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This can also be a time of great and additional difficulty for staff, who have to cope with children who may be angry, distressed or even suicidal. Both skill and understanding of what the children are going through will be required so that the famously difficult first night in custody does not result in even greater distress and trouble. To be locked in a cell is not an experience any of us would wish to go through, but to be forced to urinate in your sweatbox, or, having done so, to clean it out on arrival at Onley, is an example of worst, not best, practice. If being locked in a cell is an experience that none of us would ever wish to go through, still less should we find it acceptable that a child should be delivered to it at 11 pm from a sweatbox.
Baroness Stern: This subject deserves a lot more attention than we are likely to be able to give it at this stage of the Bill. It is a very important subject in its own right. I support the amendment. This matter has greatly concerned people for a long time. The independent monitoring board at Huntercombe young offender institution has raised with the Minister on a number of occasions the problem of the extremely late arrival of young people. In a Written Answer of 21 March the Minister told me that,
Neither of those pieces of information in any way suggests a satisfactory situation. I hope that the Minister can assure us that she is very concerned that these transport arrangements should be radically changed.
Lord Judd: I rise to add a brief word of support for this self-evidently valid amendment; it has been powerfully moved. During the inquiry, to which I have referred several times, of the Joint Committee on Human Rights into deaths in custody, what we heard directly and indirectly left me in absolutely no doubt that this is a priority area.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: What has been described is so degrading a way to treat human beings that it is appalling to hear it. We have all had the same briefing and read Ann Owerss report, so we all know what is being referred to. As my noble friend Lady Stern said, arriving so late after a long journey makes it difficult not just for the young offenders being held in remand but for the staff who have to cope at that time of night. No one is at their best at that time. I am certain that the Minister is at least as concerned about all this as the rest of us, so I do not think that there is much point in prolonging my remarks, but I hope that positive action is being taken.
Lord Neill of Bladen: I add a brief word of support for the amendment. One can hardly listen without pity to the account that we have been hearing and without regret that such scenes are taking place in our country. It is more like a passage from Dostoevsky than something that should happen to our children.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The Government fully agree with the intention underlying the amendment, which is to ensure high standards in the arrangements for escorting young people to and from custody. There is concern that trainees on occasion have a long journey from the court to the custodial establishment and sometimes arrive there at a late hour. I assure the Committee that we are well aware of the issues and that the Youth Justice Board has been active in seeking to remedy them, but as much as we abhor even one occasion when that happens it would be remiss to think that this is the general situation or that it happens a disproportionate number of times. Even if it happens only once, we would want to work hard to eradicate it, so that is by no means to detract from its importance. I know that noble Lords understand that we have made significant improvements in this regard over the past few years.
The solution, however, does not depend on additional legislation. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, a provision brought in by noble Lords opposite when they were in Government, places an express duty on custody officers carrying out escort functions to attend to the well-being of persons in their care. Rather the key to improvement is through changes to the contractual arrangements. It may help the Committee if I explain what they are.
There are two separate escorting contracts covering young people under 18: one managed by the Youth Justice Board to convey young people to and from secure training centres and secure children homes and another managed by the Prisoner Escort and Custody Service, PECS, to convey trainees to and from young offender institutions. The arrangements specified in the secure training centre and secure childrens home contract are very satisfactory and they are working well. The contract provides for escort in an ordinary unmarked vehiclea people carrierin which the young person travels with a team of three custody officers direct to the required destination. There is a minimum of delay because the escort team is usually responsible only for a single young person. The Prisoner Escort and Custody Service contract for under-18s also requires the contractor to have regard to the welfare of the young people being escorted, for example by minimising journey times, providing regular comfort breaks, meals, drinks and where necessary access to medical care; but multi-occupancy cellular vehicles that may call at more than one destination per journey are used. As the majority of trainees are placed in young offender institutions, providing escorts to and from those establishments is much the larger operation and there can on occasion be difficulties in delivering young people on time. The Youth Justice Board has for some time been working to improve the operation of the PECS contract and has spent approximately £5 million a year since 2004 on measures to ensure separation of under-18s from older offenders during escort.
