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Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, when the Minister from the Home Office takes her place, I shall have some pleasure in welcoming her there in her new role. Perhaps I shall get on with some other points while we await her arrival. I am sure that she will be with us very shortly.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, in the presence of the Minister I should declare my interest as the outgoing chairman of NACRO's committee on children and crime, which has produced a number of reports on issues related to the Question that I raise tonight. I should like to repeat in her presence my welcome to her in her new role. As a key Minister, it is a most challenging role in the Home Office. I am sure that her somewhat late arrival for the debate was because she was poring over the many papers that she has already in her Red Boxes.
I would like to start with a question on a more or less mechanical issue, a question about procedure and the way in which youth justice will be dealt with in future. When the Minister responds to the debate, I should be grateful if she could say a little about the future of the Youth Justice Board. There has been speculation in the press that, for all I know, may be totally ill-informed. However, it would be useful to be told by the Government whether the Youth Justice Board will continue. If it does, will it do so subject to any major reforms? Its chair has taken a promotion in status although, we are told by the newspapers, a small cut in salary to become a Minister. Therefore, it would be interesting to know what steps the Government have taken to find very rapidly a new chair. I would certainly regard the Youth Justice Board as a key body.
I welcome the fact that the Minister in particular is answering the debate. In what I might call real lifethe sort of life that she used to live before she became a Ministershe had valuable experience as a barrister dealing with cases involving troubled children. For example, her experience as counsel included part of the North Wales child abuse inquirythe Waterhouse inquiry. A number of us in the House tonight have experience of dealing with very serious cases involving troubled children who have been victims of child abuse. We know that the witnesses who give evidence as adults to criminal courts, or to inquiries such as Waterhouse, have had troubled, abused and criminal childhoods, often involving long periods in custody. Their history as children is in part what has made them into adult criminals. That troubles me as an individual
I should like to look at the typical characteristics of these children. Whether they commit serious crime, or are simply socially excluded, these children have typically lived in poverty and been deprived of comfort. Visiting young offender institutions, I have noticed that they perpetuate the complete lack of comfort in children's lives, brutalising them. Although I welcome internal sanitation in prisons, in some young offender institutions, young people are locked in cells for a very long time every day, and it can be justified because they do not even have to slop out any more. They can live their whole lives in the cage, their cell.
Many have been deprived of conversation. No one bothers to talk to them, and their parents have never had the art of conversation. At best, they listen to conversation on the television. Most have had a depressingly poor educationthe numeracy and literacy rates of many young offenders are appalling before they come before the courts. They have often had bad housing; family tension has been almost inevitable; often, oneor bothof their parents has committed crimes; and there has been substance misuse in the family. I refer not only to drugs misuse but to serious alcohol misuse in many of their homes. A higher than average incidence of mental ill health arises from these factors.
That is the profile of the people we are incarceratingin great numberwhile they are still children. We and the Government must ask ourselves whether we cannot do better. In our sophisticated society, committed to giving resources to these issuesthe Government will pay for prisonsone is entitled to expect not only convenient practice, but empirical best practice.
Therefore, it is disappointing and sad to find that on the two occasions it has reported since the United Kingdom ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 12 years ago, the relevant UN committee has been critical of us. Most recently, in 2002, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child was especially critical of the youth justice system in England and Wales.
The starting point of much of the criticism is the age of criminal responsibility. Once a child can be convicted of a crimeand there is no real difference between the phrases "a finding of guilt" applied to youngsters and "conviction" applied to adultsthey have reached the age of stigma: age 10 in this country. It is the lowest in Europe. I have tried very hard to find
I visited all of those countries, some on several occasions, and I have not observed wild criminal children marauding the streets to any greater extent than one finds in Wickham, Welshpool or any other average town or city of this country. Those countries manage the issue without including children in the often bemusing and sometimes plainly inappropriate court structure. All those countries avoid convicting children under the age of criminal responsibility. It is not that they do not do anything; of course they do something. They have to deal with the social exclusion problems that those children present, but they do it without involving the court structure. It seems to me that it is self-evident that if in other civilised countries a higher age of criminal responsibility works and produces a lower rate of adult conviction as it appears to, it should be able to work here and I would ask the Government to consider that.
