|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I understand entirely the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about transitions from care, and it is for the reasons she gave that we intend to pilot arrangements for young people to continue to stay with their foster carers up to the age of 21. It is one of a range of policies we have in place to see that there is a much more managed transition from care than was often the case in the past. We are also extending the duty to appoint a personal adviser and keep the pathway plan under regular review for young people who, before they are 25, seek support from their local authority to continue or resume their education or training. This builds on the existing requirements in Section 23C of the Children Act 1989 for local authorities to appoint a personal adviser at least up to the age of 21 for all care leavers. The personal advisers role is to help the young person make a successful transition to independent living.
In respect of the specific issue raised by the noble Baroness, there is no reason why a local authority cannot continue to meet the reasonable costs of an independent visitor as part of the pathway plan if the young person and the independent visitor want this. Given the potential role in supporting transition and the important stability that contact with an independent visitor may bring, we would expect a young person to discuss this with their personal adviser and appropriate provision to be made in the pathway plan. I can say to the noble Baroness that we will set out our expectation in revised statutory guidance that the local authority should continue to reimburse the reasonable expenses of the independent visitor where it would benefit the young person as part of the package of support they receive. I hope that the noble Baroness thinks that we are going some way to meet the concerns she has raised.
(1) Where a court passes a sentence of detention in a young offender institution in the case of an offender who is subject to a detention and training order, the sentence shall take effect as follows
(6) Where, by virtue of any enactment giving a court power to deal with a person in a way in which a court on a previous occasion could have dealt with him, a detention and training order for any term is made in the case of a person who has attained the age of 18, the person shall be treated as if he had been sentenced to detention in a young offender institution for the same term.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in one of those characteristic outbursts of well based indignation with which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, regaled us a few amendments agoI always find those outbursts very challenginghe spoke of his increasing frustration at the relationships between each piece of legislation and how we have to approach each individually in the absence of anything to resolve the issue of an underlying theme that would govern all legislation in the respective areas. All I can say is that I could not agree with him more. In thanking all noble Lords who have added their names to my amendment, I should say that I shall be urging them to do the same in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill because I am going to do exactly the same there. I will be tabling this amendment again in the context of that Bill.
We are dealing here not with a theoretical issue but with real, pressing and acute situations and realities that affect the young and society as a whole. I hope I will be forgiven for drawing the attention of noble Lords to the horrific stories that have been coming from the island of Jersey recently. Jersey is not part of our immediate concern, but there are lessons to be learnt about what can go wrong and the vulnerability of young people.
However, it is not just Jersey. Let us look at ourselves. I picked up the newspaper only today and read that the Chief Inspector of Prisons is actually suggesting that Oakhill Secure Training Centre for young people should be temporarily closed because things have gone so badly wrong and because of what is happening to the young people held in that centre. I do not apologise for repeating what I said in Grand Committee and probably at Second Reading. Since 1990, some 30 children have died in custody, in the care of the state, the self-same state that has signed a convention which states that we have a responsibility for upholding and encouraging the well-being of young people. We have heard that 28 of these deaths were self-inflicted, one was a homicide and one was restraint related. Two of the most recent deaths were in privately-run secure training centres; all the others were in Prison Service accommodation in young offender institutions.
Relating back to the amendment we have just discussed, in the same period 201 young people aged 18 to 21 have died in custody, including 178 self-inflicted deaths and five homicides. I do not know how we can accept these figures; they are totally appalling in a country which regards itself as civilised. In this context, my amendment is designed to ensure that the young people are not destined to find themselves locked up in conditions which are not only counterproductive but dangerous for them.
I am, of course, the first to recognise that there is a need to protect the publicwe all know thisand that there are some young people who simply have to be detained because they are a threat, a danger, a hazard to the public. But if we really want to look to the interests of the public, the challengeand the greater the problem the greater the challengeis to see how we can get down immediately to a programme which is designed to enable these young people to become positive and responsible members of society as distinct from negative, destructive members of society.
This, of course, ties up with the ongoing continuity of responsibility of the local authorities and the rest, and this is what my amendment is designed to achieve. I have said this before in Grand Committeeand I know that the argument can come backbut you cannot say never, because if you say never there will always be exceptions and what are you going to do about the exceptions? The problem is that, unless you say never, there will always be a tendency for the exception to become the rule; it will be the easy option to send people off to the wrong kind of detention. At some point you have to say this is simply not going to happen and we are going to ensure that it does not.
Other countries have done that. Why cannot we do what others have done? Are we helpless? In terms of penal policy and their responsibility for young people, other countries have found that it makes sense economically and socially to ensure that where young people have to be detained they are invariably detained in special accommodation designed for such young people. We know that in prison too oftennot always, thank Godthe prevailing ethos is not going to be one which is conducive to rehabilitation and to enabling the young to become responsible citizens.
I have been over these arguments in more detail in Committee and the rest. I hope my noble friend will be able to say today that the Government are set on a course which will make amendments of this kind unnecessary. I beg to move.
It has been eight years since the Youth Justice Board took over responsibility for the way in which we lock up 3,000 children in custody in England and Wales. In 2000, the then Chief Inspector of Prisons, now the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who is in his place, recommended removing responsibility for juveniles from the Prison Service altogether and setting up a juvenile secure agency. This at the time was a step too
17 Mar 2008 : Column 117
Young offender institutions are, first and foremost, prisons. That is not surprising; the Prison Service is an organisation designed for adults, who are 96 per cent of its clientele, and young offender institutions holding juveniles are managed by area managers with generic responsibility for all prisons. Similarly, Prison Service staff are generally recruited for work in any prison. Inevitably, there is a much stronger emphasis on security, control and the prevention of escape than on child welfare. In October 2007 the Prison Officers Association called for the use of batons to be available in childrens prisons, a stark illustration of the cultural gulf between Prison Service culture and a child-centred welfare-based approach, as advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
The physical conditions in young offender institutions leave much to be desired. They are designed in a similar way to adult prisons, with children housed in small spartan cells. Again, the design of the buildings themselves is dominated by the need for security and the prevention of escape rather than meeting welfare needs.
