I am grateful for the opportunity to initiate the debate. I know, because of the hon. Members present, that it will be a high-quality debate. It is a shame that so far there are not more Members present to take part in it.
I regard it as a gross failure by us all that this debate is needed. It is an indictment of this country that it leads the wealthy, developed, powerful nations in the number of children who are in prison. There are about 2,500 children in young offenders' institutions now, perhaps 200 others in secure training centres and 200 in local authority secure children's homes. I do not have a problem with local authority secure children's homes; they work to the standards laid down by the Children Act 1989 and they are inspected by the Commission for Social Care Inspection according to the principles of that Act.
The huge problem with local authority secure children's homes is that places in them are being lost at an extraordinary rate. Some 71 places—almost a quarter—in local authority secure care have gone since 2000, when the Youth Justice Board took over responsibility for the commissioning of places in what is termed the secure estate. That is especially lamentable when we consider the most shameful disgrace of all, the most appalling fact about custody for young people and children: in the past eight years—since I have been a Member of Parliament and since this Government have been in power, carrying out superb reforms to the lives of so many children—16 children have died in prison, at a time when 71 places in local authority secure care have been lost.
I am not aware that any child has ever died in local authority secure accommodation. I have worked in several of those places and I know that they have contained, looked after and managed young people with horrendous records of offending; young people who have committed the gravest crimes that anyone could commit, and they have kept them safe. Their expertise and skill are being lost; many good people who formerly worked in those institutions lament the passing of those establishments and of the old community homes with education, which also did a good job for young people. I particularly lament, and recognise, that the passing of so much good quality care no doubt has something to do with the extraordinary increase in the number of children in prison. It has doubled in the past 10 years.
I return to the most appalling fact—the 16 deaths. I am aware that I cannot speak about all those cases today; some are sub judice. However, hon. Members in this Room are well-informed, and people read the newspapers and know a lot about the circumstances. I was with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State only two weeks ago at the scene of the latest tragedy, which I deeply regret was in my constituency. I regard these 16 deaths as unnecessary, avoidable and appalling, and I am sure that we all agree with that.
During this debate, I am sure that somebody will reflect on how difficult the issues are, and how complicated the subject is. We can make it difficult and complicated if we wish to, but we can also make it quite simple. It is about basic principles and sheer bloody- minded political will. Perhaps the attendance today reflects the fact that people are sometimes nervous about the issue of young offending, particularly when approaching a general election. People are clearly and rightly concerned about crime in this country, so there is not much sympathy among the general public for young offenders. However, I have appeared many times on the national media trying to draw attention to what we are to discuss this afternoon, and my e-mail inbox is roughly divided 50:50 between those who think that it is outrageous for a Member to be standing up for young people in prison, and those who are very encouraging that someone is doing so. These are controversial issues, but they are vital matters of life and death, and, frankly, politicians should be prepared to take a lead.
We are talking this afternoon about the principles and political will that anyone should display if they aspire to govern this country well. I am not going to fight the next general election, but hon. Members around the Room, from three parties, will do so. They will be out on the stump, and will have to confront the issues that we are discussing. I hope that we can all agree that it is unthinkable and intolerable that a child should ever die in the custody of the state. It should surely be one of the state's greatest duties, when anyone—let alone a child—is committed to its custody that they are kept safe. There is a remarkable and regrettable lack of public debate, or even public information, when a child dies in custody. I cannot imagine what would happen to social workers if a child died in a children's home. We know what happens to social workers in cases in the community, where children die at the hands of parents or carers, but it seems that there is little concern about children who have committed offences who die in our prisons.
I suppose that such people are not children at all; we insulate ourselves from the fact that they are children. Anyone under 18, of course, is a child, but we insulate ourselves from that fact by referring to them as "juveniles" or "offenders", and the prisons where they live as the "secure estate". The Government properly and gloriously tell us that every child matters, but perhaps juvenile offenders do not; in fact, we know that they do not. The Children Act 1989 states:
"When a court determines any question with respect to . . . the upbringing of a child"— for example, where that child will live, for however long—
"the child's welfare shall be the court's paramount consideration."