Nor do we shrink from locking up large numbers of children. The United Nations committee suggested in 2002 that the United Kingdom may be in breach of its international treaty obligation, which is to use custody for children as a last resort and for the shortest possible time. ProportionallyI am afraid I find these statistics breathtakingwe send four times as many under-18s to custody as France; 10 times as many as Spain and 100 times as many as Finland. Finland may be a particularly peaceful country, so let us take Spain as our parameter.
Custodial sentences for children under 15 have increased by 800 per cent in 10 years, with black children five times more likely than white children to be locked up. That tells us that there is a malaise in the way in which we deal with children who commit crime because there is certainly no evidence that it works.
The evidence is clear. We are not using custody as a last resort and the category of grave crimes leading to longer sentences is far too wide. I would hope that a Government who have the courage to abolish the ministerial role of the Lord Chancellor after 1,000 or 1,300 years, however many it is, should have the courage to be radical on an issue which affects the future of real children in our society.
What is more, I say to the noble Baroness that that would work on value-for-money grounds. Six months of an intensive supervision and surveillance programme out of gaol costs £6,000. That sounds like a lot of money, but keeping the same child in custody for six months costs £21,000. That is the price of a place at Eton for half a year in a young offender institution. That sounds like pretty rotten value to me. Indeed, we would probably do better with them if we sent them to Eton than to young offender institutions. What a ridiculous situation that is.
Furthermore, the recidivism rate is frighteningly high after incarceration. There is a reconviction rate of 80 per cent within 20 years for 14 to 17 year-olds. The detention and training order has been introduced into custodial institutions but there is absolutely no sign of that having a lower recidivism rate so far. The Youth Justice Board gave an undertaking fairly recently that it would remove girls from custody and put them into local authority care but it has not. So, plainly, the figures went down and then went up again. Unless the Minister can produce some new and more recent figures, that is a failure of the system too.
There is much evidence that leads one to the conclusion that taking children out of custody, save in those rare cases where society really has to be protected, is a much better option. Education is better outside the detention estate; medical provision is better outside the detention estate; and they learn to live real life with real people, particularly if they have the support of the Probation Service, for which I have the highest praise for what it does with young people.
I invite the Government to consider that it is time to shift from a punitive agenda to restorative justice for children who commit serious crime, to look at the proposals that come from organisations like NACRO and to seek to give the country value for money in terms of youth justice outcomes.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for the opportunity to debate this important issue. I apologise for not being in my place for the first three minutes of his speech. I shall study carefully what he said tomorrow.
I seek assurance from the noble Baroness that Her Majesty's Government recognise the chronic emotional needs of many of the children we are discussing and that responses to their offending behaviour should include consideration of those emotional needs. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, many such children fit into the welfare provision rather than the penal provision.
A large number of the children are either in care or care leavers and they are in that position as a consequence of family dysfunction. Often their parentsthose who should have cared for them mosthave been either neglectful or deliberately destructive towards them. Often the parents have been emotionally maimed by experience of their own parents.
Such children are often unable to blame their own parents. For a child to admit that his parents have not valued him is normally difficult. It would be akin perhaps to the shock of a devout Christian finding that God thought that man had no importance. All the young person's rage at his rejection is either directed at himself or at other adults in the wider society.
Yesterday I attended a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children and Young People in Care and care leavers. A young man told us that he had experienced 15 placements, 15 different homes, while he had been in care. There was a sense of outrage
There was such distrust among those young people of the adult world. Yes, that was in part because they had experienced a care system in which we have chosen not to invest over many years. I add in parenthesis that I very much welcome Her Majesty's Government's recent attempts to rectify the situation. They also manifested the distrust and animosity towards adults natural to those who had been let down by their parents.