It is the inescapable conclusion of any analysis of this sort of provision that while the provision of the majority of places for children lies within that adult-dominated organisation in the shape of the Prison Service, the radical change that is really required is simply not going to be possible. The latest Home Office statistics show that 76 per cent of children leaving custody in the first quarter of 2005 reoffended within a year. That is a depressing statistic, and it is more or less the same as the figure for 2000before the Youth Justice Board embarked on its reforming programme. It is clear to me, sadly, that custody, at least in the way it is currently provided, simply does not work in reducing reoffending, which of course is the Governments primary objective. We are continuing to waste huge amounts of public money on locking up children. About £281 million a year, which is 70 per cent of the Youth Justice Boards budget, is spent on custody. Unless radical reforms are implemented, there will be no change to this dismal state of affairs.
We have a new chair of the Youth Justice Board. Now that the Ministers department shares responsibility for children in custody, as it has become the Department for Children, Schools and Families, he has an opportunity to change the situation. To what can we look forward in the review of youth justice promised by the recently published childrens plan? This is an opportunity not to be squandered.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I have also put my name to the amendment, which in many ways, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has said, is complementary to mine. Like all noble Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the way he listens to points and takes them away. He has worked with us on the Bill so far as he is able. Here, however, I understand that he has come up against the stops; he is not responsible for the justice part of the partnership that we are all talking about.
I always hesitate to go back to this, but one of the things that frustrated me most when inspecting young offender establishments and secure training centres was that in place after place I came across examples of good practice by good staff who were doing what needed to be done because they understood the young people. What is missing from all this is someone who is responsible and accountable for turning that good practice into common practice. We do not need massive, radical change; we need to ensure that good practice is turned into common practice and that the experience of those who have been looking after young people is used properly.
The Prison Service is not the place to do that. The Youth Justice Board started off with huge support, because people felt that here at last was an organisation focused on the needs of a particular group and therefore able to exercise them. Somewhere along the way, that initial hope has been dissipated. I hope that the Bill and all the other legislation that is going through, rather than introduce something new, will rejuvenate that Youth Justice Board and its responsibility for young people and re-empower it to do what is right for them, becauseheavens aboveall the evidence has been produced in amendment after amendment to this Bill and others, and all the experience is there. Surely to goodness, we can be sensible enough to pick it up and run with it, rather than let it and the young people go by default.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, to repeat a phrase of my noble friend Lord Kingsland, we are most sympathetic to all the arguments deployed in support of the amendment by all those who have moved them or signed them.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, I wish I could reply so briefly. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Judd and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for their passionate commitment to improving the regime for those in custody, particularly young people. Underlying my noble friends concern is the long-term issue of the use of custody for children. I can best deal with it simply by reading to the House paragraph 6.69 of the recent childrens plan, which sets out our long-term ambitions in this area. It states that,
However, I shall deal with the here and now in respect of custody. There was a major change when the Youth Justice Board assumed responsibility for commissioning and purchasing secure places in April 2000. That was accompanied by the creation of a discrete secure estate for boys and a national placement system to enable optimum use to be made of the secure places available at any timemost crucially, enabling the more vulnerable young people to be placed in establishments suited to their needs.
Perhaps the biggest single achievement is the progressive development of a discrete estate for girls. Following a commitment in 1999 by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice, in his then role of Home Secretary, all 15 and 16 year-old girls were moved out of Prison Service accommodation by the end of 2003. That was a major step, but we followed it by developing five new special units for 17 year-old girls within the Prison Service estate but entirely separate from adults and young adults. The opening of the last of these facilities, at Foston Hall, Derbyshire in January last year, marked the completion of the separate girls estate. Inspection reports have repeatedly praised the work of the new units. They are clearly an important step towards creating the secure estate that we want to see.
However, progress has not stopped. The Youth Justice Board is now concentrating on its next priority for the secure estate, which is getting better provision for 15 and 16 year-old boys who are more vulnerable. A new unit is being developed at Wetherby young offender institution, which is due to open in October. My noble friend Lord Judd rightly reminded us of the need for vision. I believe that we are applying ourselves to a vision for the medium-term future in this area. In respect of ensuring that the quality of the criminal justice estates is better suited to the needs of the young people who are placed in custody, I hope that he will accept that we are at least taking some sensible steps forward.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, will the Minister clarify a little point about the proposals for the children plan in the review? Will it look at all options, including the radical one that was not accepted in 2000, when the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, suggested that childrens custody should be taken away from the Prison Service and given to a different organisation with a child-centred focus? Will it be that broad-minded?
Lord Judd: My Lords, the point just made by the noble Baroness is very important. I am sure that my noble friend would have all possible support if he were to pursue it with those who carry mainstream responsibility. It is not an abstract theory, but follows the example of some countries that have successfully taken that road.
I thank the Minister for his reply, to which I listened carefully. I also thank all the noble Lords who have associated themselves with and spoken to my amendment tonight. I am aware that it was a Duke from the other side of the Pennines from where I live who marched his troops to the top of the hill and then marched them down again. I am always determined to demonstrate from our side of the Pennines that we are made of tougher stuff. It seems that my noble friend has left certain doors ajar if not open. We should be working on that. I hope that when we are discussing these matters at Report stage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill we will get as positive and sensitive a response as we have had from my noble friend. That is terribly important.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|