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 Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice) 2:15 pm, 25th October 2007

I do not know whether my contribution will be considerable, but I hope that it will be a considered reference to new clause 16. I do not have a quarrel with the Government amendments; they are, as the Minister has said, necessary and partly consequential on clause 6 and, I suspect, the other changes to the way that youth offenders are dealt with in the criminal justice system. Some of the later Government amendments touch, although not directly, on what I want to say about new clause 16. Essentially, I want the Government to have a proper understanding of the need to put the right people in the right places.

I have been to Glen Parva young offenders institution, which is partly in my constituency and partly in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). I have been to the YOI at Warren Hill and Hollesley Bay, which is near Woodbridge in Suffolk. I have been to Feltham YOI and Lancaster Farm YOI, which is in the north-west. All of those are institutions for young men. I also went to Bullwood Hall about a year ago, when it was being used as a YOI for young women.

Bullwood Hall has been re-roled at least twice since then and hit the news last week, no doubt to the Minister’s enjoyment. It was associated with HMP Canterbury because those two institutions are now used exclusively to accommodate foreign national prisoners. I will not talk about that, but I will talk about my experience of young offenders institutions. Based on that, I urge the Minister to ensure that we send the right people to the right sort of custodial institution, as I said at the outset of my remarks.

Compared with the adult prisoner estate, young offender institutions are very troubled and troubling places. That is not just because they are full of young people who are there because they have committed serious crimes—some of them very serious indeed. There is a unit within Warren Hill and Hollesley Bay where youngsters who have committed murder—some of them quite nasty murders—are held, and will be held for long periods. At Feltham, about 20 young men are serving the equivalent of life sentences, and there are other young men who have committed serious crimes in the other YOIs to which I have referred.

We are dealing with a difficult collection of people and nothing that I am about to say should be taken as a criticism of the governors, the governing staff or the prison officers who work in these difficult institutions. We need to be very careful that we do not put into institutions that are for over-18s younger teenagers of the age group that is to be brought within the youth rehabilitation order and youth custody remit. We need to be extremely careful in ensuring that there is sufficient capacity to house those under the age of 18 securely and safely in secure sites. If we get that wrong, those youngsters could be badly damaged. We could face  the sort of circumstances that the hon. Member for Northampton, North spoke about in her Adjournment debate over the death of a young constituent of hers in a secure unit outside her constituency. It was a story that caused a great deal of alarm. The Minister responded to that Adjournment debate and I was on the Opposition Front Bench as he did so.

There are a whole host of issues—easy, not so easy and plain difficult—that we have to be aware of when talking about the incarceration of young people. I want the Minister’s assurance that the Ministry of Justice has the resources and the personnel to deal with the imprisonment of youngsters, has trained those personnel and has fully understood the difficult nature of the task. A number of people who have spoken about the imprisonment of young people say that we should not be sending children or young people to prison. I am not sure that I would go that far because there will be some young teenagers who commit crimes that society would expect to result in custody. However, custody, whether of young people or adults, must be humane and carried out in a way that improves the chances of their being able to return to society in a better state.