Were custody arranged on humane lines, were it to address the emotional and other needs of these children, there might be a place for it within the range of appropriate responses. However, we have generally failed to invest in high quality secure accommodation. Children, who are the most difficult inmates to manage, have not been cared for by appropriately trained, supported and supervised staff. The custodial environment has not evolved to meet their needs. Nor have there been the essential arrangements to ensure a smooth transition from community to custody and from custody to community.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, described some hopeful alternatives to custody. I observe that those providing supervision and surveillance of children need to be well trained and well supported in what they do. Often the children they manage will be thoroughly provocative for the reasons I have described. They may attack their supervisor in different ways as a representative of the adult world. It will be necessary for the supervisor to respond with firmness but to avoid being pushed into the overly punitive or neglectful behaviour of the child's parents. He may need the self-possession of a saint. He will require enough of an understanding of child development to see where the child is coming from and not to take the child's aggressive behaviour personally. He may need to see colleagues and to experience supervision regularly to enable him to cope. If he can avoid being "destroyed", as it were, by the child, or being provoked into an over-harsh response, if he can maintain a consistent, caring, firm response, it may be that child's first experience of a decent adult carer. That could be of incomparable value in moving the child into a better relationship with adults and the adult world, and consequently away from offending.
At the same time we have to respect the depth of damage that has been done to many young people. Those who provide supervision, surveillance, mentoring or intensive fostering need to know how to refer a child to child and adolescent mental health services. Mental health professionals have to be available to meet that need. It is often important to separate the role of an adult who takes a continuing, caring interest in a child from the adult who helps the child to come to terms with the demons raging within.
An illustration comes to my mind of a child who so provoked his school mates that he was shunned by all of them. The boy was only three years-old. Many of the children of whom we speak have much of a three year-old still in them. The boy's mother ran a small business and had to leave her infant on his own for much of the day. He had nothing to do, no adult available to him, and only saw his mother when she came to tell him off for crying or for being a nuisance.
He began to receive help from a child psychotherapist. At the same time the head of the small school which he attended was consistently firm with him, not overly punitive as his mother had been, but she would prevent him from harming other children or disrupting their activities.
After two years he was still testing boundaries. In the school group the head needed to hold his hand if he were to concentrate on an activity. But he had made such progress that he had become the most popular child among his nursery mates. One parent wrote to the head saying how her daughter had most particularly wanted the boy to come to her birthday party.
I conclude that many of these children will provoke their immediate carers. They will provoke us, the adult world. If they succeed in provoking in us an overly punitive and harsh response, we will confirm to them what they already knowthat the adult world is uncaring and that they are worthless. Their consequent rage will either be spent on ourselves or on themselves. If we can provide them with a firm, but fair response, we may begin to assist them in making peace with the adult world.
I join with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in calling for more government investment in alternatives to custody. Can the Minister say when intensive surveillance and supervision provision will be available nationally?
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, in a debate held not very long ago, I said that in my view the only real achievement of the Government in the criminal justice field was the Youth Justice Board. I am distraught to hear that it is under question at present. I was very much impressed by the leadership that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, had given to that board.
I shall explain the importance of the issue. My noble friend Lord Carlile and I are very familiar with the histories and psychiatric reports that we readno doubt the Minister is, too. I know of a case involving a man in his 60s who is said to have grown up in a home atmosphere that was mixed up as a result of his father's violent streak. He ran away at the age of 12 after being physically abused by his father. That is typical causation of criminal conductthe man's offending began at age 12 and he is now in his 60s. So much starts at that age. My noble friend Lord Carlile referred to several matters, to which we could add sexual abuse in the home, drug abuse and personality disorders, which have been identified as causing offending behaviour.
