[Sir Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]
CJ&I 231 Youth Justice Board
CJ&I 211 Ian Bensted
CJ&I 212 Jim Fear
CJ&I 215 John Humphrey
CJ&I 220 Cilla Long
CJ&I 223 Maria Adams
CJ&I 225 Mark Withers
CJ&I 227 Tony Bond
CJ&I 229 Rev Nicholas Sykes
CJ&I 238 Damian Selby
CJ&I 239 Eunice Reid
CJ&I 240 Itunu Oluremilekun
CJ&I 245 Stephen Watt
CJ&I 257 LC MacCabe
CJ&I 258 Rosemary A Luff
CJ&I 260 SM Parker
CJ&I 263 Ian M LaRiviere
CJ&I 265 Ms LS Nollard
CJ&I 268 Joanna Brown
CJ&I 269 John Morgan
CJ&I 272 Christian Council of Britain
CJ&I 274 John Rawding
CJ&I 301 John Etherton
I beg to move,
That the Order of the Committee [16th October] be amended by the substitution of the following Table for the table referred to in paragraph (2) of that Order—
Thursday 18th October
Until no later than 10.25 a.m.
Youth Justice Board; Children’s Society
Thursday 18th October
Until no later than 1.40 p.m.
Prison and Probation Ombudsman
Thursday 18th October
Until no later than 2.40 p.m.
Thursday 18th October
Until no later than 3.45 p.m.
Local Government Association
Thursday 18th October
Until no later than 4.30 p.m.
As I indicated on Tuesday, and following discussion through the usual channels, I am happy to accommodate the submissions from the Evangelical Alliance and to add their representatives to the list of witnesses. The amendment which the Committee approved on Tuesday does exactly that and extends the session this afternoon from 4 o’clock to half-past 4, to allow the Evangelical Alliance to present evidence to the Committee. I hope that that is acceptable to the Committee.
I understand that it is again a long session of some three and a half hours and I believe that you, Sir Nicholas, may use discretion, should you so wish, to allow a short suspension of the Committee, if it seems appropriate. I hope that the efforts of “the usual channels” and the Evangelical Alliance’s preparedness to present evidence this afternoon is acceptable to hon. Members, and I commend the motion to the Committee.
This morning we will hear evidence from representatives of the Youth Justice Board and the Children’s Society. Our witnesses are very welcome to the meeting. As you know, this is a new procedure for the House of Commons, but I believe that it will be helpful in dealing with legislation and, therefore, we will welcome the evidence that you give us today. Please introduce yourselves to the Committee.
Graham Robb: We broadly welcome the Bill. The starting point for the Youth Justice Board is that you look at the whole child. Children have multiple needs and it looks as though the generic order allows courts to deal with those multiple needs, as long as it is based adequately on clear identification through the assessment routine that youth offending teams use, and as long as the pre-sentence report guidance from youth offending teams to sentencers is sufficiently robust and clearly required by the Bill. We are broadly content that the Bill provides opportunities to meet the needs of youngsters in a more flexible way.
Are you able to tell us—I address this question to both sets of witnesses so feel free to interrupt—your opinion about whether the Bill is likely to result in more children and young people going into custody?
Graham Robb: Our assessment is that it looks as though there will be a modest reduction, but that takes into account the provisions in the Bill for other developments in the criminal justice field—policing strategy and so on. It looks as though there will be a modest reduction in the under-18 numbers. That will depend on, for example, the way in which local authorities take up the intensive fostering opportunities and the other alternatives to custody, but a key element in that take-up will be the funding that is available at the local level.
While we are on the matter of intensive fostering, you will notice that the schedule dealing with the availability of these answers to the cases that will be imposed upon youth courts states that such solutions will not happen unless the Secretary of State certifies that a particular resource is available. This may look nice on paper, but how do you anticipate it working in practice?
Graham Robb: On intensive fostering, a lot of local authorities are interested in intensive fostering and they may make a local decision that that is the route that they want to take. We have been supporting a pilot on intensive fostering for three years, and the early results are encouraging in terms of the reducing re-offending outcome, but we know that there are issues with sustaining its development at local and national levels.
One of the real issues that emerges, which may be something for the Children’s Society to deal with, is that we already know that 27 per cent. of people currently in custody, both adults and young offenders, have been through the care system. I am concerned that compulsory fostering, which some have described as the nationalisation of children, could amount to a further catalyst towards keeping people within the criminal justice system and instead of getting them out of trouble, persuading them to stay in trouble. Is that a fear that we need to concern ourselves with or is it an exaggeration?
Bob Reitemeier: Are we confident that the Bill will lead to a decrease in custody, leading to the intensive nature of intervention? We want to stress to the Committee that we must look at the Bill in the context of the current political opportunity, in which there is joint accountability for youth justice by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Ministry of Justice. For that opportunity to be made real in a way that changes custody levels, the courts and the youth justice system must work closely and formally with the social services and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, through the children’s services directorates at local authority level. We should not anticipate a decrease in custody levels unless the youth justice system takes into account the welfare and the well-being of children in its determination of sentences and orders. That must take effect.
With regard to intensive fostering, I would focus on the word “intensive.” We all seek to change the behaviour of these young people and to reintegrate them into society in a productive way, and we know that that requires intensive engagement. Whether that is fostering or an intensive relationship through another order, such as an intensive supervision and surveillance programme, the intensive nature of treatment for prolific offenders—people with significant welfare and well-being needs—must be part of the system. If we do it properly, we will have an opportunity significantly to decrease the numbers of young people in custody.
