Criminal Justice and Courts Bill — Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:22 pm on 30th June 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Stern Baroness Stern Crossbench 8:22 pm, 30th June 2014

My Lords, I shall concentrate my remarks on the proposal for the establishment of secure colleges. Before that, I turn briefly to the excellent comments made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who deserves huge admiration—he certainly gets that from me—for his determined pursuit of the issue of life-sentence prisoners and the overuse of that sentence. He suggested that I might have some figures about the use of life sentences in England and Wales, compared with other European countries. I would not wish to let him down, so here are the figures. Per 100,000 of the general population in 2012, the Netherlands had 0.18 life-sentence prisoners, France had 0.77, Sweden had 1.63 and Germany had 3.05. England and Wales had 13.57 without indeterminate sentences; with indeterminate sentences, they had 24.31. As I recollect, the noble and learned Lord and I have said in past debates that there is a peculiar addiction to indeterminate sentencing in England and Wales, and that seems to be continuing.

I now move on to secure colleges. I begin by putting this proposal in the context of youth justice policy. For many years, policy on children and young people in trouble for whom loss of liberty has been deemed to be appropriate has been marked by a range of experiments. These experiments, introduced by enthusiastic government Ministers of all parties, have an aura of “Now at last we’ve found the answer”. The treatment of adults in prison has barely changed in essence for a century, but the treatment of young people changes according to enthusiasms that can be very seductive at the time.

It may be that this happens because there is a strong feeling, which I share, that the number of young people involved in delinquency is so small, and the benefits of turning them from a life of crime so great, that an answer is well worth finding. It is thought that there must be something new that would work. A century ago, a small village in Kent called Borstal became widely known because reformers had the idea of putting young people in trouble with the law into an institution modelled in every way on a public school. The wings were called houses, the assistant governors were called housemasters and there was even a matron. The regime was intended to be kindly and reformative, with teachers, a lot of sport and good relationships between staff and prisoners. It was a seductive idea, which sounded as though it should have been successful. It was not successful, and borstals are no more.

Some noble Lords will remember the short, sharp shock, a detention centre regime announced in 1979 and designed to provide a firm, disciplined, semi-military regime. It was felt that it was a good way of helping an errant teenager turn his life around. It was seductive idea that sounded as though it might work, but the short, sharp shock detention centres faded away, and they are now a small note in history.

The Minister is now trying to seduce us with the idea of secure college for 12 to 17 year-olds, starting with a 320-bed establishment in Leicestershire where, according to Clause 29, the governor will be called the principal and the deputy governor will be called the deputy principal. This establishment will be like a school and will be staffed with by people with the values of education rather than the values of incarceration. Education is very important and a basic right. Young people should have it whether they are imprisoned or not. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is right that it is a very good thing if a young person in prison has certificates in maths around his walls. It is a pity that he will never be able to be a maths teacher because of his convictions and his record, but education is undoubtedly hugely beneficial.

Will the secure college produce the results dreamed of? I suggest to your Lordships that it would be wise not to be too easily seduced. We heard the Minister in his fine attempt to persuade the House of the merits of the Bill. I admire his skill in this respect, but he must have suspended disbelief when he had to argue that each custodial place for a young offender costs £100,000 a year, 70% of them go on to reoffend within 12 months and, therefore, we shall set up a secure college. That is a non sequitur. There is no logic whatever in proceeding from saying, “We spend a lot; when they come out they are convicted of another offence; the answer is to spend £85 million on an establishment in Leicestershire which will, in theory, have an educational ethos”.

I should add that the Minister did not say in this House, as the Lord Chancellor said in another place, that the cost per head per year will be £60,000 and that, according to the impact assessment, the aim is to,

“reduce the overall cost of youth custody, focusing in particular on driving down the cost of the most expensive provision”.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for the research he presented to us, making it clear that this proposal has no logic in terms of custodial places where they are needed and in what numbers—no logic at all.

Although we spend £100,000 a year, the reason why seven out of 10 of those on whom the money is spent are reconvicted is that the money is not spent well enough to affect the deep-seated damage that most of these children and young people have suffered in their young lives. The highly respected deputy children’s commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, told the Public Bill Committee on 11 March that in all her many visits to young people in custody, she had,

“never yet met a young person … who did not come from a very troubled environment, who did not need a lot of intense support and who did not need help in forming relationships”.—[ Official Report , Commons, Criminal Justice and Courts Bill Committee, 11/3/14; col. 6.]

She goes on to describe the best environment for such young people: a small environment where good relationships can be made between young people and staff. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, described exactly the sort of environment that is needed by describing to us her marvellous school where the children have to learn that they are valuable and worth something. I hope I have quoted her accurately.

This proposal takes us backwards. Thanks to the excellent work of the Youth Justice Board in recent years—I, too, warmly welcome the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and expect great things from him—the institutions have become somewhat more child-centred and based on good relationships. To be particularly applauded is the reduction in the numbers in custody.

Before I end, there is one more matter I must raise. In this debate, we must get on the record the names of Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt. At this point I must pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, whose work to draw attention to the ill treatment of children and young people in custody has been untiring and hugely effective. Few people may now remember Adam Rickwood, except perhaps a few lawyers, judges, experts in the care of children and, I hope, some Members of your Lordships’ House. He was 14 when he died, having, as a judge said,

“the mournful distinction of being the youngest person to die”,

in custody in the UK. He died after he had been restrained by four prison staff because he refused to go to his room and had had administered a blow to his nose—a technique in use at the time to regain control by inducing pain. He hanged himself with his shoelaces from a curtain rail. The outcome of Adam’s death was the revelation that force to restrain children held in secure training centres, with the addition of inflicting pain, was being used to get young people to obey orders contrary to the secure training centre rules. Eventually the courts ruled that using force to restrain young people to preserve good order and discipline was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Let me remind the House also of Gareth Myatt, a 15 year-old boy sent to custody in 2004 for the first time. He was small for his age—four feet and 10 inches tall, weighing six and a half stone. He was restrained because of a dispute over the cleaning of a toaster.

Three staff restrained him using force; he said he could not breathe. He became unconscious and died of asphyxia. That technique used by the staff was never used again. Following the deaths of these two children, it was some small consolation to their families that lawyers went to court and won their cases, and the methods of restraint were changed. It helps to think, after such an injustice, that at least this will not happen to someone else’s child.

I hope that the Minister has heard the contributions to this debate, about the use of force on children in detention and the need for stringent restrictions on its use. I look forward to making the Bill better in Committee.