In a report published in 2002 by the Children's Society, Vulnerable Inside: Children in secure and penal settings by Barry Goldson, a survey showed that 48 per cent of 15 and 16 year-old boys on remand in Prison Service custody had been living apart from any member of their family immediately prior to remand and 12 per cent were living rough. While most said that they wanted to talk to somebody, only 68 per cent considered that, throughout their period of growing up, there was nobody to whom they could turn. Forty-eight per cent had been permanently excluded from school and a further 36 per cent reported that they simply did not go to school at all. Twenty-eight per cent were suffering physical ill health and 28 per cent reported a history of mental ill health.
That is an unacceptable way of dealing with children. On previous occasions, I have urged this Government to take account of the children's panel system in Scotland. Under that system, the reporter receives referralsmainly from the police but sometimes from other agenciesand can refer a child suffering from difficulties for a hearing. Those children's hearings are founded on several fundamental principles. The key principle is that it is to promote the welfare and best interests of the children. The second is that the cases should be heard by lay tribunals comprising representatives of local communities in a non-adversarial and relatively informal setting. A further key principle, which we have heard about from our Scottish friends, is that there should be an opportunity for children and their parents to participate in discussion on the nature of the difficulties they faced and framing proposed solutions. A fourth principle is that there should be a separation of responsibility for deciding on disposals from the determination of the facts, including guilt or innocence. If it is suggested that a crime has been committed, the sheriff may deal with the criminal aspect but disposal is referred to the children's panel so those procedures can be effective. The procedures are far better than the offence-based approach in England and Wales.
The basic problem of dealing with children in England and Wales is that, from age 10 onwards, they are faced with crimes that they are supposed to have committed, and the whole system is geared to a hearing. That is an unsatisfactory way of proceeding. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for running slightly over the allotted time. My noble friend Lady
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, last time I spoke in a debate with the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, she commented that I was being succinct. My noble friend on the Front Bench whispered to me sotto voce the word "creep". Be that as it may, among all the other problems currently facing the Government today, thanks to the eloquently introduced debate by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, we are to consider the plight of offending children.
New mechanisms were introduced on the back of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, including final warning schemes, reparation orders, action plan orders, child safety orders and parenting orders. In these subsequent intensive supervision and surveillance programmes, too many children continue to be held in prison on remand or under sentence. They are held either on a detention and training order for the 12 to 17 year olds or under Sections 90 and 91 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000. This covers children aged 10 to 17 convicted of a grave offence.
It is a worrying fact that the latest statistics that I managed to find show that in 2001 receptions of 15 to 20 year olds were 19,699 males and 1,270 females. The figures in 1997 were 19,890 and 853 respectively. That is an overall increase of 5 per cent, but a much more worrying increase among young girls. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile is absolutely right to be concerned. I recently read a report on a visit to Holloway conducted between 8th and 12th July last year by the Chief Inspector of Prisons. The report was published on 18th February this year. I was shocked to read that in that time 13 girls under 18 were held in Holloway and that three were pregnant. I was even more shocked to discover that they only managed to achieve two total bodily washings a week. They are not supposed to be there at all. The chief inspector described this ongoing situation as both inexcusable and depressing and appealed to the Home Office to do something about it fast.
I was then somewhat surprised when the Director-General of the Prison Service responded by blaming the Youth Justice Board. This may have something do with the comments referred to on the Liberal Benches about possible changes to that board. The accusation was that they were not providing places elsewhere. Why? Do they not have the money? Do they not have the function? Do they not have the policy? We all agree that prison is the wrong place for these children.
I pay tribute to her and the work that she is doing, and also to her predecessor, with whom I played bridge only this week. I also pay tribute to the Howard League for Penal Reform, for bringing a case to judicial review in November 2002. This resulted in a High Court judgement that safeguarding the welfare
I therefore believe that custody for young people should be a last resort, once other options have failed. However, there should also be a provision to impose custody earlier if it is clear that the young person is out of control and is a danger not only to himself, but also to the community.