Together with other stakeholders in the PECS improvement implementation project, the Youth Justice Board is working to achieve changes to operational arrangements, performance measures and the submission of data by contractors. A new partnership agreement between stakeholders has also been drawn up. The board is working very hard to achieve improvements, and I assure the Committee that we are taking the issue very seriously. I hope that noble Lords will see that the difference will be made through tightening up the contracts, enforcing them and making sure that we can get them to deliver that which we aspire to achieve. I share the concern; we are focusing on the issue and I assure the Committee that we will continue to do all we can to ensure that those honoured by a contract do some honouring themselves.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said, we must seek to deliver best practice the whole time and not allow worst practice. We heard some examples of worst practice that still unfortunately prevail. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, referred to the independent monitoring boards report on Huntercombe, where there were extremely late arrivals and on one occasion two young people were delivered at 1.15 am. The cynical might, in reading such a report outside, say that in their experience some young people habitually do not go to bed until 1.15 am, and might ask, So what? What is wrong with that?. If young people lead such a disrupted way of life which gets them into an offending pattern, it is important that when they come within the criminal justice system they are not shown that they will be permitted to continue that way of life. They need to be given a more structured way of life, which has to begin the moment they leave court. That is not assisted if they are treated, as they sometimes are, with disrespect as soon as they are put into the transport system. I hear what the Minister said; I have no doubt that she is committed to ensuring that the conditions are as good as may be within the system. I acknowledge what she said: improvements have been made but not enough.
The Minister says that in any event the amendment is not necessary because, as she correctly points out, Schedule 1 to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 already imposes a duty on custody officers in carrying out their escort functions to attend to the well-being of persons in their care. All of us have moved on in many respects since 1994. This is not new Labour marching towards new horizons; societys expectations of how people are treated in custody have moved on. Our attention to the needs of children in particular has changed over the years, and my amendment highlights the importance of treating young offenders in a special way and safeguarding their welfare.
Despite what the Minister says, this is an important issue that needs to be addressed. My honourable friend Mr Garnier made it clear in another place that we do not consider this to be merely a debating matter. He could not resolve it in the other place because the timetabling did not allow a resolution. I therefore felt that it was right to consult those who are concerned with youth justice matters before the matter was debated today. They gave their support to the amendment, and I gave a commitment to seek a resolution in Committee if at all possible. I like to keep to my commitments and, because this is an important matter, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
The noble Lord said: In the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who is extremely sorry not to be hereand having seen the reason for that, I am sure that the whole Committee would be with himI will briefly move this amendment. Anyone who has had anything to do with the penal system knows that one of its tragediesand I use that word in the full significance of its real meaningis that there are far too many people there who should not be in prison at all. It is a completely inappropriate place for them, because of their mental condition.
What has struck me in recent years, in making some prison visits, is that among the better and the most committed prison staff is something approaching anger in their frustration with the situation, because they say, These people should not be here, and you are asking us to do jobs that we are not equipped to doand, in any case, we are without the premises or facilities to do them in. There really should be alternative provision. From that standpoint, when I saw that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, was tabling this amendment, it seemed to meet one of the areas urgently requiring reform and action. For that reason, I was glad to support it and I beg to move.
Baroness Stern: I warmly support the amendment in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham. I cannot imagine that the Minister will not also support it. I think it is right to say that the Government have put out a number of recent reports making it clear that their view is that mentally ill people should not be imprisoned, and that they would like to find a way of removing them from prison.
This is in no way controversial. Having mentally ill people in prison is grossly dysfunctional both for them, because they get more ill, and for the system. It makes huge demands on resources by filling up prison beds that are not really available, while the staff are clearly not trained to deal with mentally ill people. It is also wrong, and could be described as cruel and inhumane, to put somebody who is ill in a place of punishment.