That does not, however, apply to a child older than 10 who expresses his or her abuse, neglect, disturbance, illness, lack of parental guidance, inadequate education, learning difficulties, naivety, immaturity, or poor choice of friends through the commission of a criminal offence. As is regularly stated by the Government and the Youth Justice Board, the principal aim of the youth justice system is to prevent offending by young people. Having regard to a child's welfare is a secondary aim of the system.
It is good that those in charge of custodial institutions have been brought within the remit of the Children Act 2004. Under section 11, they are bound by a duty to safeguard and promote the well-being of children in their custody, but that duty does not apply to those who sentence children to custody, or to those on the Youth Justice Board who decide where in the secure estate children should be placed. Such crucial decisions are often taken on the spur of the moment, with a degree of surprise; they often need to be taken quickly, perhaps at the end of a long day in court, having had little opportunity to weigh up the particular needs of a child, who may be hundreds of miles away from home, who is wondering where he or she is going.
As I said, the overarching principal aim of the youth justice system is to prevent offending by young people. That is the first note of humour that I have introduced to the debate. However, the offending rates are lamentable. Home Office figures show that in 2001, 70.4 per cent. of children who received a custodial sentence reoffended within 12 months. In 2002, that figure marginally improved to 68.3 per cent. Those are the most recent figures, but even if the situation carries on improving it would be a fair bet that about two thirds of the 2,500 or so children who are currently in prison will have reoffended by this time next year.
Prison does not work. Let no one accuse me, or anyone else who agrees that there should be no children in prison, of being soft on crime. Prison is a generator of crime, and confirms young people, and adults, in a criminal identity. It introduces young people to others who are more criminal and to the means to carry out further criminal offences of which they were not aware. It is lamentable, under a Government who have been so good for children, that children can be publicly identified and have their pictures all over the front pages of local newspapers, so that their families, friends, neighbours and everyone in their communities can identify and label them for a long time.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the situation is often worse than that? When children leave jail after serving a short sentence, their status is often raised among their peers. Naming and shaming young people in the newspapers gives them status among other young people and raises the possibility of their behaviour being copied by other youngsters.
I agree. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point: some young people misguidedly relish their appearances on the front page. Some look to the day when an antisocial behaviour order will be imposed on them. The introduction of such legislation and such a means of dealing with young people shows a complete misunderstanding of their psychology.
As much as anyone, I have seen the way in which crime and the fear of crime can blight people's lives and wreck communities, and I want an effective response to crime. Just as much as anyone in Parliament—perhaps more than many others—I am committed to tackling crime and antisocial behaviour. However, to tackle the offending and offensive behaviour of young people effectively, we must deal with all the factors underpinning that behaviour. We must understand that we are dealing with human beings at a stage at which they can grow and mature through their difficulties, and we must recognise that the way in which we treat them can make their behaviour far worse, compound their problems and put them in danger.
I advocate a much longer period of intervention for many young people than they receive in prison. In large part, I would support such intervention taking place in the community, integrated with all the other systems of support for every other child in the community. I am certainly not averse to children being looked after in the care system for much longer than they serve under a detention and training order. I am in favour of young people who are a danger to the community being looked after for much longer in a local authority secure children's home than they would serve in a young offenders' institution. It is essential that we address some of the very serious issues underlying criminal and antisocial behaviour, many of which are long-standing. Many issues relate to abuse and neglect over years, and it will take years of work, therapy, support and consistency to help young people through those issues.
Prisons complain to me that they do not have the young people long enough to enable them to do decent work. There are good people in prisons who tell me that some young people there are experiencing the positive influences of people for the first time in their lives, albeit within the horrendous confines of a prison institution, but that they are not there long enough. Programmes are not long enough and not developed enough.
None of the work needs to take place within the confines of a prison, however. The philosopher Foucault said that prison is dangerous when it is not useless. It is a horrible place to put a child. I thought that on my most recent visit to Lancaster Farms. Ironically, that is probably the best young offenders' institution in the country, but I thought, "What a horrible place for a child", when I looked around at the walls, the wire, the uniforms, the keys and the disgusting little cells with their huge locked doors. We owe young people far more and should do far better by them than that.