It can be universally agreed that custody, used appropriately, can have a highly constructive role to play in reducing offending and promoting rehabilitation. It is difficult to turn around the behaviour of young people who have reached the point of being sentenced to detention in young offenders' institutions. Many have been convicted on dozens of occasions; are dependent on drugs; suffer from mental illness and have poor levels of achievement, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, in reading and numeracy. This is a difficult group to rehabilitate. At present, more than 80 per cent of 14 to 17 year-olds are reconvicted within two years of release from custody. But there are custodial approaches that appear to be working better than that.
I come from the West Country, and I was pleased to note that the Centre for Adolescent Rehabilitation in Devon is a charity that offers a one-stop shop for resettling and rehabilitating 18 to 24 year-old persistent offenders, following their release from prison. This starts with an 11 week-long intensive residential programme in open custody, focusing on personal development and basic skills for 14 hours a day, seven days a week. This period of open custody is followed by nine months of intensive mentoring and support while finding the young men housing and employment. Not all the young men complete what is a tough and demanding programme on their first occasionbut many go on to succeed after two or three welcomes back to the programme. Many participants have Home Office predicted reconviction rates of 90 per cent and more. Yet this charity's participants achieve reconviction rates significantly lower than the norm.
The level of structured support and discipline that the programme gives, particularly in the transition period following release from custody, is a crucial factor in the success of the scheme. It is important, when discussing the use of custody for young people, to recognise the importance of structuring both the period of custody and the period of release from custody, if it is to be constructive and rehabilitative.
I am sure that the Government would agree that the best alternatives to youth custody are those that get young people off the conveyor belt to crime much earlier in their lives. This means tackling the problem
My right honourable friend the shadow Home Secretary has talked about his desire to extend the availability of programmes through voluntary organisations that can help parents and address early troubled behaviour. He has also proposed that we should actively identify young people who are on heroin and cocaineto say nothing of glue sniffing and general solvent abuseto present them with a choice: treatment or the criminal justice system. Measures such as these can tackle offending behaviour effectively and early, offering a way to reduce the need for custody later down the track.
Au fond, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, that this is a social and not a criminal problem. I believe that the way to tackle it is from the beginning. Children are not born bad; they become bad because of poverty. I pay tribute to the Government for their more generous financial support to families with children than that which we were able to provide.
These children also become bad because of poor housing, poor health, bad teaching and, perhaps worst of all, bad parenting skills. I am delighted to see that lessons in parenting skills are beginning to be introduced in schools. Perhaps I may give noble Lords an example. I saw a young girl this morning who was a model student at school, but a totally disruptive force at home. My desire will obviously take some time to work through, changing human behaviour being as difficult as it is. However, that is no excuse for the Government, and, indeed, all of us, not to try.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and I thank particularly the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, for calling for the debate. Although we are few in number, it is an important debate, and I express my pleasure at being able to respond to it. I also thank the noble Lord for his kind compliments. I take the opportunity to acknowledge the valuable contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, to the work of NACRO in looking at ways to reduce child imprisonment. The issue demands our attention and our time.
As each noble Lord said, we know that young people under the age of 18 are responsible for a disproportionate amount of difficulty and crime. We know that the reasons why they commit those crimes are disparate. The noble Lords, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Lord Thomas of Gresford, alighted on some of them, as did the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. It is right to say that we must address those issues with vigour.
In London, for example, something like a quarter of burglaries are committed by 10 to 16 year-olds, as are a third of car thefts. The priority must be to prevent offending in the first place. If a child or young person commits an offence, the priority must be to deal with
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, will ask, "Can't we do better?". In the past five or six years, we have done better, and we are trying to do better still. I hope that I can reassure noble Lords that the future of the Youth Justice Board is secure. The Government have no plans to disband it. We shall, of course, have to consider carefully a suitable replacement for the outgoing chairman of the board, the noble Lord, Lord Warner, because of his new position, and we shall put in place arrangements to seek suitable candidates. I do not hesitate to tell your Lordships that we feel that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, will be a hard act to follow, but there are skilled and dedicated people available in the country. We hope that we will find a candidate of sufficient weight and expertise to do justice to the job started so powerfully by the noble Lord.
