to do activities outside the classroom?”, or, if it is a boarding school, outside their dormitories. Yet, for some reason, Governments persist—this is a historic problem that is not necessarily attributable only to the present Government—in building or keeping these places in urban areas, often where property is extremely expensive and where staff cannot afford to live.

My fifth point has been mentioned by both my noble friend Lady Linklater and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe: the separation of children from their families. There is no youth custodial institution in London. Feltham, which I believe houses 700 or 800 young offenders at present, is the nearest to London. But the young people do not stay at Feltham; they are dispersed all over the country. Yesterday, at the conference that I mentioned, I heard of many cases in which children are dispersed sometimes 200 miles from London. That is no way of treating them if they are to be reintegrated into the society that they have left.

That brings me to my sixth point, which is about how release is dealt with. When I was preparing my Howard League report, I visited one institution where, entirely voluntarily, the staff had started an excellent scheme to ensure that when youngsters left the institution they knew where they were going, whom they were going to, why they were going there and that somebody would pay some attention to them afterwards. But the norm is often that a 15 or 16 year-old is put in what is in effect a taxi, with a social worker whom they have never seen before and who means nothing to them, they are taken to accommodation of which they know nothing and the following day they are out on the streets. What kind of sentence planning is that?

My seventh point is about racial imbalance. If you go to any custodial institution, particularly those holding offenders convicted in London, you will find that something like 50 per cent of them come from a black or ethnic-minority community. What this surely demonstrates is that, in areas where there is a large concentration of black and ethnic minority youngsters, prevention of crime is not being dealt with adequately. In 1996, the Audit Commission produced an excellent report telling us that, at the

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money values of that time, £1 spent on the prevention of youth crime saved £7 later. That is particularly so in areas where there are large concentrations of minorities.

My final point relates to mental illness. It is now a given that something like 50 per cent of the youngsters who are detained in custody are suffering from a diagnostic mental illness—a mental illness identified in one of the two international diagnostic manuals. It is also a given that children suffering from mental illness are far less likely to receive appropriate treatment if they are in custody than if they are not in custody. That surely is neglect by the state. I suggest to the Government that it is high time that the principle was accepted and put into practice that a child who is in custody and mentally ill has the same right to child and adolescent mental health services as any other child and that it is an act of neglect by the state if they are not given those services.

What are youth custody institutions for? If they are for anything, apart from protecting society from a very small number of those whom we might have to acknowledge as very dangerous offenders, they are for setting boundaries, so that young people, when they leave those institutions, are more able to understand what they are permitted to do and what they will not get away with doing in the community. Are we achieving that? In my view, not at all. My view is that we are imprisoning more and more detainees and achieving less and less with every one. There is one certainty about the present system, which is that almost every youngster who serves a youth custody sentence of one kind or another will be back. That surely is the saddest reflection on the way in which we are dealing with young offenders. I ask the Government to take advantage of the new clause proposed by my noble friend and to tell the House that, at long last, they are taking this issue seriously and are prepared to have a truly radical look at youth sentencing.

10.15 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I support the points made so ably and comprehensively by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. I also associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lady Howe and of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, under whose presidency I served as a member of his inquiry.

When I recommended in 1996 and 1997 that prison was no place for young offenders, I meant precisely—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater—that prison is an adult system and not a place for children. That is not to say that children should not be in custody but, if they are, they should be in places that are designed for, and equipped with staff trained to look after, young offenders. I am concerned that since then, although this recommendation has been repeated by many people, there has been no progress.

I support the amendment for the precise reason suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile—that is, in the hope that the Government will take the opportunity to revisit this matter and incorporate it in future developments. Originally, my remarks were based on taking a social services inspector with me to

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look at the conditions in a young offender establishment containing children. Following the visit, she told me that if it had been a local government secure home, it would have been closed because neither its regime nor the practices or training of the staff came up to what was required elsewhere. That was indictment enough for me.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understand the nature of the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Ramsbotham. We have debated these issues on a number of occasions and there has rarely been a sliver of paper between what we would all like to see but there have often been difficulties about how we get there.