We also owe the public much more than useless rhetoric about the fact that prison somehow works, or a lot of stuff about the amelioration of conditions in prisons. I know that more money is being spent on prisons, that education authorities now work there and that primary care trusts are going to be much more involved; and I know that, following the Munby judgment, there will be more child protection and more advocacy for young people in prisons. However, we should compare the average annual cost of a place in a young offenders' institution with that of one in a local authority secure children's home. The former is £50,800 and the latter—where children are looked after properly—is £185,780. If we are to lock children up, we should be prepared to pay the proper cost. We should pay for appropriate ratios of staff to children. With three to six staff serving 40 to 60 very needy children in prison, compared with one to six staff for two to eight very needy children in local authority secure care, it is obvious where they will be better cared for, even before we consider the rules and regulations, the inspection regime and the fact that local authority children's homes are required to be child-centred in ways that young offenders' institutions cannot be.
The Government have been good for children, and I take my hat off to my hon. Friend the Minister, who is an excellent Minister. So why does it need an organisation such as the Howard League on Penal Reform to take the Government to judicial review to establish the principle that the Children Act applies to children in prison, in order for them to have child protection workers and children's advocates? Why on earth does that same excellent organisation have to establish its own independent inquiry under Lord Carlile into the use of physical restraint, solitary confinement and strip-searching of children? Those are outrageous things to do to children.
The chief inspector of prisons recently said that there are a number of areas in which prison service orders are simply inappropriate for children, and do not reflect child protection principles. However, the Youth Justice Board has an aspirational strategy, whatever that is—every Saturday evening, I aspire to win the national lottery, but I have not managed it yet—which is supposed to cover constraint, confinement and strip-searching. Why do we need an independent organisation to search out what is going on in the institutions of state? What have the Government done to respond to the 11,500 cases of physical restraint of children in three secure training centres in five years; to the 200 injuries to children in 11 months resulting from restraint in prisons; and to the ghastly fact that one young man died while being restrained in a secure training centre last April?
Why does another fine organisation, Inquest, have to campaign for the public inquiry into sentencing policy that was recommended to the Home Secretary by the coroner at the inquest into the appalling death of 16-year-old Joseph Scholes? Joseph Scholes died nine days into a two-year sentence for stealing a mobile phone. A victim of sexual abuse, a disturbed, self-harming child—he slashed his face just before his appearance in court—he was in prison, in virtual isolation, and in a bizarre form of canvas-strip clothing, until he hanged himself. Why can we not have a public inquiry into sentencing policy and the death of Joseph Scholes? We need an inquiry to tell us all what is going on in young offenders' institutions.
Why is there so little support for the bereaved families of Joseph Scholes and the two other young people who recently died in secure training centres? One of them was a young man aged 14 who, last August, became the most horrifying statistic of all: the youngest person in modern penal history to die in a prison in this country. Why are there delays of up to two years in holding inquests? Why is there no central monitoring of inquests and recommendations? Where is the effective attempt to learn the lessons from all these tragedies?
I have been to my local young offenders' institution, Lancaster Farms, on many occasions, and, sadly, I have made two visits already this year. The first was routine. Members of the Prison Officers Association backed up their pension claim by telling me that they were involved in 10 or 12 violent incidents between children every day. That makes Lancaster Farms a dangerous place for children to be. I have been involved for a long time in inspecting places where difficult young people have been looked after, and that sort of bullying would simply not have been countenanced.
Later on that first visit, the governor and staff introduced me to the case—again, my hon. Friend the Minister has responded promptly to it—of a mentally ill, hallucinating and possibly psychotic child who had been refusing food. No one thought that he should be there—not the governor, the staff or anyone who was looking after him, and certainly not members of his family, who were visiting. Later that day, the staff gave me more examples of children who they thought should not be there, because the offences that they committed were nowhere near serious enough to merit a custodial sentence.
On my second visit this year, I met young people in the prison's hospital wing, who were there for various reasons: they were suffering from mental illness, their offending was such that they were thought to be at risk from other young people in the prison, they were victims of bullying or they were simply afraid.
The Prison Reform Trust tells us that 90 per cent. of young people in prison have a recognisable mental disorder and that 10 per cent. suffer from a severe psychotic illness. The 10 per cent. figure is interesting, because the Youth Justice Board tells us that it is seeking to reduce the population of children in prison by 10 per cent. over the next two years. That is a paltry ambition, although I am not even sure that the board will be able to achieve it, given the increasing number of children in prison who have breached antisocial behaviour orders. Given the rate at which children are dying, there will have been four more deaths in that two-year time scale.