I can also reassure the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that the figures are falling. The figures that he quoted from the report are now out of date. I turn to the issue of girls in custody. On 18th February, the board announced its intention to remove all under-17 year-old girls from Prison Service accommodation during 2003 and place them instead in secure training centres and local authority secure children's homes. As of 12th May, there were no 15 year-old girls in Prison Service accommodation, and the number of 16 year-olds was 16. That is in line with the commitment given by my right honourable friend Jack Straw in March 1999, when he said that he intended to use the greater flexibility provided by detention and training orders to place sentenced 15 and 16 year-old girls in available non-Prison Service accommodation.
I shall take the opportunity to apologise for being a minute or two late at the start; I hope that noble Lords will think that I was well employed. I was discussing the issue with the noble Lord, Lord Warner. He was able to assure me that the reason why girls were kept in Hollowaythe noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, referred to the reportwas that, at one stage, the only mother-and-baby unit available for under-18 year-olds was in Holloway. It has the best drug detox service for young women where some remanded young women were able to go with their children. It was better to keep them near their homes than to move them a long way away. So they were kept there on recommendation for a short time.
The noble Lord also made the point that 17 year-olds can be a very difficult age group with which to deal because they do not like to be housed with the 12 and 14 year-olds and very much resent that. They present us with some more complex difficulties, but I assure noble Lords that we are of the same mind as to the best place to house these very difficult young people.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, stressed the importance of early intervention. I agree with him. We believe that the earlier we can intervene to interfere with the aberrant behaviour demonstrated by some of the dysfunctional children, the better, because the more successful that intervention may be. We are keen to ensure that children of a young age are not prosecuted whenever an alternative can be found. We are also looking at other alternatives. The Youth Justice Board is piloting youth inclusion and support panels which are targeting eight to 13 year-olds.
Any agency working with children in that age group which sees them displaying severely disruptive behaviour will be able to refer them to the panel on a voluntary basis. It provides an opportunity to address the anti-social behaviour by referring them to the voluntary panel which will bring together all the key agencies in a position to help. They can be referred on to the mainstream services which can steer them away from future problems, including crime and anti-social behaviour.
I am sure that the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is similar to mine. In dealing with these very difficult cases, a holistic approach is needed with all agencies targeting the needs of these children so that they have a realistic prospect of rehabilitationoften before they commit any serious offence. The noble Lord talked about being radical. The Government are quite prepared to be radical and intend so to do.
We are soon to publish the Green Paper on children at risk which will also look at the long-term development of initiatives for children at risk of offending. The paper will identify radical options to improve services for children. It will focus on the identification and tracking of children at risk, including the provision of mainstream and specialist services to them. It will cover all services working with children and young people, including social services and youth justice, as well as the role of schools, families and communities. Of course, I would not say that anything the Scots can do we can do betterparticularly not when one has a name such as my own. We certainly intend to be very productive in the work that we are undertaking.
The Government's youth justice policy emphasises, in particular, stopping early offending behaviour patterns and reinforcing young offenders' own sense of personal responsibility for what they have done. We need to understand reasons for crime and do something about them. But not to excuse them. Previously, the prosecution had to prove not only whether a 10 to 13 year-old committed the act, but also that he or she knew that it was not just naughty but seriously wrong to do it. That delayed and interrupted the approaches for justice, including the interventions to tackle offending behaviour.
