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7.58 pm

Baroness Murphy: My Lords, my contribution follows on very well from that of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, as I want to address the same problem.

About 50 per cent of children and young people detained in custody have a profound mental illness and a further 25 per cent have behavioural disorders. One in five young offenders was also identified as having a learning disability, with an IQ below 70, and at least half have profound educational needs as well. I would wager that it is the most behaviourally disturbed and mentally disordered who are subjected to the physical restraints that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, so ably described and which would be unthinkable to use with adults. I would wager that from my own experience of visiting with the Mental Health Act Commission those unfortunate children detained under the Mental Health Act in local authority institutions, where the relationship between the two issues was extremely clear. As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, it is also true that these children and young people are far less likely to receive appropriate treatment if they are in custody than if they are not. Will the Minister explain why that is so? What are the Government’s plans to raise the standards of access to child and adolescent mental health services to those at least of any other child outside the youth justice system?

According to a report from the Healthcare Commission in November last year, primary care trusts are failing to provide adequate mental health care for all young offenders, making the task of reducing reoffending rates more difficult. It found that too many primary care trusts are failing even to meet their statutory duty to provide a health worker to youth offending teams and one-third are without a specialist mental health worker. I would not be so bold as to claim that effective mental health care at this point in their lives would necessarily reduce the 82 per cent reoffending rate for male adolescents aged 15 to 18, but I can be pretty sure that, without effective care, the offending and custody rates are not likely to go down.

The Healthcare Commission found that services for 16 to 17 year-olds were gravely inadequate in many areas, and that,

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This is before they even get into custody. With waits of that length, and with an average stay of nine months or so, they are hardly likely to get treatment while they are in custody.

The consequences of doing nothing about this group are likely to be grave. One of the striking things about talking with adult patients in special hospitals and forensic units is the fact that so many have never lived outside an institution for longer than a few months in their entire lives. An extraordinary number of them have been in young offender institutions. It seems to me extraordinary that we do not at this point provide effective interventions that are more likely to influence their futures positively than are the sort of Victorian prisons that we provide for them. No one is saying that these children and youngsters do not need containment, boundaries and certainties, or that they should be allowed to run wild and be destructive. They need containment, boundaries, a caring regime and interventions from specialists who understand about providing a different sort of care from the sort that they are getting.

8.02 pm

Lord Avebury: My Lords, it is a pity that last week’s UNICEF report, which put Britain at the bottom of the league table of 21 industrialised countries for child well-being, did not look at the number of children coming into the criminal justice system and the number locked up. The former head of policy at the Youth Justice Board, Jon Fayle, resigned because the Government would not support its policy of reducing youth custody. Rod Morgan, the former chair who resigned a week before, protested that government targets for prosecutions shifted minor offences which used to be dealt with informally into an overstretched criminal justice system and that work to improve regimes in young offender institutions was being undermined. That is the elephant in the room in this debate.

Spending £280 million a year on locking up young people produces an 80 per cent-plus reoffending rate, and the money should be largely redirected into community measures for all but the most persistent or dangerous offenders. The number of young people in custody could be reduced by two-thirds, saving £70 million a year. As the noble Baroness has just said, half of the 3,000 under-18s in YOIs suffer from psychiatric disorders. Many vulnerable children are placed far away from their families and it is becoming harder to do any useful work with any of them. In this unfavourable environment, force is all too often used as a means of control, causing injuries, as we have heard.

My noble friend mentioned Hindley, where force was used on 236 occasions in the six months prior to the chief inspector’s visit last August. A number of children there suffered injuries as a result of C&R, including, as he mentioned, three with broken wrists. Her recent general inquiry into young people in

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custody found that half the boys in Hindley had been restrained, and at Brinsford it was more than a third. What is the Minister doing to see that restraint is used as a last resort, as the YJB recommends?

In the STCs, recent inspections at Medway and Oakhill show a reduction in the use of restraint, but at Hassockfield the withdrawal of the lethal seated double embrace led to an increase in the use of handcuffs. Why is there this difference between one institution and the others? The main technique now used in STCs relies on the infliction of pain. My noble friend said that that was unlawful. In the Minister’s opinion is it within the law to inflict pain deliberately on these young people as a means of control?

In an extreme case at Rainsbrook STC nearly three years ago, 15 year-old Gareth Myatt died as a result of restraint. The inquest last week heard about 34 other potentially lethal incidents where children subjected to the seated double embrace had incurred serious incidents or complained of being unable to breathe. That technique was discontinued but why was there not a review of the safety of restraint procedures generally as the Home Office promised in 1998? Should there not be an accelerated procedure for inquests on deaths in custody so that the lessons learnt from these dreadful incidents are applied as soon as possible?

The failure to keep uniform records of the use of restraint, including the ethnicity of the subjects, throughout the secure children’s estate is deplorable and must be remedied. Clearly, the YJB’s code of practice, intended to be,

needs further development in the light of my noble friend’s report. For some, it may be a matter of life or death.