Do you not think that one of the problems that many of you are concerned with, both as members of the Youth Justice Board and as directors of the Children’s Society, is that these young teenagers—we are predominantly talking about young teenagers—are the children of very young parents? Obviously, to me both the children and the parents seem quite young. By taking children away from their parents, albeit young parents or parents who may not live very organised lives, are you not increasing the irresponsibility—I mean that not in a pejorative sense, but as a factual description—of parents for their children? Surely we should try to encourage parents to take responsibility for their children rather than passing those children over to the state.
I am not impugning the motives of people who work for local authorities and deal with the care of children, but is it not clear that the state, in whichever guise you care to describe it, is not the best parent? We can see that from the 27 per cent. of children who end up in custody.
Brendan Finegan: You make a fair point. The intensive fostering element is built upon the presumption that children will return to their families. If a young person’s offending is caused by the nature of their family circumstances, the content of the order effectively gives them some time out and requires them to live with a set of trained and specialist adolescent foster parents. That is supported by a daily activity programme that helps the person to adjust, meets their needs and reduces their likely harm to the community.
Importantly, and I stress this for the Committee, it also engages the family. It is a whole family solution. It may appear that we are taking the child out of poor circumstances and replacing those with the state, but the intention is for the state to work with the child and its family to repair the harm, fix the issues and reduce the likelihood of reoffending. It is a holistic system that requires regular contact by the child and the family with trained and specific adolescent foster parents together with a team of support workers.
Are you confident that the Government and people such as yourselves are keen that this should work? Are there resources available to make it work? I return to my earlier question—this looks nice on paper, but we know that the probation service is under tremendous strain. I accept that the Offender Management Act 2007 may outsource other levels of supervision, but we are talking about money and people. This sort of activity is incredibly resource intensive.
Brendan Finegan: As Bob Reitemeier has already said, this is an opportunity to place emerging activities at a local level between children’s services and youth justice. It will allow them to work together to tackle the most troubled and troublesome young people and families in their community. The issue of resources is tricky, but we already have measures for that in the Act and we will encourage local areas to decide how to spend their resources in the best way. For the children in some cases, we would advocate just such an intensive fostering order as being the best way to invest that money.
We are talking with our colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families who are running a similar fostering model for young people who are looked after. All too often, looked-after children are youth offenders. We think that there are opportunities to join with initiatives such as those used by the Department for Children, Schools and Families to extend the range.
We are having conversations about extending the range at a national level, but we also know that at a local level, choices can be made about how to make the best investment. One option that we are proposing is that children’s services and youth offending teams could work together to invest their current spend in families that are problematic. The evidence from the United States, from which this research is developed, is very promising on crime and other social policy aspects.
Simon Hickson: About £280 million a year is spent on sending children into custody. A custodial sentence of a year, even if only six months is spent in custody, can cost nearly £100,000. From our perspective, there is a crucial need to look at the criteria for custody and the Bill presents an opportunity to do so. There is an opportunity to move to something of a virtuous circle, by tightening the criteria for custody and using the intensive supervision and surveillance programme or ISS order, as we would like to see it, and the higher intensity measures as community options.
My county of Leicestershire saw a terrible event, fortunately some time ago now, in which a person who ran children’s homes was convicted of serious crimes. He subsequently died in prison. Other inquiries have been conducted as a consequence of young children being injured or killed by their foster parents. You know their names better than I.
What modelling have either of you done to see whether there are available resources to do this fostering work, not just in terms of money, but the right sort of people? If we get this wrong, it will cause more problems than we intend to solve. I am interested in whether you think that there is a collection of available foster parents who are not just kind and humane and will look after, feed and clothe the children in their care, but who have the expertise to deal with what are obviously very troubled and difficult young people.
Ellie Roy: We must bear in mind that this model is a very specific way of working with foster parents and children. It provides training for the foster parents and gives them a lot of ongoing support. You are right that it takes a very special type of person to do this, but unless they get the right support and assistance it can become too difficult, even for special people. This model is rigorous in its selection processes, so you do get the right people, but it also offers the right amount of support, advice and ongoing work. For people who have been involved in it, it is very satisfying because you see changes. The emerging findings look quite promising and replicate what we see in the American studies.
Presumably the foster parents will be entitled to some form of Government funding to assist them with their additional duties. Is it your understanding that the money to fund the fostering arrangements will come out of the Youth Justice Board budget, the central Government budget or the local authority budget? I ask this—it is not a party political point—because historically Governments are good at imposing duties on local authorities but not at sending money along the tunnel to enable them to pay for it. So you get at county hall or borough hall the age old argument: how are we going to pay for this and what will be cut in order to achieve one or more, no doubt entirely admirable, public policy aims? Where is this money coming from that is going to make this work?
Ellie Roy: The starting point for this is that a lot of money is being spent on these young people anyway, through various parts of the system, whether it is on care, social work or various services. This looks as if it is a more effective way of spending some of that resource to get much better results. If we manage to reduce the numbers in custody, the Youth Justice Board would be able to invest more of the money that we currently spend on custody. Simon Hickson quoted the amount for custody. In some sectors it is much higher than that. Some of the beds that we pay for cost up to £200,000 a year. A lot of money is being spent anyway, particularly on the secure children’s homes. There are issues about how local authorities identify the children who are most in need and who are already costing a lot of money, and how they spend the money that is already being invested in them. There is also for us a challenge in terms of getting kids out of custody so that we can spend the money spent on custody in other ways.
