The Government are committed to preventing offending by young people. We are working to place education at the heart of youth custody, and will open the first secure college pathfinder in 2017. We have announced the commencement of our stocktake of youth offending teams, to give us a better understanding of how local youth justice services are delivered and to help ensure that we provide the best support possible to young offenders and their communities.
As the hon. Lady knows, we will not be placing girls and young people under the age of 15 in the secure college when it starts, and those issues will be subject to a vote of both Houses of Parliament. At the moment we spend an average of £100,000 a year to keep a young person in custody, and we have a reoffending rate of 68%. We need to try something better, and putting education and skills at the heart of youth justice so that we turn young people into productive members of their community is the right way to go.
What plans does the Ministry of Justice have for alternative custody in the form of a secure residential drug treatment centre for young persons and adults? That could be piloted as an alternative for the future so that we can have better treatment in the longer term.
My hon. Friend is right to mention drugs in prisons as that issue is of great concern to the Ministry of Justice, not least because of new psychoactive substances that are getting into prisons. Our existing prisons have drug treatment programmes, and we are considering how we can continually improve and make that work more effective.
The Minister will know that many young people who become involved in offending have themselves been victims of crime—perhaps crimes that they have not disclosed such as sexual abuse. When did he last meet the children’s Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Timpson), to discuss that issue and consider how we can ensure that those young people, as victims, get the help that they deserve?
I reassure the hon. Lady that I am working closely with the children’s Minister and I have met him on a number of occasions, most recently last week. We are working closely together to address the issues that she has quite properly raised.
Not a single independent expert thinks that the future of our youth justice system should involve wasting £85 million on a flawed plan for a secure college, and Labour Members will not go ahead with that proposal. Will the Minister guarantee that the secure college contract will not be signed before the general election, so that we avoid saddling the taxpayer with a huge bill for an expensive, unnecessary prison?
The hon. Gentleman is not totally correct because the Youth Justice Board is a strong proponent of the secure college. Let me say what I said to Bridget Phillipson a moment ago: it is not as if what we are doing at the moment is a roaring success. We spend enormous amounts of public money to get very poor results, and it is right to look at education and skills. The matter has been considered in Parliament, as he knows, and we are on plan to sign contracts later this month.