My Lords, I will speak both to this amendment and Amendment 110. I know that I am up against a very strong three-line government Whip and, unlike the Minister, I am not a skilled advocate nor have I anything to do with party politics. If I were to be granted one wish before our deliberations, it would be that Part 2 should be removed completely from the party-political arena because it is not a matter of left or right politics—it concerns the future of some of the most damaged and vulnerable children in our society, which is a matter of national not electoral importance. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery I can do no better in relation to this group of amendments and the next than to slightly adapt the words of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew—of whose seminal review on the use of restraint and seclusion on detained children I was privileged to be a member—about an earlier amendment: that this is an issue on which all parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts, sitting on the political Benches should be entitled to and should exercise their consciences, reflecting that they are deciding on the treatment of children of the same age as those that they know and love; that is a very important responsibility.
I make no apology for quoting, yet again, the words of the then 36 year-old Home Secretary Winston Churchill, and ask the House whether it could imagine him making the proposal that is now before us. He said:
“We must not forget that when every material improvement has been effected in prisons, when the temperature has been rightly adjusted, when the proper food to maintain health and strength has been given, when the doctors, chaplains, and prison visitors have come and gone, the convict stands deprived of everything that a free man calls life. We must not forget that all these improvements, which are sometimes salves to our consciences, do not change that position. The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country … and proof of the living virtue in it”.—[Hansard, Commons, 20/7/1910; col. 1354].
In this case, for “convict” and “man”, read “child”. Stripped to its basics, the proposed secure college at Glen Parva is a cost-saving exercise based on presumed economies of scale on a site which had previous planning permission for a young offender institution. All the other assertions, beginning with education, healthcare and safety being at the heart of the design, are what Winston Churchill recognised as “salves to our consciences” dressed up as generalisations with which no one could possibly disagree. Of course no one could disagree with any intention to improve education, healthcare and safety from what I used all too often to find as Chief Inspector of Prisons, and which persists today largely because no one has been made responsible and accountable for making improvements.
However, when you look below these generalisations you find nothing of substance—no evidence of the hard thinking-through of the details of what such children need, or of whether it is possible that inexperienced private contractors can do more with less than that which experienced people from both public and private sectors have been trying desperately to do over the years, or of conformity on the very cramped site with the square metre standards laid down by the Education Funding Agency. The despair of good people trying to do more with inadequate resources was evident in a long article about suicide in the
Guardian on Saturday, quoting the governor of Glen Parva, bursting into tears when apologising to the mother of a seriously mentally ill young offender who had taken his own life, with the words:
“I’m trying, I’m really trying”.
Then there are the words of the governor at the children’s YOI at Werrington when I and my inspectors arrived for an unannounced inspection: “Thank God you’ve come”.
That says to me that it is not one part of the youth justice system that is in urgent need of reform. It is the whole system, as I have said before, beginning with diversion to ensure that those with mental health problems do not end up in custody, then improving community alternatives, then custody, and then transition from custody back into the community—ensuring that all parts are able to work together and are not prevented from doing so.
I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for mentioning healthcare. I am grateful, too, that the British Medical Association has allowed the comprehensive report Young Lives Behind Bars to be used in this debate. Quite rightly, the BMA is very concerned indeed about the well of psychiatric morbidity that these children present, and absolutely right to insist that what is done is appropriate for their needs. It is not appropriate merely to pass the buck to NHS England. I am quite certain that the adolescent mental health authorities in Leicestershire will not thank the Government for parking 320 seriously disturbed young children on their site, in addition to all the other things that they have to do, particularly with Glen Parva YOI next door.
I simply do not understand the argument about why children need to go there. I salute the noble Lord, Lord Marks, for his comprehensive Amendment 117B, not least because it highlights so many aspects of good and proven practice and expert advice, not to say common sense, with which the secure college seems to be in wilful defiance. There are currently only 48 children under 15 in custody, and not many of those are from the proposed catchment area for the secure college. There are only 45 girls in custody, of whom only four live in the catchment area. Bearing in mind that the Government have said that they will not dispense with all the secure children’s homes, which being smaller are much more suitable for children under 15, why do any children need to go to the secure college anyway? Their presence will make life more complicated for both education and custody providers, and there are enough places for them in the secure system anyway. When I saw in the recently issued consultation document Plans for Secure College Rules that no decisions had yet been taken about who would be accommodated in the secure college pathfinder at Glen Parva, I hoped that I might be pushing at a door that had not yet been finally closed. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure both this House and those who are bidding for the contract that this unnecessary complication will be removed.
I will conclude with a statement that I received from the head teacher of the Ian Mikardo High School, which received enormous praise both in the press and from Ofsted and which has received three outstanding reports. The fascinating thing about that school is that it has to deal with children 100% of whom have special educational and other needs. I contrast the record of the young offender institutions not just with the Ian Mikardo High School but with the Clayfields secure children’s home, which has a reconviction rate of 18% and a remarkable record of successful education and training.
The head teacher of the Ian Mikardo High School, Claire Lillis, who was formerly head of education and deputy governor at the Medway Secure Training Centre, wrote to me to express her extreme concern at the Justice Secretary’s plans to enable staff to forcibly restrain teenagers at the proposed children’s prison. However, she added that she was,
“equally appalled that the Department of Justice should regard locking up 320 vulnerable young people in a ‘secure college’ as a route to them having a positive and fulfilling future”.
All her 40 pupils, as I said, have statements of special educational need for social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, and she says that they,
“would be heading for prison at a young age were it not for this provision”.
In addition to their special educational and further complex needs, 97% were school non-attenders, 94% are known to child and adolescent mental health services, 12% are on the child protection register, and 31% are children in need. That is a worse record than is forecast for the secure college.
I will read three more quotes from her letter; first:
“Thanks to dealing with conflict through talking, developing healthy relationships and ensuring that staff do not use restraint, attendance of students, initially surprised by this approach, but now feeling safe and secure, is 90% plus, 96% going on to college, training or paid work”; secondly:
“There is something inherently wrong about using force for compliance. The Ministry of Justice is only reinforcing young people’s view that the world is a dangerous and scary place, in which they are regarded as unworthy and untrustworthy”; and finally:
“In my experience children who are regarded as hardened criminals are invariably fragile and frightened, and I question whether it is appropriate to use adult prison companies for this highly specialised work. If children are so at risk that they need to be in a secure environment, then we need to support them using specialist staff working in a therapeutic, caring, nurturing way. Otherwise we will turn out children who have lost their dignity and their identity and who are more angry, more detached and more criminally intent”.
I think noble Lords might like to reflect on those words and some of the key facts about the Ian Mikardo High School. There are 10 teachers and 12 teaching assistants for the 40 boys, plus a parent engagement officer and two psychotherapists, one for the boys and one for the staff. Has the Secretary of State considered the strain on staff who would have to look after 320 difficult, challenged and vulnerable children in one confined space? Each place at the Ian Mikardo school costs about £38,000 a year; that is, of course, minus custody costs. I believe that the principal reason for its success is that the head teacher, armed with her experience of looking after similar children in the criminal justice system, planned, staffed and costed her reforms in great detail—including the banning of restraint, which she has pursued consistently—with the help of carefully selected and properly supported staff. I regret that I see no evidence that anything like that—which I think is absolutely essential—applies to the plans for the proposed secure college.