Bob Reitemeier: I should like to encourage the Committee to take a long-term view in addressing this question of finances. Reoffending rates hover between 75 and 80 per cent. for offenders who go to custody. It is not just, as Simon Hickson pointed out, £100,000 a year, because you multiply that every time the young person comes back into the system. So what some of the interventions, such as intensive fostering or intensive engagement with young people, are trying to combat is the reoffending rate. It is working in a way that prevents these young people from coming back into the system. So when you look at finances and the long term, it sounds crude, but it is pay now or pay later, or pay now or continue to pay. We need to take a long-term view of that.
On intensive fostering, you said that we need the right people with both the right approach and the right skills, and I completely agree. Our evidence, over many years of the Children’s Society, is that the most important factor that changes a young person’s behaviour is a relationship. Without that relationship, we have little chance of making headway. It is not just intensive fostering. Working with children’s services and working with the voluntary sector in other ways, we can establish those relationships.
But again, I would remind you of the point that you made at the very beginning: in custody you are looking at a very significant percentage of young people who have been in the care system, so the state had already made what is one of the most important decisions it could ever make, which is to separate that child from the family. Once they are in custody and once they leave the youth justice system, if they go back into an environment that brought them there in the first place, we have little chance of changing their behaviour. So we need to look at those relationships. The thing that young people tell us is that they when they finally come across someone who actually cares whether they succeed or fail it makes all the difference in the world. Unfortunately they do not get that until we engage with this intensive relationship building much later in their life.
I entirely support your view that such a programme in working order is better than custody. The evidence is abundantly clear that that is so. I still have a concern—I think this is the point that Mr. Garnier was making—about whether there is a reasonable expectation that local authorities across the country will meet the demands on the other elements of the rehabilitation order. Do you really believe that in a couple of years’ time every court will have these various disposals available to it?
Bob Reitemeier: I will start to answer the question and Simon Hickson may want to come in. Let us consider the court system specifically in respect of the Bill and make sure that the amendments specify that the court brings in children’s services formally as part of the process, so that children’s services will have no choice but to provide an assessment of the young person’s needs and welfare needs. That will provide an opportunity to make the process work in practice and, in a couple of years, we should see a difference.
Bob Reitemeier: Yes, there should a duty to ensure before sentencing that children’s services are brought in and that an assessment is made. It would include the work of the youth offending teams—YOTs—which is part of the youth justice system. It can all be brought together. If we can put into practice that, following that determination made by the youth justice system in whatever capacity, there are follow-up reports about what happened, it will give the courts and magistrates confidence that these types of interventions actually do work. There is a missing link in that there is not a follow-up report.
Simon Hickson: We are looking for a balance. We are not arguing that the courts should take over welfare functions. There is a separate system: local authorities are responsible, and there are family courts. The key is to have lines of information and accountability at the point when the courts are considering a serious sentence, particularly custody, but also community services. We would like to see examination in the Bill of how the right information can be given to courts so that they can make informed decisions and there is some element of accountability and explanation by local authorities in respect of what they have looked at, such as the risks that have been examined and the services that they could provide.
Not looking at the new orders, but the existing orders, in the experience of representatives of the Youth Justice Board, do courts at present have available the different disposals that they would want to use throughout the country—or is it patchy, as I suspect?
Brendan Finegan: In the current provision, parenting orders, for example, are now broadly and nationally available to each court and all youth offending teams. It would be wrong of me to suggest that it was available from the first moment that parenting orders commenced. There has been a growth over time of such a process. That is how we would approach intensive fostering. As Ellie said, it will be as much a matter of choosing to make different allocation decisions locally and growing the process around intensive fostering as a matter of replacing one old behaviour with a new behaviour. Fostering, as a standard product, is currently available within legislation.
Brendan Finegan: The testing requirement is being piloted, I believe, and it will be evaluated. The treatment provision will be dependent on the local drug action team and primary care trust provision of services for managing substance misuse. Drug treatment will be available, depending on the different level in different areas of drug testing.
Brendan Finegan: But young people have different needs at different times, and different areas will have populations that require different provision. We would not be looking for an individual and exact provision in every local authority because the nature of problems will be different in each area. The growth and emergence of services are dependent on the population the area serves, as opposed to the desire to solve a problem. In relation to drug treatment, an area with high class A opiate use will have a different service from an area that has cannabis or alcohol use.
I simply do not accept that. All the evidence shows that class A drugs are available right across the country. You are saying that a child in Somerset with a class A drug abuse problem does not have the same rights as a child in Lambeth. That does not seem right to me.
That would be helpful. May I just move very quickly, Sir Nicholas, to a wider issue about the youth rehabilitation order? The YRO puts together a lot of different elements. Is there any concern that that will engender tariff inflation from the bench—that there will be a suspicion that the resulting order will be out of proportion to the offence that is under consideration?
Graham Robb: It is one of the concerns that we had. Our work with magistrates last year and other sentences says to us that the key issue here is about the training and sentencing guidelines that go alongside the Bill, to make clear the tariffs and support that are available to the young person. The feedback that we had from sentencers was that they want to know that the best resources are available to support the individual young person that they are dealing with. Therefore, we have to ensure that youth offending teams have the right assessment tools and the right support agencies to deliver those support mechanisms. I will ask Ellie to talk about the practicalities.
Ellie Roy: Graham Robb has already talked about some of the mechanisms that will safeguard the processes here. I think that what is crucial is the advice of the youth offending team to courts. We know that courts depend on the youth offending team for advice on how they can begin to address, and decide what should happen to, a young person who appears before them. That advice will continue to be crucial.
