Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has secured this debate and introduced it with her usual eloquence and passion. This is an important issue. I want to look briefly at how we might prevent offending in the first place and touch on the issue of substance misuse among young people in custody, but I will refer mainly to how we treat young offenders and how the focus should be on rehabilitation.

Perhaps I may start with substance misuse. I declare an interest as chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. A large number of young people entering STCs have a problem with drugs or alcohol, and two pilot programmes in STCs are looking at that. It is not surprising that a number of factors identified by research and by the youth justice system increase the risk of problematic behaviour such as substance misuse. These factors are truancy from school or under-achievement, lack of positive role models in the family, poor parenting, family conflict and risk of harm, homelessness or poor housing, and mental illness, including cognitive and behavioural disorders. How can we change the lives affected by such a multitude of adverse factors?

Youth resettlement pathways identified in the Youth Justice Board report Youth Resettlement are linked to those factors and to good case management and to the Every Child Matters agenda. Preventing children from becoming affected by such adverse factors must, of course, be a priority. Every Child Matters and the subsequent Children Act 2004 is a
8 Mar 2006 : Column 817
start, as are various Bills such as the Childcare and Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bills, potentially the Education Bill, and Sure Start. All emphasise the need to join up services to intervene in the causes of poor child welfare. The respect action plan includes new funding of £28 million to set up intensive networks of family support schemes and to provide parenting help. We must be vigilant as to how those good intentions are played out.

Certainly, just punishing young people is not enough. Young people tell us constantly that there is not enough for them to do in their communities, and few centres where young people can safely gather. Once young people get into trouble, we have a problem—it is a difficult thing to reverse, although not impossible. We need to look carefully at what is happening across the youth justice system to make sure that we are not making things worse. The inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for the Howard League for Penal Reform, which has been referred to already, states in the section on psychological impacts:

Yes, and many have been in care, and many have the problems I described earlier.

That report identifies key forces that should be guaranteed to ensure that the best possible chance for rehabilitation exists. These include staff training, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has referred, staffing levels, respect through responsibility based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, exercise and outdoor activity, restorative justice, privacy for individuals and addressing mental health needs. STCs should provide opportunities for young people such as education, vocational courses, healthcare, exercise facilities and so on. They were set up to do so. There must by now be examples of good practice, and the noble Baroness has referred to one in Scotland. Can the Minister give us some examples and say how good practice might be shared?

When I read examples given in the Carlile report and elsewhere I wonder what is going on and how we can hope to rehabilitate when young people clearly see themselves as being degraded and mistreated and having what dignity that might remain to them taken away. Strip searching is one example. The report talks of a boy called David who said that he felt it abnormal to have people looking at him naked. He was not told what was going to happen to him, and all orders were shouted. Later, when he was banging on his cell door because he was bored and upset, a group of officers in riot gear carrying plastic shields pushed him up to the window. He was then restrained by being held down naked on a stone floor.

What I know of people—not just young people, who are more vulnerable than adults—is that violence begets violence and resentment, and that you do not treat damaged people by inflicting more damage. This is simply asking for trouble and for there to be little escape from the revolving door of custody, release and more
8 Mar 2006 : Column 818
custody. If the system worked, I might have more sympathy, but it clearly does not, at least not for most people.

The national specification for substance misuse for juveniles in custody identifies effective practice, which includes engendering an atmosphere of safety, assessing need, providing education, providing treatment and support, making sure that there is an individual care plan that continues to support the young person, and ensuring that interventions are planned and connected to each other—again, joined-up action. This seems similar to what young people in custody need generally if they are to be rehabilitated. For some, rehabilitation may not be possible, but surely most young people will respond better to a regime of help and support rather than unmitigated and cruel punishment. We have inspections of STCs; we have anecdotal evidence; we have research. How do we translate good intentions into practice, and where are we going right?

8 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on obtaining this important and timely debate. I say important, because I believe that any time spent discussing the safeguarding of tomorrow's generation is important. I say timely, because the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, of which I was very privileged to be a member, only recently published its report about the safeguarding of children. Only two days ago the Government's response to the paper produced by the joint chief inspectors on the safeguarding of children was also published.

I was the Chief Inspector of Prisons when, for some reason or other, the previous Home Secretary, Michael Howard, decided it would be appropriate to introduce into this country a disastrous development in America known as the boot camps as a suitable way of dealing with our young offenders. I disagreed with him fundamentally then, and I disagree now. I quote from a report I wrote in 1997 about the treatment of young offenders:

I referred in the report to the tremendous inconsistency in the way in which we were treating children in custody. At the time that Michael Howard had the idea of secure training centres, there were local government secure homes, many of them extremely well run and very well staffed. At the other end of the scale, there were a number of young offender establishments in which, frankly, the treatment was outrageously poor and not only was the staffing negligent, the numbers of staff were far too few. On the first inspection of a juvenile establishment that
8 Mar 2006 : Column 819
I carried out, when I took an inspector of social services with me, he said that if this had been a social services establishment, it would have been closed because the treatment and conditions were not up to what was required by children.

Then came the secure training centres. From the word go, they did not fit in anywhere—secure homes are part of social services provision under the Department of Health and young offender institutions are part of the Prison Service, coming under the Home Office. Secure training centres, run by private sector companies, did not come under either; they came under the Youth Justice Board when it started, which added a third source of direction.

I seriously recommend that the Government look once again at the management and the direction of children in custody, wherever they are. Unless you have someone responsible and accountable for the delivery of what is done, working out what is appropriate and making certain that it is delivered, it will not happen. I recommended that in the same report in 1997—no action has been taken and there is still nobody in charge. The Youth Justice Board has oversight but that does not mean it checks what happens overall. I believe that until you get that right, you will not get the consistency of treatment which is crucial when you are dealing with children.

I personally think it is an abomination that the age of criminal responsibility in this country should be 10. It is an abomination that children should be in prison. They should not be in prison—those are adult places. They should be somewhere else. But if they are in custody, the critical thing is to make certain that staff are trained and capable of looking after them. Again, we find inconsistency everywhere. Those in the social services centres are trained; those in the Prison Service are not yet properly trained.

The secure training centres suffer from the problems that I have found with all private sector establishments. Turnover was too high, largely because of wages, and they were greatly understaffed. I was interested to see that the recent inspection reports of all four STCs showed serious staffing implications.

At Oakhill, staffing numbers were regularly below acceptable levels for 80 places. There were no regular staff meetings. There was no external line manager to monitor the performance of the secure training centre. At Rainsbrook, roles and responsibilities for managers in the new structure had not yet been made sufficiently clear for lines of accountability to be fully understood. At Medway, active staff numbers are to remain low, placing significant pressures on the establishment. The external manager for the centre was acting as the director; therefore, the centre did not have an external manager to monitor its performance. At Hassockfield, supervision of staff needs to occur and to be recorded more consistently. Management development should be a feature of the next stage of development planning. And so on.

We have heard a lot about the treatment, the conditions and their unacceptability. There are masses of solutions and ideas out there; they all refer to the same things—direction and staffing. I really hope that
8 Mar 2006 : Column 820
the Government will at last listen to what people have been saying, year after year, and put those two things right, because they are fundamental to any development which has this desperately important role of safeguarding the treatment of our children who are in custody.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page