Why are mental health diversion projects not everywhere? They are not in the least controversial. Such schemes have run successfully for many years and in many places. There are people who know well how to do them, police stations where they have been running for years and a number of courts that had them, in the past, as a feature of what they could offer. We would have expected this Government to have accepted this sort of project and to have put it in place many years ago. The case for it is unanswerable, and I am happy to support the amendment.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I support this amendment in exactly the same terms as the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. At one or two points during the Committee, I have felt that we have been losing sight of some of the broader aims of the Bill. Most of us are committed not only to more effective management of offenders and to their rehabilitation, but to reducing substantially the growing size of our prison population. It was that which fed the amendment on not easily putting young people in prison; with this amendment, we very much want to make sure that people who are mentally ill are dealt with appropriatelya word that I know is beloved of the Minister. Therefore, we really hope that the Government will find a way either to accept this amendment as it stands, or to give us an assurance that they will return on Report with a government amendment in similar terms.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I also support the new clause in the amendment. We all know the situation facing us; far too many people in prison suffer mental ill health. A high proportion of those in that situation are women. I will waste no more time, but this is something that should be considered very seriously.
Viscount Bridgeman: We on the Conservative Benches support this amendment and those of your Lordships who have spoken on it. It raises the vital question of the proper management of offenders. Again, the noble Lord has hit the nail on the head in tabling an amendment that would fulfil the scope of this Bill better than the Bill itself. I am grateful to the noble Lords for introducing an amendment that addresses so succinctly my concerns and those of my colleagues in another place. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the tireless work of my honourable friend John Bercow, the Member for Buckingham, on these matters.
It is hardly controversial to say that mental ill health in prisons is a crucial problem. Around 70 per cent of those taken into custody have at least two identifiable mental illnesses, so we are not talking about only those whose incarceration has caused depression. Among the young taken into custody, the chance of recovering from mental illnesses diminishes with every year that they are incarcerated with insufficient care, and it has been accepted by all partiescountless times, and in countless debatesthat truly effective offender management starts with a proper diagnosis of the cause of offending. The noble Lord has already outlined how important it is for the punishment to fit not simply the crime but the offender as well. Prison without care for offenders with mental ill health only exacerbates existing problems.
The Minister noted the Governments desire that the National Health Service should take responsibility for the commissioning of health services for prisoners, although she made it clear that responsibility for prisoners health in all forms should remain outside the direct remit of the criminal justice system. But have the Government not considered that health screenings on entry into prison, for example, place health issues at the heart of the criminal justice system? Will the Minister consider that mental ill health not only can characterise a prisoners motives for offending, but should characterise the type of care allocated?
The amendment will ensure that the criminal justice and health agencies work together to ensure that resources deployed in rehabilitation are used in the most effective and appropriate ways. Significantly, early intervention in carrying out a mental health assessment at the point of charging could give invaluable guidance to the courts in providing for the terms of sentencing.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: This is one of those occasions when one can be reasonably happy in saying that there is not a great deal between the position of the Government and those who support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. However, there is a big but in how we think these matters can better operate with greater flexibility.
While we fully accept that people suffering from mental disorder who come into contact with the criminal justice system should be given the treatment they need, we believe that the amendment goes too far and is inflexible. Many court liaison and diversion schemes are in operation. The Government accept that these schemes vary in the quality of the support that they are able to provide. Some are able to provide only limited support to the person who comes before the courts.
At present, the better diversion services provide a range of multi-disciplinary team activities across the whole spectrum of the criminal justice system, and support the police at an earlier point in the path to custody for those vulnerable patients who repeatedly come before them. The courts already have powers under the Mental Health Act 1983 to divert offenders to hospital for treatment. Under Section 35 of that Act, they may remand an accused person to hospital for a report on their mental condition, and under Section 36 they may remand an accused person to hospital for treatment. The police also have the power under that Act to remove a person who appears to be suffering from mental disorder to a place of safety. This is for the purpose of enabling him to be examined by a doctor or interviewed by a social worker, and for the making of any necessary arrangements for the accused persons treatment or care. Statutory arrangements are already in place to enable the courts and the police to divert people into treatment for mental ill health.
The Government accept that more should be done in this area, but believe that the best way to take this forward is by non-legislative means. To legislate would be to force local commissioners to implement a one-size-fits-all service that took no account of local need. It could undermine existing practice in which local health commissioners were allowed to make their own assessments of the balance of needs and provision in their local communities, and thereby secure the most appropriate levels of service and skill mix to meet those needs.
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