I think that the YRO allows the courts to look at a young person at a point in time and say, “These are the needs. If the young person arrives again, then it is for the YOT to say whether the deterioration in behaviour has been so far that custody is the only alternative, or indeed whether there are other things that need to be done with this young person.” Certainly, we know that with young people you have to continue over a long period to work on their issues and problems and to encourage them to change their behaviour.
Therefore, with the sentencing guidance and advice, with the guidance that will go to YOTs and with the relationship that YOTs have with courts and the advice that they can give to them, I would be confident that there should not be sentence inflation. Indeed, in the Youth Justice Board, one of our central tenets is that we should not lock up any child who does not absolutely have to be in custody. If we thought that there was any risk of that happening, we would not have supported the Bill coming forward in the way that it has, and the YRO.
May I ask one more question, Sir Nicholas? I know that Mr. Burrowes, my colleague, will want to pursue that matter.
The YRO is now really quite a serious disposal short of custody. A rehabilitation order has a lot of elements and places quite a lot of demands on a young person. Given that, should that young person have representation by right? I see Mr. Reitemeier nodding.
I have one brief question about the YRO. Do you regret the absence of an alcohol treatment requirement from that package? My main question is in relation to part 2 of the Bill, which is on sentencing, and the proposal to extend referral. We heard from the Magistrates Association that referrals have not proved effective penalties for young people committing serious crimes, and I would be very interested in your view about the proposal to extend them.
Graham Robb: If I can pick up on the alcohol issue first, we are clear that youngsters come in front of the courts for a whole range of substance misuse misdemeanours, and some of those start off with solvent misuse at school or in the community, and so on. We are in favour of a wider description of substance misuse, which picks up both the issue of drugs and alcohol, and other emerging practices over the years.
Bob Reitemeier: If the Bill were to make it an obligation that the court formally notify the local authority and ask it to make a section 47 investigation, looking at the need for safeguarding the welfare of the young person, the alcohol treatment need or any other kind of treatment need could be identified and addressed during that process. I would encourage the Committee to consider a section 47 notification as a duty as part of this Bill.
Brendan Finegan: The Bill in its current shape probably does not allow us to have that alcohol treatment order. We would support the addition of an alcohol treatment element. Graham’s view was that the board’s approach to substance misuse and the misuse of substances, whether licit or illicit, is that we would wrap them up in a general concept of substance misuse, so that misuse of tobacco as much as misuse of proscribed drugs can be wrapped together. In terms of the Bill itself, we accept that an amendment for alcohol would allow that problem to be tackled.
Brendan Finegan: May I take the opportunity to answer the second part of that question regarding referral orders? You may be aware that the referral order is the volume order of the youth court; it accounts for the largest number of the orders made. It also has the greatest success rate in reducing reoffending, so the board takes great comfort from that process. We cannot see evidence from our custodial figures that serious offences are being transferred directly into custody and adding pressure to it.
In conversation with the Magistrates Association and others we have also advised that the referral order should contain a contract that includes levels of contact and requirements to attend a variety of processes that look awfully like an intensive surveillance and supervision programme; those elements would be placed within it. The only absence would be an electronic monitoring requirement. We think the referral order could provide the robust types of contract which would meet the concerns of the Magistrates Association, and that is our advice to youth offending teams, whom we consulted on this matter.
On a point of clarification for us, have you seen a copy of the amendment paper, which is a public document? Mr. Garnier referred to amendment No. 106; it would be worth your looking at it, so that in a moment or two, when Mr. Hurd has finished his questions, you might comment with more knowledge on whether you would be sympathetic to its content. Mr. Hurd?
I want to pick up on the point about referral orders and the question whether magistrates need to have more discretion to take a view on the more serious offences and on whether to impose a non-custodial option, rather than going from a referral order to custody. Is not the concern also that there are those categories of offence, even though they may be a first offence, where a diversion—that is what we hope a referral order will be—is not appropriate? The advantage of a robust community disposal, which may ensure that a person does not reoffend, is also that they will have a criminal record of a conviction rather than the referral and diversion from the system which is warranted by less serious offences.
Brendan Finegan: As I understand it, the referral order becomes spent on completion, which we are positive about. Other elements within the Bill that we would support are those regarding the use of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 in relation to children under 18, particularly for reprimands and final warnings.
In terms of the referral order activity, there is a proposal to allow the court to put in place discharges and other actions to deal with exactly those low-level offences on first-time pleas of guilt, so that young people can be diverted through court action. It is not only the referral order or custody that is considered, but the ability to make a discharge for low-level offences.
We heard about the dilemma when the magistrates court is presented with a relatively less serious—although still serious—matter of robbery, which they do not feel it appropriate to deal with by way of a referral order because it could lead to the conviction being spent. However, they do not want to go up to a custodial option; they want a robust community disposal that also retains the element of a conviction from the court that will not be spent.
As a practitioner in youth courts, the dilemma is often that you know that an offender will likely receive a custodial sentence, because magistrates do not want to see them get off by way of a referral order that would be spent, so they ratchet it up into the custodial system.
Picking up on the discussions about the availability of drugs and alcohol, a common concern is that young people, particularly if they have problem with drugs and alcohol, receive treatment immediately. Whether in the Bill or generally, do you know of an approach that could lead to a more immediate disposal in terms of referral to drug or alcohol treatment, whether through more availability of youth drug courts or more immediate treatment? To back up that point, there is a concern that referral orders do not necessarily lead to immediate action and activity, and that there is a time lag before they receive that rehabilitative assistance.