We made the judgment that children of 10 and above normally know what is wrongcertainly in the area of crimeand that it is in everyone's interest, including that of the young person, to reach a finding and a sentence as soon as possible so that steps can be taken to stop further offending. But it is important for
There is provision, too, for a final warning with an intervention or without an interventionalthough 90 per cent are with an interventionabout a voluntary programme. The programme involves identifying the child's needs and the source of the difficulty and putting in place a programme that will address them. If there are court proceedings, a far wider range or orders is now available.
There can be a referral order, which is an ability to design an intervention programme and draw up a contract for the young offender. That could include reparation, whether to the victim or the community. It could include an agreement to attend school properly, family group therapy and other issues. If the child does not plead guilty but is found guilty by the court, a reparation order can be made in relation to the offending.
There is the action plan order, the fostering requirement, the supervision order, the curfew order and the ISSP, to which three noble Lords referred. The parenting orders are proving very creative and successful. Even some of those who resist a parenting order initially find it beneficial. I understand that some even invite their friends who are having difficulties to do it on a voluntary basis before an intervention. Those are very good things. At the end of the menu come the detention and training orders, when all else has failed. As noble Lords know, they are part custody and part community orders, for up to two years, so that a year could be spent in custody if necessary and a year could be spent in the community, or any period in between. Those are very creative improvements.
The noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and Lord Carlile, will remember the days when such an array of opportunity was not available to the courts. We had very blunt instruments: conditional discharges, absolute discharges, supervision orders, care orders or detention in prison. That was it. We could not target the difficulties that those children had in an effective and productive way that brought about change. We have thankfully been able to make enormous improvements.
I was asked about the intensive treatment provided by the intensive supervision and surveillance programme. That started in July 2001. I agree with noble Lords who say that it has been very successful. Each year it targets 3 per cent of the most serious and persistent young offenders, estimated to be responsible for 25 per cent of these crimes. It is the most rigorous non-custodial intervention available for young offenders, providing the courts with a credible alternative to custody. It combines unprecedented levels of supervision, including electronic monitoring, with programmes designed to tackle the underlying causes of the offending behaviour. Local youth offending teams identify the young people to be
At present, 70 per cent of the country is covered. We will bring on stream further funding in January 2004 so that we can take the programme nationwide. We have managed to secure £26.5 million per annum for the programme from 2004 onwards. Noble Lords will know that we have already spent £36.5 million setting it up; this year we have spent £24 million on the programme. The programme will be evaluated by Oxford University. That evaluation is due to be completed in 2004. We are going forward, and it gives me great pleasure to be able to reassure noble Lords that we are very much aware of the benefit of taking advantage of this opportunity so as to avoid unnecessary numbers of young people going into custody.
We also accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said, that for some children, particularly those who have gone through the whole menu, there is no other choice than to consider custody. In those circumstances we want to make sure that the best interventions are made during the period when the children are in the custody of the authorities. Why is that? It is because often, particularly when there have been difficulties at school and other difficulties, that may be the first opportunity the children have to address their learning difficulties and their offending. That is of extreme importance and we are determined to address that need.
Much has been done but I do not hesitate to tell your Lordships that we believe that there is still much to do. What is heartening, however, is that we genuinely feel that we are on the road to recovery as regards many of these children. That progress has occurred as a result of the efforts made by many agencies coming together to try to tackle the matter. The Government regard tackling children's and young people's offending behaviour as one of their top priorities. As one of our first tasks we overhauled the youth justice system and put in place the reforms that were first set out in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for his compliments in relation to what the Government have sought to do in this area. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for his warm words.
The overarching goal of the youth justice system was clearly set out in legislation for the first time in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998; that is, to prevent offending by children and young persons. In doing so the Government have signalled their clear determination to tackle the problem constructively and proactively. It is a big challenge and, as I say, there is still much to do, but we have made a start. The ultimate goal for society must be to guide children and young people towards law-abiding behaviour, to keep them out of custodial establishments and to help them to become valuable members of their communities.
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