Frankly, I am critical of the Youth Justice Board. It is the body that placed 3,337 children who were officially recognised as vulnerable in Prison Service custody in 2003–04, even though 24 per cent. of children in custody report being assaulted and one third report feeling unsafe, according to the inspector of prisons. It is the body that glosses over so many issues. Its recent consultation document on its strategy for the secure estate describes child deaths as "serious incidents". It selectively quotes the Children's Rights Alliance for England to say that it has made miraculous improvements in the Prison Service without giving us the next sentence, which says that a number of institutions
"were so bad—were guilty of such gross violations of human rights—that even when improved they still fall short of adequate."
The Youth Justice Board estimates that there are 200 to 300 people whose needs it cannot meet, who today could be in just as much despair as the young people who died. There could be another death in the prison system today, such is the need, scarcity of resource and ineffectual nature of the establishments in getting to grips with some of the most troubled and disturbed young people in the land. We need to do much better, and we should have the principle and guts to face the situation.
All we need to do is take the lead from the magnificent children's policy that the Government are supposed to be developing and from the UN convention on the rights of the child, from which lamentably the Government have secured an opt-out in respect of children in prison. Let us treat all needy children as children. Let us have regard to what other countries do. Let us look at what we tried to do in this country in 1969, for goodness' sake. If we believe that every child matters, we should have the guts and principles to raise the age of criminal responsibility way above the age of 10 to 16. We should ensure that any child over 16 sentenced to custody for offences that endanger the public—some young people do need to be removed from our society—goes to secure care rather than a prison and to somewhere run according to the principles of the Children Act.
What we have in this country—and the reason that I am leaving this place—is a fantastic opportunity to transform children's services and the lives of all children. We are faced with the prospect of leaving thousands of children outside those services and in the inadequacies of the prison system. If we raised the age of criminal responsibility, it would ensure that all the new agencies and integrated services would have to respond at length and with real skill to all the neglected, abused, needy, challenging, difficult, ill, naive and immature young people who cause society problems. They would have to respond to them in terms of those services, the children's needs and the Children Act, not criminal justice legislation.
Using all the resources that we have at our disposal and all the children's legislation, young people could be managed, via Sure Start, extended schools and the range of integrated community resources coming on stream. Excellent workers—people in the youth offending teams, youth inclusion programmes, and intensive supervision and surveillance programmes, and workers in young offenders' institutions who genuinely want to work with children—could be brought out of those institutions and better trained to work with children in the community and the care system. They could work with children in local authority secure care, but do so according to Children Act principles and having been trained properly. They could work with children across the gamut of health, education and social care policy, bringing integrated services together and locating their work largely in the communities from which they come.
That solution applies to many countries and could have applied in this country for the past 30-odd years. It would address offending far more effectively than we do via the current system. It would also address the needs of children as effectively as possible and would help them to grow to maturity—growing up is the best antidote to youth offending—in their own communities but away from the negative influences of a prison culture. It would also keep children safe. I commend that approach to all hon. Members. If we have the principles, we need the political will to carry something like that through. If it were put properly to the people of this country, it would command an enormous amount of support.
Mr. Dawson made a powerful and passionate speech, which comes as no surprise to those of us who are aware of his role as one of the few champions in the House of young people. It is a great shame that he has decided to stand down, because that will mean that there is one less of us who think that young people receive far too negative a press. There are those of us who think that that issue should be addressed in a more positive light.
I am surprised that more hon. Members are not present because this is an area where the Government cannot be proud. The Government have been subject to criticism by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in reports by Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons, and most recently by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
How can it be that in the United Kingdom there are currently 2,665 young people in prison, yet in Italy there is none? How is it that the Italians can manage the system so differently from us? Are the young people in Italy all angels? If that is the reason, we must be breeding an awful group of young people. Of course that is not the reason; it is the way in which they are treated.
Most other European countries have, at most, a few dozen young people—perhaps the severest of cases—in custody. Yet we lead the way in Europe in the number of young people that we lock up. The UK cannot be proud of that record.
