Young Offenders (Deaths)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 10th October 2005.

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Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Labour, Vale of Clwyd 2:30 pm, 10th October 2005

How many children and young people have died in (a) prison, (b) young offender institutions, (c) secure training centres and (d) local authority secure children's homes in each of the past 15 years.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

In summary, the number of deaths between 1 January 1990 and 3 October 2005 of those aged 20 and under was 84 in prisons; 96 in young offender institutions; and two in secure training centres, the first of which opened in April 1998. Total figures in respect of local authority secure children's homes are not available. I shall provide the full detailed figures to my hon. Friend and place them in the House Library.

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Labour, Vale of Clwyd

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Joseph Scholes is one of the statistics that he has just quoted, and he was a 16-year-old boy from my constituency who committed suicide in a lonely prison cell in Stoke Heath prison. I have been working with his mother, Yvonne Scholes, for the past 18 months to highlight the issue, and I simply wish to relay the concern that she and others have that no parent should have to go through what she has been through. When will proper accommodation be made available for these young vulnerable people?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

First, may I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend in working on Mr. Scholes's tragic case, which he has been doing in the year and a half since the tragedy took place? My hon. Friend will be aware of the action being taken through the Sentencing Guidelines Council, the chief inspector of the social services inspectorate and the Youth Justice Board to try to ensure that similar deaths do not occur in the future. The Youth Justice Board's draft strategy was published in November 2004 as a consultation document reflecting the lessons from Joseph's case. That strategy has now been approved by Ministers and the full outcome will be published shortly. I hope that it will go at least some way to meeting the concerns that my hon. Friend has expressed.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I have a women's prison in my constituency. As the Home Secretary will know, some women give birth while serving a prison sentence, although their children are not born in prison. When he is giving answers to such questions in which statistics are produced about numbers of child deaths, will he assure us that infants who die due to medical tragedies that have absolutely nothing to do with prisons will be excluded from the political debate, or alternatively that such statistics will be marked with some asterisk to show that that was the case?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

As I said, I am putting full, detailed figures in the House of Commons Library. I shall ensure that specific reference is made to the concerns that the hon. Gentleman reasonably expresses.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Education & Skills Committee

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures are chilling, whichever way one tries to interpret them? Is he aware that the sensitivity of support for young people in prison must be examined? Has he read the report by the Education and Skills Committee on prison education, and how soon will we get a revolution in the way in which we meet the needs of young people in prison?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

The adjective "chilling" is a fair one to use, as my hon. Friend did. I have seen the report by his Select Committee. My colleagues and I have had detailed meetings with the Youth Justice Board to decide the best action to deal with the issues that he raises. I can commit the Government wholeheartedly to reducing the figures. The situation is a tragedy, so we will look at all possible sources, including his Select Committee's report, when deciding the best thing to do.

Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Shadow Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Home Affairs

But as well as these appalling deaths, is the Home Secretary aware that the number of children in secure centres who have self-harmed has doubled—last year the figure was 456? At the same time, 10 people working in such centres who should have been caring for those children have been dismissed for inappropriate action and sexual activity towards children and falsifying suicide watch figures? Is that not an appalling indictment of the way in which the Government are looking after children in such centres?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point. The truth is that we are considering immensely disturbed people with whom it is very difficult to deal in the most effective way, which was why I supported what my hon. Friend Mr. Sheerman said about the need to examine carefully evidence about the best way in which to proceed. I shall not join a witch hunt of specific members of staff who are dealing with difficult circumstances, but I am ready to acknowledge the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman's question and the need for us to be able to take steps to ensure that such tragedies are minimised.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the incidents of deaths are really the tip of the iceberg? Each of us who know constituents whose children have been sent to any of the four categories of institution reckon that the children will find it extremely difficult to have a decent and successful life afterwards. Will he consider setting up a committee to investigate the best way forward, with international comparisons, to deal with vulnerable children in such a way that we can reduce the impact for them and society?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I agree with my hon. Friend that the situation is the tip of a very frightening iceberg, but we are taking urgent action now. The Youth Justice Board is examining the matter in great detail and listening to advice, such as that from the Select Committee. I would be happy if anyone would like to offer positive proposals about the way in which we could better deal with the matter, but no one should walk away—I know that my hon. Friend does not—from the difficult and problematic issues that must be addressed.