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I welcome the opportunity to hold this debate, now that time has passed in which to digest the report of an inquiry I chaired, produced last year for the Howard League for Penal Reform. I declare an interest as the president of the Howard League. The report recommended that mechanical restraints such as handcuffs should never be used on children in custody; that the use of physical intervention should be severely restricted; that physical force should never be used to secure compliance or as punishment; that stripping children during searches should end; that prison segregation units should not be used for children; and that the Childrens Minister, not the Home Office, should have
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On 29 January 2007, as reported at col. 6 of the Official Report, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, stated that occasionally physical restraint, regrettably, has to be used on young people in secure accommodation but that it is for their own safety or for the safety of others. I am afraid that that answer, particularly the use of the word occasionally, showed a failure by the Government to understand the scale of the problem. Little has changed since the publication of the Howard League report. There are about 2,900 children in custody, of whom about 230 are in secure childrens homes, 270 in secure training centres and the remainder in young offender institutions. In the 12 months leading up to last October, as revealed in an article by Jamie Doward in yesterdays Observer newspaper, written after he had been through some statistics which Ministers had kindly provided in answer to a series of parliamentary Written Questions, prisons used physical restraint on children in young offender institutions on 4,801 occasions. I suppose that, if you were to interpret the language in its most literal sense, that may mean occasionally 4,801 times, but given that similar restraint methods were employed in the same period in secure training centres on 3,036 occasions, adding up to nearly 8,000 occasions overall, one could hardly describe the use of physical restraint as occasional.
Indeed, the use of other measures to which the report referred has continued unabated, although the statistics are more available than they used to be. Our inquiry for the Howard League for Penal Reform found that one in five instances of restraint resulted in an injury either to the child or to a staff member. Last year, at Hindley young offender institution, three children sustained fractured wrists as a result of the use of control and restraint. At Ashfield in Bristol, on average, 30 boys each month are held in solitary confinement.
My inquiry, through the good offices of the Howard League for Penal Reform, visited segregation units and saw how young people and children are kept in solitary confinement. I can tell the House that the conditions in solitary confinement have not changed physically for decades. Some of the cells used for solitary confinementand some stay in those cells for up to 28 daysare positively medieval in their physical facilities. I am afraid that in some places there are some medieval attitudes consistent with the physical facilities.
In my view there is absolutely no occasion on which it is necessary to carry out the fully undignified total strip-search. There is never an occasion where it can be justifiable to require a boy or girl to remove all their clothing, top and bottom, at the same time, but it happens. When are strip-searches justifiable? They
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The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, stated last year that at Huntercombe, children and young people were still automatically strip-searched in some instances. She was very concerned that force was used for those who did not agree to be strip-searched. Noble Lords should put themselves in the position of an immature child: they may be violent and dishonest, but they are often mentally ill and almost always immature. They go into a place such as Huntercombe, which does not stand alone in this matter, and automatically, as the chief inspector put it, they are strip-searched. Their human dignity is removed at a stroke, the moment they arrive.
When you set alongside that some of the induction videos that I have seen which are used for children who enter these institutions, you are left in despair. They had me thinking of television of the quality of In Town Tonight. I mention such an old programme because we are a rather aged House and there will be people here who can remember the rather rudimentary form of television used by that programme. If you want to engage with children, you put things in front of them that they understand. You use DVDs which talk to them in the way that computer programmes such as the Sims talk to young and older children these days. You engage with them so that they feel part of the process.
If our custodial institutions, which contain far too many children, are to have any effect in improving their lives, it has to be on the basis of a contract between the child and the institution. It may be that most of the conditions are made by the institution, but if you cannot induce consent from the child, you have lost the battle and are pushing them through the inevitable revolving door which will lead them from local authority secure children's home to secure training centre, from secure training centre to young offender institution, from there to prison and within prison to indefinite sentences, which are being given to thousands of people. They will be the very people who will add to the huge problem of overcrowding in prisons today, much of which is caused by people effectively facing life sentences.
The Howard League for Penal Reform report, which was contributed to by many people, including the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, was a wake-up call to the Youth Justice Board and the Government, but judging by what has happened since we produced the report, they have been waking up very slowly. As long ago as 1996, the Audit Commission, in a memorable report, demonstrated that, if you spend £1 when a youngster is a child on the prevention of crime, at 1996 prices you save £7 later. If one conservatively doubles those figures to meet 2007 prices, you have clear evidence that we are throwing the wrong money
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Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone: My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord. We all hugely admire his report, which has been a benchmark against which we should test standards of care for children in such institutions. I make a formal declaration of interest. The executive search firm of which I am a partner has recently been entrusted with an assignment for the Youth Justice Board. I am not personally involved in the search, which is being led by a consultant in another practice.
I also declare a more passionate and long-term personal interest in this subject. Before I entered politics, for many years I was chairman of the juvenile court in Lambeth. I presided at the time of the Brixton riots. I also worked in child and adolescent mental health units, as well as being closely involved with the Childrens Society. I also lived in the areaa location some three miles from the recent tragic incidents.
We speak in the wake of the UNICEF report describing the unhappiness, lack of well-being and poverty of children in this country, which has come as a great shock to us all. We need to spend time thinking that through.