We heard from the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre about the number of deaths in custody. I do not want to cover again that ground, about which he spoke so well. However, I would like to speak about the incidence of self-harm among young people in custody. We know, from the Government's own figures, that in 2001–03 there were 414 incidents of self-harm by young people. That is a far higher rate of self-harm than among adults in prison, and is a sign of the underlying problems.
It is also clear that when those young people are put into segregation, the rate increases further. Over a five-year period—1999 to 2004—117 incidents of self-harm occurred in segregation. That includes attempted suicide, which is classed as self-harm. The number of deaths in prison could have been substantially higher if some of those suicide attempts had been successful. The figures are appalling, and the fact that the last young person to die was only 14 is a shocking indictment of the country's attitude to young people in prison.
One of my concerns is that—perhaps to placate the mass media or, in some cases, the public's perception—the Government and the Conservative party seem to be trying to outbid each other on who can sound the toughest about how many people should be locked up. It is a matter of shame that politics should compete on that territory; the Government and the Opposition should see fit to argue that keeping large numbers of young people in prison is nothing to be proud of in the 21st century.
Of even more concern is the fact that prison does not work for young people. The social exclusion unit published a report in 2002 called "Reducing Reoffending by Ex-Prisoners". It found that 84 per cent. of juveniles released from prison in 1997 were reconvicted within two years. Prison cannot be working if the reconviction rate is 84 per cent. For those aged 14 to 21, the reconviction rate was 80 per cent. Of those who served a short sentence of less than 12 months, which is typical for young people, 92 per cent. were reconvicted within two years.
Short sentences do not work; they do not give people time to work with the prisoners. Young persons in prison for less than 12 months are not likely to have their behaviour addressed before being released, and they are likely to be reconvicted. Those are exactly the people for whom we need to find different routes, different ways of dealing with them—perhaps in ways suggested by the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre.
One of the problems with young offenders' institutions is that, because they are few in number and located in different parts of the country, offenders are often a long way from their families. One of the things that helps to prevent reconviction is for young people to stay connected with their families and the local environment. It is all about making sure that they feel that they have something positive to come out to.
Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons reported on juveniles in custody in April 2004. It was found that only 30 per cent. of boys and 23 per cent. of girls in custody said that it was easy for their families to visit. They were held too far from their homes, and contact with their families was not easy. Contact with the family must be one of the more important things for young people. The Government's approach to locking up young people is making it more difficult to keep such links.
Some disturbing figures are given in various Government reports. The social exclusion unit found that of those locked up, 25 per cent. of males suffered violence at home; and 85 per cent. of them exhibited signs of personality disorder. Those people need treatment and help. Yet they are often locked up in an environment where they receive no help. Not only are we failing young people; we are failing society, because those young people come out with their behaviour unchanged and their ways unaltered. As a result, they are far more likely to be criminals. That is a problem not only for the individual; it is a problem for society.
The staffing ratio in young offenders' institutions averages between three staff to 40 young offenders and six to 60. It is the lowest staff-client ratio of any child placement of any kind in any sector. It is no surprise that we are failing those children if they are being put in places where they have the least chance of being helped, yet that seems to be the preferred route.
Under section 98 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, if the youth offending team deems 15 or 16-year-old males to be too vulnerable for prison placement, the courts may direct them to be held in remand in a local authority secure unit or a secure training centre. The problem with that is that the order can be made only if placements are available on the day on which the remand decision is taken. The availability of placements in secure accommodation is the critical factor, regardless of the vulnerability assessment. The randomness of the availability of places cannot be in the best interests of the individual or society and cannot be the best way of placing these children. That is why some children who have been assessed as vulnerable continue to be sent to young offenders' institutions.
The Government should consider expanding that sector as an alternative to young offenders' institutions, even as a first step and simply to meet the needs of the assessments which the Crime and Disorder Act has allowed to be taken into account. They have set up a system that should help, but the lack of places is helping to create the problem. They have opened the door to a solution, but they have not created the resource that will provide the answer and produce the end result.
I support the call for a public inquiry into the death of Joseph Scholes, not only because his death was sad and tragic, but because it might open the way for the country as a whole to realise that the situation in this country is scandalous and that other countries deal with youth remand better than we do. We need to learn from other countries and to find a way of solving this problem. The Labour Government cannot be proud of these figures. I am sure that they would criticise them if they were in Opposition.