I turn to the need for greater parity of treatment in education, health, outside activity, planning for change, better management in moving children on, dealing with mental illness and prevention. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the House will know that those are all very much woven into the Government's plan for preventing young people getting into crime and then reducing the level of recidivism. They are all very much part of what we propose to do. This week, our most recent document produced by the Department for Education and Skills, Care Matters: Transforming the Lives of Children and Young People in Care, was welcomed. That document very much feeds into this debate in that it concerns the efforts that the Government are making to try to deal with the issues more effectively.

The secure estate for children and young people, with which those of us in the House tonight are very familiar, is very diverse. It has different types of establishments adapted to the needs of different age groups and varying degrees of vulnerability. As we all know, those under the age of 18 vary from an 11 or 12 year-old who commits a most grievous offence—sometimes, regrettably, homicide—to a 17 year-old, who is bordering on adulthood. The needs of those disparate children can be starkly different.

Young offender institutions provide for the upper part of the age range—that is, 15 to 17 year-old boys and 17 year-old girls—apart from those who are the most vulnerable. Secure training centres are predominantly for younger trainees and have a particular focus on providing education. They are able to accommodate some offenders whom local authority secure children’s homes find too difficult to manage. That is a reality. We know that there are such children who cannot be safely accommodated in the secure children’s home estate.

The effect of the new clause will be to limit custodial provision for under-18s to secure children's homes. I do not really think that that is what the noble Baroness wishes. However, I understand from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that the amendment is really just asking us to look much more radically at how we respond.

Secure children's homes are valuable institutions and form an important part of the secure estate. I am glad to hear noble Lords say that they have seen some

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good practice in some of them. However, they have limited capacity and are used primarily for the youngest offenders—precisely for those reasons. They would not be able to cope with a large influx of 16 and 17 year-olds. The Youth Justice Board contracts with local authorities for the use of 235 places in secure children's homes and the entire capacity of the secure children's homes sector is only 400 places. So, introducing 2,000 additional 16 and 17 year-olds would not be remotely practicable. Even if it were, the introduction of large numbers of older offenders would put the younger children seriously at risk. The Government have always made it clear that, where offenders are children, sending them to custody can be only a last resort.

We believe that there is some scope for reducing the number of under-18s in custody. The Youth Justice Board has a target of reducing the population of under-18s in custody by 10 per cent. However, we are firmly persuaded that for serious or dangerous offenders, even though they may be quite young, custody has to be available to protect the public. We would be failing in our duty if we did not take the necessary steps to achieve that.

I recognise the excellent intentions underlying this new clause, but removing under-18 places in young offender institutions and secure training centres would not be practicable, would do nothing to reduce crime, and would not help the troubled young people whom they are intended to serve. Indeed, we fear that it would endanger many of them in a wholly unacceptable way.

There is still much that we can do. We hope that the work we are undertaking with the three alliances—although I heard the comments made earlier by the right reverend Prelate, Peter Selby, on those matters—will greatly help young people. The increased planning and the ability to use the resources of the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills, in a way which we could not do before, is incredibly important. Our ability to work harder with schools, other institutions and local communities to make alternatives to imprisonment a reality which is seductive to the courts—because they work—is also a challenge. There is much for us to do.

One of the tragedies that we now face—and I sincerely believe that it is a tragedy—is the increasing number of our young people of a relatively tender age who are committing some pretty heinous offences. Some of them are big, some of them are bad and some of them are dangerous. We can debate how they got there, but the reality is that we have to deal with them as they are and not as we would like them to be. I very much agree with the thrust and intention of the amendment. However, I regret to say that although the door is not closed to improvements to children, it is closed to this amendment.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, I thank those very noble noble Lords who have stayed late into the night to debate this serious and in many respects painful issue. I thank the Minister for being so thoughtful and, in some ways, for seeing what we are all trying to say, albeit the door was not that far open.

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