Brendan Finegan: I think that there is a consideration regarding the requirements of the referral order being fair in that process. In terms of a young person’s first appearance and pleading guilty, we would expect youth offending teams to work with the panels and the courts to build a contract. Our current view is that the referral order allows for that contract to be built. That differentiates it and other community orders.
The willingness of a young person and their family to engage with services is somewhat constrained by the ability of local partners to meet the requirement for those services immediately, but that does not stop the referral order contract from saying that those services ought to be engaged with. Our advice to youth offending teams is that they will work with their local partners to ensure that those services are delivered. Part of the arrangement through youth offending teams and their multi-agency partnership in the local area is to meet the requirements of court orders.
Simon Hickson: Yes. I should like to add one or two points on referral orders. It is absolutely right to say that sometimes it takes a while for the referral order to bite, but that is because of the underlying problems in the young people’s lives. They may be sofa surfing, on drugs or whatever. It can be quite difficult to get a contract working quickly. Nevertheless, as Brendan said, the overall evidence in terms of the reconviction rates—that is the ultimate benchmark—is actually very good. It is by far the best of all the court disposals, lower tier and higher tier.
We should like to see a bit more flexibility in the use of the referral order. We would like, first of all, to see the option to extend it by three months where the process of restoration has kicked in, but a bit late. We would also like to see discretion, if a youth offending team has recommended it, to have a second one where the circumstances are different.
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 was mentioned. We would also argue that, for minor and non-repetitive offences, there should be a cut-off at the age of 18: a fresh start for the young person. We have proposals that, in a slightly different way, would deal with the question of things getting into somebody’s record.
On the discussions over the hierarchy within the youth rehabilitation order, it is conceded, is it not, that the requirements vary in their robustness and, essentially, their severity and would perhaps be treated by the court in that manner, so there is a hierarchy within the order. Why then, in your evidence, does the Youth Justice Board make the point that it is important to have the reparation order separate from the rehabilitation order, and to have that hierarchy, if there is indeed a hierarchy inbuilt within the rehabilitation order? In one sense, that hierarchy has already gone by the removal and attendance centre order through to a supervision order. I do not see the logic of that argument.
Brendan Finegan: The level of the hierarchy is critical for those young people who may not need the continued supervision—the superstructure of the youth rehabilitation order—in terms of continued community action. We wish to continue to allow a reparation order to sit alongside the referral. There may be occasions when young people are required to do between 12 and 20 hours of work, and when the court feels that that would complete their whole repayment back to society and make amends to the victim. We have added through the activity requirement the ability of the youth rehabilitation order to add reparation within that order as well. It has become a tiered approach to referral orders for first-time guilty pleas with those contacts; the opportunity for reparation order for somebody who may not need continuing contact—and needs just to pay back those hours of work and contribution to their community—is necessary; and then the youth rehabilitation order, which again is tiered to ensure that we deliver a robust response to the risks that they pose to the community, and also to their needs. Within that there will be an element of reparation.
Bob Reitemeier: The question of hierarchy is a very important one. We would like the Committee to consider that, in terms of hierarchy, it would be beneficial to have a separate intensive supervision and surveillance sentence—an ISS programme—standing above the youth rehabilitation order, so that, in principle, custody is a last resort, which is already enshrined in legislation. We would argue that that is not witnessed in practice. That would be one way in which that would be very beneficial. For an individual support order sentence to be put in place, we would say equally that a detention and training order should not be considered unless an ISSP has already been considered.
Bob Reitemeier: In terms of the hierarchy, the point that we have been trying to make is that there far too many young people in custody already. Custody does not work in terms of re-offending statistics, so we must consider that piece of the hierarchy where people would have to go through an ISS programme before getting to a detention and training order.
Simon Hickson: The present ISSP scheme is not statutory; it has been built up within other community sentences, and there is no barrier to a court moving straight to custody if it thinks fit. It is also the case that, at the moment, IS is sometimes used where actually another community sentence ought to have been used. That is not very desirable in terms of resources. We are arguing that the Bill should be a lot clearer about the status of the ISS scheme—because it is a bigger, much more intensive disposal anyway—and that there should be much clearer criteria pointing away from custody unless it has been used.
Part 5 deals with the alternatives to prosecution and the youth conditional cautioning approach. What involvement do you envisage for the youth offending team, and how encompassing will those conditions be in terms of rehabilitation?
Graham Robb: We feel it is critical that the youth offending team should be involved in the assessment process on youth conditional cautions. As I said at the beginning, this is about detection, then assessment, then interventions. The youth conditional caution, in our view, should have a clear requirement for the involvement of the youth offending team in that assessment process.
Arising from one of the answers that you gave a moment ago about the number of hours of work that can be imposed upon young people, do you think that the Bill has the range of hours that can be imposed about right, or do you think that it should be left entirely to the discretion of the court? If it thinks that more than the maximum, or some other disposal, is the right answer, should the court have that power?
Bob Reitemeier: The main issue for us, which was raised earlier in the question of the consequences of ratcheting up the system, is that there should not be an overload of orders within a YRO. The reality of the age group about which we are talking is that they find it difficult to comprehend and to work with a large number of different implications on their behaviour and their activity.
Linked to that is what happens when an order is breached. Obviously, the more activities that are involved in an order—
Brendan Finegan: We had also hoped that the Sentencing Guidelines Council would give clear guidance on the number of requirements in sentences. As you will know, the Youth Justice Board will be proposing in its advice to youth offending teams to limit the requirements to those that are most effective and most likely to succeed, so that we reduce the danger of making young people fail. It is not in our or the community’s interests for young people to become disengaged from work that will help them to change their behaviour.