8.06 pm

Baroness Stern: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for arranging this debate. I assure him that we are not the least bit fed up with hearing his voice. He is a very busy person with many important commitments. We are very fortunate that he has dedicated so much of his time and energy to this relatively small group of unfortunate, unloved, unhappy and troublesome children. Unhappiness is a theme that runs through this whole sad story of our policies on children in custody. I have no doubt that we shall look back on these few years and wonder how we sank so low in our treatment of some of our saddest children.

The system is reprehensible both in its abuse of children’s rights and its ineffectiveness. It is a deplorable use of public money. How did we get into such a situation? I can only assume that it is a reflection of the Government’s strange faith in punishment as the way to solve social problems. This quite ill founded belief that punishment is the way to solve social problems must have shaped the Government’s choice of institutions that have been given the job of holding and trying to rehabilitate these damaged children, because as we heard these institutions are based on punishment.

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These institutions hold two sorts of children. Some of them are minor offenders on the fringes, whose behaviour ought to be easily containable in the community. I know a family whose boy got a three-month sentence on his 16th birthday for not keeping his appointments with his social worker. However, most of these children fit into the category of those whom the inspectors for the Commission for Social Care Inspection found at Medway secure training centre; a place, incidentally, that seems to be doing the best it can. The children there presented a complexity of need. They had,

These are incredibly damaged children, failed by other services and full of unhappiness and rage.

Home Office Ministers tend to respond to questions about the treatment of these children in custody by reminding the House that some of them have committed very serious offences. I hope that the Minister will refrain from doing so on this occasion because indeed they have. We know that they have. This is what children who have been reared in violence and neglect often do. But we are holding these children in places that are completely inappropriate to their needs. Would anyone want to put a child with such complex needs and with problems which need to be sorted out if the child is to have any chance of a better life and if future violence is to be prevented, in a place such as Oakhill secure training centre? According to the latest inspection report, of June 2006, 75 children are there, but there is only one qualified social worker on the staff. Children’s access to underwear and books is limited as part of the rewards and sanctions system. Young people who are on basic privileges for one or two days are subject to a ban that prevents them leaving their unit, so they get no time in the fresh air. Not surprisingly, five employees leave every month; in one month, 16 staff resigned their posts.

Does the Minister have any comments on the suitability of Oakhill Secure Training Centre, and does it still restrict the amount of underwear and books that children can have? Have the Government any plans for a radical reform of the system, or was the report in today’s Guardian to which the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, referred—that Mr Brown favours moving youth justice to the Department for Education and Skills—just a rumour?

8.11 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I join all those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on obtaining this debate. I must declare an interest as a member of his inquiry, which was a great experience. I am very glad that his voice lasted out for his very powerful opening speech.

I am also very glad that my noble friend Lady Stern introduced the question of punishment, because one of the things that worried me most about the Government’s attitude to the criminal justice system was when I heard that the number one priority of the Probation Service had been changed from one

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of aftercare to one of punishment. It seemed to me to mark a very dangerous change of direction, one that was mirrored in an article in yesterday’s Observer which said that there was a very definite rift between charities, the Youth Justice Board and the prison inspectorate about what they describe as a line that has been crossed in the treatment of young people in prison and Government, who are increasingly tending to criminalise young people.

I should like to make my remarks in the context of two current events. The first is the inquest into the death of Gareth Myatt, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, during which the previous chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, Mark Perfect, said that this death was a disaster waiting to happen and so it was a disaster that happened. I disagree profoundly with that second statement. It was a disaster that was waiting to happen but it was one that should not have been allowed to happen.

That brings me to the second part of my context, which is the very sad circumstances around the resignation of Professor Rod Morgan, the chairman of the Youth Justice Board. This is where my questions to Ministers come, because the inquiry carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, was responded to not by the Government but by the Youth Justice Board. I am surprised that if the Government take it so seriously, they did not respond. I can only assume that they were behind the responses that were made. Rod Morgan has been quoted as saying that during his three years as chair of the Youth Justice Board, he made it clear—mostly in private but occasionally in public—that he was not happy with the direction of youth justice policy.

It is the duty of the Youth Justice Board independently to advise Ministers. Recommendation 19 of our inquiry stated:

The answer was:

Recommendation 20 states:

The answer was:

Recommendation 21 states:

The answer:

My question to the Minister is: was this the advice that was given to Ministers by the chairman of the Youth Justice Board, or was it a deliberate recommendation response by Ministers alone?

8.15 pm

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew for this debate. He led the independent inquiry for the Howard League for Penal Reform into the use of strip-searching and physical

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and solitary confinement of children in penal custody. He is therefore well qualified to address the issue. I congratulate the Howard League for the initiative that it has taken on this matter. The report is compulsory reading for all those interested in penal reform. Add to that the contributions of all noble Lords who took part in this debate. They all point to a serious cause of concern, and I look forward to the Minister's response on the issues raised. On this matter, glossing over will not do.

