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Baroness Masham of Ilton moved Amendment No. 248:

Page 50, line 36, at end insert--
("( ) An offender who is a girl under the age of 18 shall be kept separate from adults and shall be detained in a separate institution such as local authority secure accommodation, or in a separate part of an institution also holding adults, unless, after assessment and in exceptional circumstances, it is held to be in the best interests of the offender to be held with adults for a temporary period.").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 248 would make it unlawful for girls aged under 18 to be held with adults in prison. This would bring the UK into line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 37, to which the Government have entered a reservation, requires that juveniles and adults should be held separately. The information supporting this amendment was obtained by the Howard League's inquiry in 1997, which I had the privilege to chair, into the use of prison custody for girls aged 15 to 17. The inquiry visited all prisons that held teenage girls under the age of 18. It was able to talk to governors and staff and consult the probation, education, medical and psychology departments of each prison. The inquiry also interviewed over 80 per cent. of the girls under 18 who were being held to find out their offences and backgrounds.

The inquiry's report Lost Inside! The Imprisonment of Teenage Girls was published on 27th October 1997. All the girls who were interviewed were between 15 and 17. All were vulnerable and damaged youngsters in trouble. Forty per cent. had been in care; 65 per cent. had experienced broken families; 57 per cent. were excluded from school or were long-term non-attendees; 41 per cent. admitted to drug or alcohol abuse; and many had been abused.

During 1997 over 300 girls aged under 18 were held in adult prisons. At any one time there are between 60 and 80 girls held in the system. In 1992, however, there were only about 25. We believe that

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the main reason for the three-fold increase is that courts send girls to prison more readily than previously. Girls who are given a custodial sentence under Section 8 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982, which deals with detention in a young offender institution, are always held in women's gaols alongside adults. This occurs because there are no specifically designated young offender institutions for girls as there are for boys, who are always held separately from adults. In order to abide by the letter of the law these prisons are designated as young offender institutions, although in reality they are adult prisons with few facilities for young people and with regimes designed for adults.

Should not young girls of 15 and 16 have full-time education? The Prison Service is unable to provide special units to accommodate small groups of girls around the country because the number is too small, and one large young offender institution would result in children being hundreds of miles from home. The best option is to hold the girls in local authority secure accommodation units where, apart from providing rehabilitative regimes designed for adolescents, there is a better chance of those girls being nearer their families because the units are regional.

Under the clause girls as young as 12, and possibly 10, who are sentenced to detention and training orders can be held in adult gaols which are also designated as young offender institutions. This arises because the definition of "secure accommodation" in Clause 62(7) of the Bill includes young offender institutions.

In August last year the High Court ruled that the Home Office policy of holding young offenders in adult gaols at the start of their sentence was unlawful. Four of the five holding prisons which took prisoners direct from the courts after sentence were adult prisons with no designation as young offender institutions. Since then a number of these prisons have been redesignated as both adult prisons and young offender institutions. Since the Flood case the Prison Service has begun to reorganise the prisons to provide separate sleeping accommodation for juveniles. However, the practice remains that during the day teenagers share regimes with adults and mix with them, still in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Prison Service argues mixing adults and children provides the children with mothering figures and that as a result young girls are less volatile; but there is a danger that young girls will become bonded to prison. Further, those who mother the girls are themselves often damaged women who are unlikely to be able to provide good role models for the children to follow. The danger is that relationships that appear to be mothering can hide subtle bullying which prison staff may find hard to detect. The risk of contamination from adults is no less with girls than with boys. Girls are just as

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impressionable and will want to emulate women who have committed more sophisticated offences such as credit card fraud. They particularly look up to women in their 20s.

The Howard League found that despite being minors the girls were not often given protection under the Children Act. The Howard League inquiry found cases where girls were mixing with adults who had committed serious violent and sexual offences against children. For example, a 15-year-old was placed in a cell next to a woman who had been convicted of procuring 15-year-olds into prostitution. The Howard League is concerned that questions about sex and other issues around growing up are becoming distorted for children at the crucial ages of 15, 16 and 17 at a time when they are sorting out their difficult problems.

While the presence of the older women may help in keeping young girls less volatile, we believe that this can be achieved by holding the girls in small groups in local authority secure units.

Many prison staff are not suited to working with demanding youngsters, nor do they particularly want to do so, having been recruited to work with adults. They are also largely untrained in dealing with a vulnerable and difficult group. The only training available is a three-day training pack, designed by the trust for the study of adolescence. Since the prisons are essentially designed for adults, the girls represent a very small percentage and are included in the adult regime. There is little provided which is designed for their rehabilitation.

The culture and environment in prison is damaging for adolescent girls. They are engulfed in a world of dysfunction where emotionally damaged women regularly self harm, where any number of drugs are widely available and where bullying may be endemic. The girls are the odd ones in the prison and they are expected to behave like the adults that they are not. Typically, teenage behaviour is not tolerated by staff and older prisoners.

The amendment is flexible enough to allow girls in exceptional circumstances, for example if they wish to have a baby with them, which may be in their best interest, to be held with adults for a temporary period.

I hope that the Minister, who has so much knowledge of this subject, will accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Acton: I would like to pick up the final point that the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, raised on this amendment, to which I have put my name. That is the question of young girls who are mothers or mothers-to-be. Can the Minister say whether there is any mother and baby accommodation at all outside prison?

Baroness Mallalieu: I support the amendment brought by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and in doing so pay tribute to her and her panel who last year produced a report that was both powerful and damning on a relatively small number of teenage girls for whom our present system, frankly, makes no appropriate provision.

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As a barrister visiting prisons, one is normally confined to the areas set aside for legal visits or, on occasions, to the hospital wing, if one's client is being held there. The impression one gets of the atmosphere and regime is usually quite superficial and restrictive. However, women's prisons are those which over the years have left the deepest impression on me: an undercurrent of bullying, intimidation, favouritism and ganging up, all set against a background of a closed community of mainly emotionally damaged women, is sometimes palpable even from where I have been sitting during brief visits.

The report produced by the Howard League from a panel chaired by the noble Baroness opened my eyes and confirmed that impression as reality. Older women who find themselves in prison are very often, perhaps more often than not, serious social misfits, and yet into that unhealthy and corrupting environment we are currently sending juvenile girls for whom, because of their small number and no doubt the expense that would be involved, we have made no proper provision.

As the report showed, a high proportion of them sadly come from care, which is an indictment in itself. Others come from broken homes and a widespread background of abuse. The report refers to the high incidence of self-mutilation among those young girls whilst in prison, which says more than any words about the state of mind of so many of these youngsters who we are treating in this way; yet we are currently putting them into regimes which are designed for adults, and under the care of staff who have had only the most rudimentary training in how to deal with this age group.

As the noble Baroness stated, unlike boys who are kept separate from adults, we usually place these very disturbed girls in close proximity to older women who are themselves often damaged, and we expose them to a culture of corruption.

As the noble Baroness indicated, what we are doing appears to be contrary to Article 37 of the United Nations Convention. There is an alternative, and that is local authority secure accommodation with proper rehabilitative regimes which are designed for this age group. They would surely provide a better chance for the future for these young offenders than exposing them to older women who the system has already plainly failed. The amendment to this part of the Bill gives an ideal opportunity to our Government to stop this happening. I beg to support the amendment.

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