I sit as a recorder. I sentence and try people over the age of 18. I have no experience of the youth courts, unlike David Burrowes. One of the problems I find with sentencing offenders to community sentences, particularly if they are utterly disorganised people, addicted to some noxious substance or other, is that they have no understanding of how to run an organised life. You say, “Turn up and meet your probation office at such and such a time,” but they do not “do” telling the time. They do not “do” Monday, Wednesday or Tuesday. They only “do” light and dark, asleep and awake. [ Interruption. ] It is not a frivolous point, I can assure you. Those are the sort of people that the courts are dealing with.
Too often, Members of Parliament know nothing about what goes on in the courts. That may be true of Ministers too, I do not know. Too often, we pass laws that look wonderful on paper, as I said earlier, but we fail to understand the category of person that comes through the courts in industrial quantities. It is important that, when we create those long menus of sentences, we understand how they are supposed to be used, not only by the court and the supervisors, but by the offenders. It is important that we hear from you, as hugely experienced people, how the sentences are likely to work with the sort of children and young people that Mr. Burrowes and I have to deal with as sentencers.
Ellie Roy: One of the advantages, or one of the challenges, that we face at the moment in the juvenile courts is that many of the most troubled children that the youth offending teams deal with when they appear before the courts do not get a level of service locally for precisely the reasons that you describe: they are chaotic. They come from chaotic backgrounds; there is no organisation and so on; but it is also because their behaviour can be very difficult. For example, they are easily excluded from schools and they do not get back in again, or they are not registered with doctors and they do not receive a level of service in that respect. That has been very difficult.
One of the problems faced by the YOT’s is that, when they come to be dealt with by the criminal justice agency, the other agencies step back and seem to say, “It is one agency at a time; it is sequential.” A young person is only with the justice system for a very brief period in most cases, and we see it as an opportunity for a number of the problems and difficulties that they may have to be addressed.
Rather than other agencies stepping away, they should be stepping up to the table to say, “This is a young person at a time of crisis in their lives; they need more medical assistance; they need services on mental health; they need services on substance misuse; they need support to get them back into education.” The requirements in the YRO, if based on a careful assessment of the child’s needs and of what is possible and feasible for that child, coupled with the work being done on children’s services, gives us a real opportunity to focus on these children and young people at a point of crisis in their lives and to build services that encourage behaviour that will last well beyond the period in which such people are engaged in justice.
Ellie Roy: It should be the youth offending team at the local level. If they have behind them the leverage of saying that what they are doing is a requirement of the court, that will facilitate and encourage discussions with local partnerships about to which people priority should to be given. If you get that right, you will get the pay-offs that Simon Hickson described earlier. You can change behaviour and that will save victims, communities and money in the future. That is the ideal that we are heading for and I think that the YRO is a strong lever for us in achieving it.
Bob Reitemeier: Ellie is absolutely right to point out the critical need for joining up these services. I know that that is an over-used expression, but in this example it is fundamental. If the amendments to the Bill included a statement that the welfare and well-being of the child or young person needs to be taken into consideration, that would give a formal link for the courts or the magistrates to ensure that that happens.
A point was made earlier about resources in a different context, but the other reality experienced on the ground is that this is viewed as a criminal justice problem, not a broader problem relating to children and young people. The reality for children’s services is that once a crime enters into the life of a young person they can basically move that person out of their system and into the criminal justice system.
No doubt we would want to consider that, but it is the Government who write the Bill. You have probably had more contact with the Government than many people in this field and certainly you have greater practical experience of what happens.
I have experience of what bits of legislation within the criminal justice system look like when they are implemented by the courts. I am teased constantly by my full-time judge colleagues at Judicial Studies Board conferences and training sessions when they say to me, “Did you know what you were doing when you passed this?” and, “Why on earth did you pass this Act of Parliament in this way?” I reply that we did not get on to discuss clauses 95 to 400 in Parliament, because the Bill simply did not have time to be discussed properly.
It is hugely important, if this new system of evidence taking is to work, that the real experiences of people such as yourselves and those whom you represent can be fed into the Bill at an early stage. We start the line-by-line Committee stage next Tuesday. If possible, I would very much like you to rewrite the Bill between now and next Tuesday, but I have a suspicion that that will not happen. Within the realms of politeness and good manners, and understanding the constitution of our country, are you concerned that this is yet another piece of legislation that it will be quite difficult to make work, irrespective of the no doubt wonderful motives of those who have written it?
Brendan Finegan: In the context out of which this legislation is emerging, as Graham and Ellie have said and Bob has acknowledged, there are huge opportunities with regard to the arrangements that we see emerging around the local authorities performance framework and the new arrangements for local authorities. The public service agreement and the arrangement between Departments give us strong optimism that there will be a requirement that issues regarding young people who are in trouble, excluded and involved in crime be managed together—collectively. We had complained previously that often targets fought each other. We now see a possibility that targets will support each other.
Tackling crime will also contribute to reducing the failure of looked-after children. The potential is there for that to be gained. We are very confident, in terms of the PSAs that we see have been negotiated and the local area indicators, that they will support the efforts of crime, social services and education in working together to tackle not just young people in trouble, but young people who are likely to get into trouble. That gives me optimism.
After 25 years in criminal justice, I do not like too much legislation either, because it makes the job much harder on the ground. However, the reality is that this measure is arriving at a time when I am more optimistic that the opportunity for us to deliver not only to young people who are in crime but those who have been drawn into crime will exist.