My noble friend Lord Avebury mentioned the UNICEF report. We need to ask what exactly is happening in our penal institutions. Overall, there are nearly 11,000 under-21s in prison, and at least 300 of that number are held in young offender institutions. The number of children has more than doubled since 1993. There is a worrying trend that, despite a decline in the number of children convicted or cautioned, we now lock up more children than anywhere else in Europe. We need to ask why our justice system has produced that anomaly.

We have figures about physical force used against children—15,512 times during a 21-month period in England and Wales. In commercially managed secure training centres, physical restraint has been used over 1,200 times, despite the fact that they hold only 190 children most of whom are aged 14 and 15.

I am aware that the Youth Justice Board is responsible for commissioning secure places for children and young persons under the age of 18. Some progress has been made in commissioning new facilities, improving regimes and safeguarding. That is welcome, but we need it to undertake vigorous systematic monitoring of physical control in care and the system of physical interventions used in such centres. There is ample evidence that these institutions did not keep central records of how many children had been injured in restraint incidents.

We sentence far too many people to prison and children are no exception. It is clear that the success or failures of imprisonment are measured by the reoffending rates. As far as children are concerned, this is nearly 80 per cent. The facts are there for all to see. Prisons hardly work for children. One of the points raised in the report is the need for a holistic approach. We all know the issues identified: exclusion from schools, previously spent time in care, alcohol and drugs problems, pregnancy, previous involvement in criminal offences, and physical and mental abuse.

If there is one outcome I am looking forward to in this debate, it is an assurance from the Minister that all the recommendations of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, will be seriously considered and implemented by the Home Office. In addition, we should extend the provisions of the Children and Adoption Act 2006 to involve the Children’s Commissioner in monitoring and delivering children’s services in our secure establishments. It is time that he played an important role in that respect.

It cannot be beyond the capacity of the Home Office to ensure that children are kept in a healthy environment, that they are safe and that prisons make

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a positive contribution towards their welfare and economic well-being. The message must be clear and unequivocal: every child matters. Children must be protected from maltreatment and receive safe and effective care.

8.19 pm

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I join noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on securing this debate. I hope to spare the noble Lord’s blushes, but this report will go down in the annals of child custody in prisons as a seminal work, or a benchmark, as my noble friend Lady Bottomley said in an impressive contribution that drew much on her personal experiences. I urge the Government not to be deflected in any way from taking action on the demanding observations made by the noble Lord and his colleagues.

There was, as it were, a curtain raiser for this debate in the Oral Question tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, on 29 January. The questions came from all round the House and there were some demanding and informed interventions. While we have every sympathy with his position, some of the Minister’s answers were distinctly guarded. For example, in reply to a question on segregation by the noble Lord, Lord Low, the Minister replied that this was “not highly desirable”. Can he go a little further? There are seven recommendations in the report and on this matter, if on no other, the Government’s response needs to be much more robust.

I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, will want more reassurance regarding her supplementary question on that day, which reminded the Minister that restraint was still widely used. That has been covered by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who gave devastating statistics. The Minister admitted that the practice was still widely used, which I understand to be the case. The five recommendations in the Carlile report were specific and demanding. Can the Minister go further than the slightly defensive language he used in response to the noble Lord’s question? Phrases such as “operational requirements” are, frankly, not reassuring. Can the Minister convince the House that these recommendations set out in, perhaps I may say, uncompromising language are being taken seriously?

In the week before the Recess, the House expressed its views in the strongest possible manner, on the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in the vote on whether to include the Prison Service in the ambit of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. The inclusion of that amendment in the Bill would be a huge step forward for greater transparency and accountability within the prison system and I hope that my noble friend Lord Hunt will have some success in persuading the Government to include that measure when the Bill returns to this House. It would have an indirect and direct effect on the matters that are under discussion tonight.

My noble friend Lady Bottomley has referred to “bottom-of-the-pile” children who fetch up in the courts, sometimes unable to read the oath. There is a lower rung than that. The noble Lord,

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Lord Ramsbotham, in a moving speech, referred to speech and learning difficulties. Such children often cannot even speak and have been given no start at all.

This House must be indebted to the Howard League for commissioning this report and to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and his committee for doing such an excellent and unequivocal job in holding the Government to account. Many of the committee’s recommendations are radical. The Government must not hide behind such phrases as “operational requirements” and so on. Fresh root-and-branch thinking is required. I concede that the environment of the Oral Question of 29 January was not an easy forum for the Minister. Tonight we would like to hear evidence that the Government are really—and I mean, “really”— acting on the recommendations of the Carlile committee. I hope the House will see to it that this report and the issues it has raised will not go into the long grass or, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, be the subject of a very gentle wake-up call, and that we will have further opportunities to monitor the Government’s response. The report deserves better, as do many of those unfortunate children whose treatment has been so ruthlessly exposed.

8.24 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I start with my customary thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, for his very valuable report, which, despite what some noble Lords may think, the Government have taken very seriously. They continue to take it very seriously and no doubt, if the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the usual trenchant remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, are anything to go by, your Lordships’ House will not easily let us ignore it.

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