Criminal Justice: Children

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons on 5th February 2019.

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Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (International Trade)

What steps he has taken to reduce the number of children in the criminal justice system.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

As far as possible, we believe that children should be diverted from the criminal justice system through liaison and diversion services. A custodial sentence should be used only as a last resort. As we have seen over the past 10 years, the number of children entering the criminal justice system has fallen by 86%, with the number getting custodial sentences falling equally dramatically.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (International Trade)

According to the latest research, between 40,000 and 120,000 children are born every year with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Those with FASD often do not understand consequences, so will the Minister look at the special courts that have been set up in Canada, designed to reduce reoffending by helping those with FASD to understand the consequences of their actions?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. If he writes to me with more details, I will be happy to look at the matter.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire

As well as the importance of employment opportunities for ex-offenders, does the Minister agree that the provision of affordable housing for former prisoners is a significant factor in preventing reoffending, and will he outline what steps he is taking on this?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

No, no, not now. The hon. Gentleman can work up his question while the Minister is responding to the hon. Lady. [Interruption.] No, no, I am giving him preparation time; he should be thanking me.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend Mrs Latham makes an important point about the importance of stable accommodation, which can play a key part in reducing reoffending and giving people the opportunity to get their life back on the right track. We are working with partners across the Government, local authorities and others to ensure that the system works for those people.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

You are most kind, Mr Speaker. Given that the latest report published shows the lowest reoffending rate in the 12-year time series for which data is available, will the Minister outline the correlation between training and education in prison, and employment and a clean slate? Will he also give us the most recent reoffending rates for those who have gained qualifications while in prison?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Reducing reoffending is a key goal of the prison system, as we set out in the White Paper. Plans such as the New Futures Network show that we are serious about this. Research published by the Ministry of Justice last year showed that prisoners who have undertaken learning activity have a significantly lower reoffending rate on release than their peers, with a one-year proven reoffending rate that is 7.5 percentage points lower. Offenders who found P45 employment in the year after leaving prison had one-year reoffending rates that were six to nine percentage points lower than similar offenders who did not find employment.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice)

While the total number of children in prison has declined over the years, the number of black and minority ethnic children in the prison system has remained static. How can the Lord Chancellor reassure BME communities that their children are not being disproportionately targeted?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The shadow Minister makes an important point, building on the point made earlier by Mr Lammy. I am concerned about the black, Asian and minority ethnic people in custody. As the Lord Chancellor has said, we take this matter very seriously. This runs through our response to the Lammy review and the race disproportionality work that we undertake in the Department. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady on this topic, if she would like me to.