Simon Hickson: We agree that there are tremendous opportunities in the current local authority reforms and there is a lot that is positive. I am not sure that we would like to see this Bill leave it entirely to trust that it will work consistently in all cases. I think that it is a matter, certainly, of using the new mechanisms, but also of having one or two selective mechanisms in the Bill to ensure that courts can call local authorities to account where there are big issues such as a child appearing to be at risk, or a child facing custody. So, a little bit of each is what we are arguing for.
But the local authority, if it is held to account by the court, will simply say, “I am very sorry, but we have not got any money,” or, “We do not have the personnel,” or, “We do not have this, that or the other.” What is the judge to do—sit there and break his pencil?
Simon Hickson: It may do, but at the moment issues simply go by the board. There is nothing requiring something to be drawn to the attention of the local authority at all. It is not a formal court recommendation; it is a purely administrative decision. If we get a bit more exposure of the rationale, the risks and the issues considered, and they can be brought before the court, that would help to concentrate minds. I am not saying that that will solve all the problems, but it would be a step forward.
May I move on to some of the other parts of the Bill? I have seen the submissions that have been made, both from the Youth Justice Board and the Children’s Society, on a number of issues. I would just like some general comment on the points that you have made about violent offender orders, on the street offences with respect to prostitution, the antisocial behaviour element and closure of premises, where you have made some points, particularly as those measures obviously refer to young people.
How do you think that the Bill balances the needs of children as victims, in terms of being victims of crime, and children in the sense of being offenders? I ask that because there is a real issue here. I absolutely take the point that sometimes, particularly from the point of view of the Children’s Society, the perspective is of the child who may be an offender, to look at them in terms of them being a victim. That is absolutely right, and we have to identify and understand those children’s needs and do everything that we can to support them. However, for many of us as Members of Parliament, representing people, we also have a huge number of young people and children who demand that we take much tougher action than we actually do against some of these very young people who are causing considerable problems. It is the issue of balance. I wonder whether you would like to comment on all of that, both from a youth justice perspective and from a Children’s Society perspective.
Graham Robb: Let us start with the individual perspective first of all, Minister. That is saying that one of the balance points that we want to make is about the responsibility of safeguarding authorities at local level for many of these issues. For example, regarding the prostitution measure that you were discussing, we have very low numbers of youngsters coming into the youth justice system for prostitution charges. Where they do come in, our feeling is that those charges ought to be key as a safeguarding strategy, and that should be the first requirement; it is the welfare of the young person.
In terms of violent offender orders and the other measures, there are measures at local level already, through the multi-agency public protection arrangements particularly and all those other strategies, that give a good structure for dealing with individual need.
Now, let us leave the individuals aside and look at the other young people in an area. We are doing a lot of work about gangs, guns and weapons and young people at the moment. It seems to us that what you have to do is, first, to help young people to feel safe in their communities—all young people. Secondly, you have to help the communities feel safe with their young people. That is about the wider social policy and about where young people who might get into trouble go to and how they are supported and how they are challenged. It is those two strands. It is the individual safeguarding as well as the criminal justice measures, and then it is helping communities feel safe with their young people which are really important developments that we need to drive forward as the social partners.
Bob Reitemeier: Thank you very much for the question. I would agree with the view that children can be looked at as victims, not just as perpetrators, but I would take a step back and argue that children should be looked at as children first, not as criminals, victims, perpetrators or any other label. The question is: what should the youth justice system do as opposed to the criminal justice system as a whole? That is a very important point. As everyone has said so far, we need to ensure in this Bill that we are addressing the welfare and well-being of children when addressing their needs.
You raise the important point about public perception, which includes the perception of children and young people themselves. I agree with you that a strong component of the public and of children and young people want to see punishment. They feel that that has to be part of the picture. What we would say is that there is a real educational component to our work that needs to be brought to the forefront. On the one hand we have to address the inconsistencies, where we are looking at increases in custody beyond points of any reasonableness, while in terms of youth crime, the overall crime rates are not that alarming. However, there is a particular issue with violent crime. Graham talked about guns and knives. You have not said this, but I would agree with the point that we have a culture of fear right now in the UK where people are increasingly afraid of young people. Perceptions and reality are coming together there.
In terms of the educational component, we have to look strongly at the persistent and violent offender. We can use the rule that people understand—the 20:80 rule—which says that 20 per cent. of the population has an impact on 80 per cent of what we understand is happening. It is not 20:80, but a small minority of children and young people are involved in this kind of very violent behaviour and there are alarming indications that this is increasing and moving across the country. Some concentrated effort is required there but the whole of the youth justice system should not be wrapped up into one category. We have to segment out the young people we are working with. Custody does not work. It just does not work in terms of trying to address reoffending. The public do not quite understand that. Children and young people themselves do not quite understand that, so there is a big educational component that has to be part of this.
This is a very interesting discussion because it drives where you go to with the Bill and the points about the Bill. It is this question of balance. I take the point about confidence. Let me give you an example of the problem that we all wrestle with. Take the premises closure orders, and this is the point that Mr. Robb made about the need to have safeguards. It could be that you close down premises with some children in it. In those circumstances clear safeguards would be needed for those children.
I am a big supporter of premises closure orders, but there are those who would argue that because children are involved under no circumstance should any premises ever be closed. I know that that is not what is being said. I am merely setting the Bill in context. In my view the fact that such bad antisocial behaviour has attached to premises over a persistent period of time has an immense impact on other children in the area. Secondly, if we get the safeguards that Mr. Robb and Mr. Reitemeier were talking about, it will force the system to address the needs of those young people in those premises, which sometimes appear simply to bumble along without anyone saying, “This is now a crisis. We are going to get hold of this.”
