Prisons: Child Suicides — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:54 pm on 29th July 2013.

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Photo of Lord Sheldon Lord Sheldon Labour 2:54 pm, 29th July 2013

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce the number of suicides of children in prisons.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, the Government are committed to reducing self-inflicted deaths of children in prison. Since the tragic deaths of three children in 2011-12, the National Offender Management Service has established a working group to extract and disseminate the learning to prevent further deaths. Additionally, a review of the assessment, care in custody and teamwork procedures for young people is being undertaken.

Photo of Lord Sheldon Lord Sheldon Labour

The actual task is down to the mothers. The mothers should really not take the children to prisons; that is the task.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

I am not sure how that links to the Question on the Order Paper. If the noble Lord is asking about mother and baby units, I can try to give an answer on that. However, the Question was about the number of suicides of children in prison. That is what I was responding to.

Photo of Lord Laming Lord Laming Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

Would the Minister agree that, no matter how serious the offences committed, or alleged to have been committed, by these young people, they are also often vulnerable young people who are confused and capable of serious self-destruction? Can the Minister expand on his earlier Answer to say what steps are taken to ensure that the assessment of risk is as strong as possible? Is he satisfied that prevention plays a key part in dealing with these young people?

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, first, we are talking about six deaths over 10 years; that is six too many, I readily acknowledge. We also now have an all-time low of young people in custody, for which both Administrations and those working in the youth justice system should take credit; there are fewer than 1,400 in custody, including only a handful of girls. However, the noble Lord is absolutely right that we are dealing with young people who, as well as often having a great capacity for violence against other people and self-harm, are extremely vulnerable and quite often exhibit mentally unstable behaviour. We are bringing in both initial and ongoing assessments to try to make sure that we can identify those who are at risk of either self-harm or, ultimately, of killing themselves. Looking at the briefing on this, an awful lot of hard work and deep study is going on, with the realisation of exactly the problem that the noble Lord highlights: these are vulnerable young people, who are difficult to manage and need a great deal of care and attention.

Photo of The Bishop of Guildford The Bishop of Guildford Bishop

Would the Minister care to comment, in the light of the reports of HM Inspectorate of Prisons of May this year on the increased violence at Ashfield and Feltham—it is 10 years to this month since the Commission for Racial Equality produced its report on Feltham—on the desirability of the elimination of the use of batons and routine strip searches in juvenile prisons?

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

Every inclination I have is in that direction. Carrying on the policy of the previous Administration, we have tried to make sure that order and discipline in young people’s institutions of various kinds are maintained with the minimum of physical intervention and with the maximum attention on trying to manage difficult situations. A lot of the training addresses how the staff themselves are able to manage down situations before they become violent. However, we also have a duty of care to our staff and a duty of care to other inmates in these institutions, who may become victims of uncontrolled violence.

Photo of Lord Patel of Bradford Lord Patel of Bradford Labour

My Lords, what mental health and therapeutic services are available not only to assess but to support young children and others at risk of suicide and self-harm?

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, the Department of Health has made a commitment to provide access to liaison and diversion services for offenders of all ages who come into contact with the youth justice and criminal justice systems by 2014. A national liaison and diversion development network has been created, bringing together 101 sites for adults and young people with the aim of aligning service provisions where appropriate, while recognising the different pathways required for different ages. There are 37 youth pathfinder sites in this operation. The sites screen young people under suspicion of committing an offence, whether in police custody suites or in custody, and this will be followed by a full health assessment capable of identifying a range of vulnerabilities. One of the good things that has been done in recent years is the introduction of real health and mental health testing in this area. Again, I freely acknowledge that it carries on work from the previous Administration.