Schedule 4

Part of Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 25th October 2007.

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Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 2:15 pm, 25th October 2007

I thank the hon. and learned Member for Harborough for raising this issue because it gives  the Committee an opportunity to consider his point. Like him, I have, in the course of my duties, had the opportunity to visit a number of youth offender institutions and secure training centres in the past few months. Indeed, in my previous role, I was responsible for the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland and for secure units and youth offender institutes. I understand the challenges of managing the young people and of working with the staff of those institutions.

My most recent visit to such an institution was to the Hindley youth offenders institute near Leigh in Greater Manchester. Difficult and challenging behaviour problems need to be addressed in those centres. I am due to visit the Oakhill secure training centre in Milton Keynes with my right hon. Friend, the Minister for Children, Young People and Families to examine some of the issues arising from the way it operates and performs, and at how we can improve it.

I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that we must provide a safe and productive environment for young people in those establishments. I say “safe” because it is important that we protect young people not only from self harm, but from the potential harm they might suffer from other young people in the centres. We also need to create an environment in which staff are protected and secured from potential attack. We must ensure that people in the centres have a productive regime. The whole thrust of the legislation, the Bill and Government policy is to ensure that whatever mistakes people have made, we prevent them from reoffending.

There are a number of measures in place to provide broadly for the safety of people in secure units and youth offender institutions. Under the Children Act 2004, governors and directors of young offender institutions and secure training centres are already required to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in discharging their functions.

What is certainly true—the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned this in passing—is that these establishments contain some very dangerous young people. According to our most recent figures, which are dated 22 October, 64 young people in custody are charged with murder. Those are very dangerous individuals and that requires not just a safety regime, but a productive regime to try to turn around the offending behaviour. That comes back to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead. We must ensure that we have proper investment in education and skill training. Nearly every young person in that accommodation will come out into the community at some point in the future. They need a proper regime, a safe regime and one that invests in them to turn their lives around.