Brendan Finegan: It does pose a challenge. We think that the balance is right and that is part of our feedback. There are young people who will cause harm to their communities and action needs to be taken. In terms of premises closure, you are absolutely right, but the challenge is for the Government and for local authorities to ensure that they live up to the provisions in regard to places to go and things to do for children. If we are to provide places to go and things to do for young people—and premises will be around that location—it behoves us to ensure that those premises are safe, do not create antisocial behaviour and are pro-social rather than antisocial.
I think that the point is that the premises closure order would be used at the point at which virtually everything else has been tried. It will be the last resort element. You would have expected all of that to have been done and to have almost failed. That is the issue.
I have a general question for the panel. You mentioned that child violence—youth violence—was on the increase. First, why do you feel that that is so? Why do you feel that, increasingly, we are hearing of young people maiming and killing each other in society? What do you think is the cause of that?
Graham Robb: The answer to that is different in different parts of the country. First, you have a different pattern of that activity in Manchester compared with parts of London. That is usually about the nature of the weapons being used. Secondly, it is to do with young people’s perception of fear, as Bob was indicating. Young people, as we know, are the most common group to be the victims of crime committed by other people—that is the stats. So what is happening to address that has also got to be based on what is happening at local level, and that is about schools and their teaching youngsters to relate to other people in a pro-social way and agencies working together, and about communities making clear stands about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in their communities. That goes back to the safe places argument that we were rehearsing a moment ago.
A combination of factors are driving some of these behaviours, but the solutions are local solutions rather than, in my view, legislative solutions. We need to respond to local needs.
Bob Reitemeier: You ask a huge question and I think it was very appropriately put. The answers do not lie in the criminal justice system; the answers lie in society. When you look at what is leading to the violence that exists and the movement from fisticuffs to other weapons—to knives and guns—to murder, there are some factors that we would want to highlight. There is a cultural, real difference between the Anglophone societies, including the United States, and other parts of Europe, where you do not see the same rates of violence increasing.
If you look at the family and the development of an understanding of a moral compass or a value system for a child—however you want to describe it—that has deteriorated and needs to be addressed. If you look at the intergenerational disconnect in our society compared with other societies, you will see that part of the fear culture is because a large percentage of the older population is not in contact in any real way with the younger population, and vice versa. If you look at community and community cohesion, these are the factors. The overriding factor for a lot of the young people that end up at the hard end of criminal justice is poverty. Child poverty in this country, as we know, is unacceptable. All of these factors lead to the criminal justice system having to pick up the pieces.
It is just an observation, but talking to some communities where antisocial behaviour is a problem, the overriding message I get is about a lack of aspiration. The youngsters in their community have no concept that there is something better and something that they can aspire to.
Bob Reitemeier: Absolutely, this is what “Every Child Matters” was attempting to address. When we talk about poverty, we do not talk only about material poverty but about poverty of aspiration. Again, that comes back to those first few years in life. A lot of the criminal justice system works with teenagers, because by that point they are actually into criminal behaviour. But you have to look at the early years, and that is why Sure Start was introduced to try to address that.
In terms of aspiration, again, unfortunately, many of the young people that the Children’s Society works with tell us that for the first time in their life somebody is listening to them and actually cares what happens to them. That is the fundamental basis of what we are witnessing today.
A number of the Bill’s provisions are designed to help young people and to reassure the public that the Government are doing something about the matter. I return to the point raised about closing premises. Is there a danger that the Bill suggests that closing the premises is the answer? That is where the measure comes to a halt. It fails to appreciate that you need to do something after that.
Brendan Finegan: I said in my previous response that the challenge on closing a premises is to ensure that an alternative becomes available, particularly for those children and young people who may be involved in it. If you shut a premises, it would be short-sighted not to arrange other provisions—places to go, things to do. It is a Government aspiration, through their “Youth Matters” proposals, that alternatives should be provided that are better suited for the community and for those young people.
Bob Reitemeier: We could make an analogy with the dispersal orders that have been used over the last few years—curfew orders to try to break up groupings of children. You cannot call them gangs, they are just groupings of young people together. The research out this morning states that all that that does is to move the problems elsewhere. It is the same thing with closing premises. It does not deal with what happens afterwards, it does not deal with the root problem, and it could just move those problems to another place.
In the short time left, Mr. Coaker has asked me to say that he believes that crack house closures have been a great success in terms of preventing drug abuse by young people, but that is not the point. Given the time, I will respond quickly. We have taken the decision to split the reparation order from the rehabilitation order. I would like a short, one-word answer as to whether both parties supported that split, and if they had any views upon it.
Yesterday, the Magistrates Association was very strong in its view that that should be subsumed. Obviously it would be a matter of debate in Committee, and I wanted to get a clear view from you on whether you supported the Government’s approach, in the 30 seconds that are left.
Brendan Finegan: My colleagues have looked at the amendment that was mentioned previously. In general, we support the drafting of amendment No. 106. However, we have an issue with the minimum level of requirement because children are different from adults. We would be happy to have a more detailed discussion on the guidance around that matter. That would be the sticking point, but in general it was okay.
I believe that I can call it 10.25 am. I am obliged to adjourn the Committee until 1 o’clock. I thank our witnesses very much for the evidence that they have all given. It has been most helpful to the Committee, and I thank you on behalf of it.