What struck me at the timeand I have not changed my mind sinceis that, in a criminal career, if someone cared about a child, any problem would be picked up by the school and the child might be put in a special school. They might be picked up by social services and given special social service provision, or specialist mental health provision might be found for them. But the children with the least, with no advocates or stakeholders, were the ones who ended up in court. In court, you noticed that those children almost invariably could not even read the oath. They had been failed by the education system. When they did not go to school, nobody bothered to find out where they were, because, frankly, they were such a nuisance that it was better to turn a blind eye. I can think of no occasion in 15 years where a child in serious difficulties would appear in court with two adults who had been that childs parents and carers since the child was born.
At the same time, I would constantly have conversations with my friends and colleagues about how critical it was that their child went to a particular school. They would say that two years at a particular sixth-form college would transform the childs life and would have such an influence in terms of culture, peer group and values that the child would, after two years in that educational institute, be a new and different, cultured, civilised and enlightened person. Somehow no one seemed able to translate the values that they had for their own children, which came from care, control and supervision. What parent of teenage
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I was asked at that time to chair a report for the Childrens Society, Penal Custody for Juveniles. We came up with a series of recommendations that hold as good today as ever: that courts should not be able to sentence juveniles to prison department custody; that it should be local authority not Home Office provision; that there should be a juvenile crime authority in each local authority, a bit like the young offender teams; and that there should be proper community programmes. The noble Lord has just made the same point.
I am patron of the Surrey Community Development Trust. These are the people who really do hug hoodies and give them practical alternatives; they look after these youngsters when they are being perfectly impossible. That is the only way in which to prevent them from ending up in prison. The star of my panel was a wonderful person from NACRO called Helen Edwards. We know Helen Edwards as the head of the National Offender Management Service in the Home Office, and one of the best things that the Home Office has done is to take her on to its team.
We meet today a year after the noble Lords report. I especially want to emphasise the issues around education and ask the Minister what he can do to make the rest be as good as the best. There are good examples, but so often there is apathy and disappointment. We had this with children in long-stay subnormality hospitals. I gave evidence to the report 30 years ago, and we finally got to the point where those children were thought of not as subnormal but as entitled to education. We have been working on looked-after children and children in care, and the Government have often said that children in care need particular help, so surely we should do more for education of children in secure accommodation. That is why this call to the Minister for Children, who is now part of the Department for Education and Skills, surely has merit.
Lastly, and briefly, I refer to strip-searching, especially for girls. I ask noble Lords to look at the documentation around the treatment of girls who have been subject to sexual abuse. Children, especially girls, are very sensitive about their bodies and are developing their identity and working out their views on sexuality, but they have all their clothes removed, and if they do not comply they are forcibly put through a strip-search. That cannot be right or civilised.
My final message to the Minister is that it is time to bring an end to the cost-shunting. As long as the Home Office pays, children will always end up in young offender institutions. Will the Minister consider a levy on social service departments? The social services should be looking after these children, but they are very expensive and difficult and, if social services do not get a report in on time and turn a blind eye, the Home Office picks up the tab. I want the Minister to levy the social services departments so
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The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, and the Howard League for Penal Reform for this report. It makes the most depressing reading. Brutalisation of this kind for our most vulnerable and difficult children indicts us for neglect. Whether they are homeless, in public care or in custody, too often our troubled and troubling children are cared for by individuals, with many honourable exceptions, unequipped for the job and lacking appropriate support. Staff care very much about making a difference for children, but often they are not supported to do so.
The Carlile inquiry highlights concerns about the mental health of juveniles in the secure estate. It is essential that these settings have greater access to forensic CAMHSchild and adolescent mental health servicesif staff are to respect children and model good behaviour as the inquiry recommends. Consultation to staff groups and managers by CAMHS professionals can transform the quality of care provided. A consultant forensic psychiatrist recently referred to research on in-reach teams in Grendon Underwood prison. These teams were providing very little in terms of resources, but prison officers and governors said, Its transformed the prison. The officers feel supported; theyre able to cope with mental health because they have a community psychiatric nurse who talks to them.
This afternoon I spoke with the manager of a local authority secure unit, Jon Banwell, who is also the chair of the Secure Accommodation Network. His is one of the very few units with access to specialist child and adolescent mental health services. He said:
I believe that the Forensic CAHMS input is a vital part of our behaviour management service. The guidance and advice that our staff receive from CAMHS helps ensure that we give an individual child-centred response based on an awareness of a childs needs rather than focusing just on the immediate displayed behaviour.
The Youth Justice Boards research of 2005, Mental Health Needs and Effectiveness of Provision for Young Offenders in Custody and in the Community, identified one-third of juveniles in the secure estate as having mental health needs. It highlighted the many other needs of these children and young people, and I note the presence of my noble friend Lord Northbourne in this regard. Some 48 per cent had difficult relationships with their peers and family members that would benefit from an intervention.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, in his influential 1992 report on staffing of childrens homes, Choosing with Care, thoroughly endorsed the involvement of appropriate mental health professionals on an ongoing basis as an efficient way of making use of scant child and adolescent mental health provision. I have witnessed such consultations to staff in a childrens home and spoken to managers of homeless hostels and head teachers about the benefits of such consultation to staff in terms of supporting the
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I warmly welcome the importance placed on CAMHS in Her Majesty's Governments national service framework and the significant investment that they have made in this area. Can the Minister say when all providers within the juvenile secure estate will have access to specialist forensic CAMHS? I apologise for not giving him notice of this question and appreciate that he may wish to write to me.
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