I am sure that the Minister wants to reduce the number of young people in prison. If he does want to reduce them, he should examine the experience of other countries and find ways of expanding the number of secure children's homes and secure training centres run by local authorities, as they are a substantial improvement on young offenders' institutions. They offer a way forward, but this issue does not appear to be a priority for the Government.
I congratulate Mr. Dawson on securing the debate and on the thoughtful and constructive way in which he has always approached these issues. I sense today, and I am sure the Minister will agree, that the debate is not party political but is being conducted by parliamentarians with an interest in the subject, and I hope that they can say something constructive.
I am also grateful to Matthew Green for his well chosen words. I declare an interest in that I am a former stipendiary magistrate, I sit as a district judge, and I am a recorder of the Crown court, so I am involved with juveniles in my very part-time professional life, which I hope will not become full time before long.
There is no particular theme to what I want to say today, but I have several observations to make which I hope will be a constructive contribution to the debate on young persons in custody. How does one deal with them? Here is a passing thought, which was echoed in an earlier comment: where it is essential for young people to be in custody, it is my experience and that of many other district judges that nothing can be achieved by a short sentence. There is little point in putting someone behind bars for four, five, six or seven weeks, because nothing is achieved. If one has to put young people in custody, there is a strong argument for a sentence of sufficient length to enable something useful to be done.
The problem has been illustrated already: there are vast numbers of young people in custody. A couple of months ago there were more than 10,000 under 21-year-olds in prison in England and Wales and, as has been said, 2,500 under 18-year-olds in custody. The striking thing is that certain features are common to an extremely high percentage of the under 18-year-olds. A huge percentage have low literacy and numeracy levels, have a history of being in care or social services or have some form of personality disorder or psychotic illness. A huge percentage, therefore, come from a background that is hardly likely to encourage a secure and stable life.
Young people today also face some problems that I do not think you and I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, faced when we were young. They are the twin problems of drink and drugs, which drive so many people to crime and therefore into custody. Young people are no exception. It is a sorry state of affairs that in today's community binge drinking is not limited to those of a greater age, but is prevalent among both 18 and 19-year-olds and, regularly, 15 and 16-year-olds, who get fake ID cards and believe that it is sensible to behave like mad people on drink. That leads to crime. Many youngsters who commit crime and go into custody have been fuelled by drink, which is much more readily available nowadays.
As for drugs, I might not even have heard of heroin or crack cocaine when I was 17—in fact, I cannot remember. Certainly the prevalence of drugs and the easy access to the killer drugs, which turn youngsters into criminals, did not exist 20 or 30 years ago. Youngsters are growing up in a much more difficult society, where much less is set in concrete than was the case 20 or 30 years ago.
I want to make a couple of points about sentencing and what works with youngsters. I am not a fan of the drug treatment and testing order, under which youngsters on drugs are told by the court that they are on the order for six months, which means that they have to return to the court every month and that they will be tested from time to time, to see how they are getting on. The results are mixed. Imagine if there were such a thing as a smoking treatment and testing order, whereby one was told to go away and stop smoking, and be tested now and again. My point is that the drug treatment and testing order lacks the element of compulsion that could make it work.
On the other hand, when I was considering the literally dozens of available sentences for young people, I came across one that has, over the past year or so, been—I do not like the term—"rolled out". I am referring to the intensive supervision and surveillance programme, which is one of the orders that a court can serve a young person.
Such orders at least get to grips with the young person, usually a prolific young offender, who for 12 months will be under the supervision of the probation service. During that time there will be intensive work on education and training, family support, skills and restorative justice. The young person will try positively to change offending behaviour. Help will be given with accommodation and drug treatment problems. There will be a minimum of five hours of educational activities each week day, even for youngsters who have truanted from school, and evening and weekend contact with a relevant worker. There is a huge emphasis on jobs, and a continuing emphasis on contact, through tracking, policing and tagging. Such orders are intensive and work extremely well—not all do, and the courts struggle hard.
I shall move off sideways because something has occurred to me. I went to a judicial sentencing seminar the other day, and we had to pass sentence according to the following set of facts. Three boys aged 12, 12 and 11 go up to another boy in the playground and say, "Give me £1 or we'll thump you." Later in the day, they go up to another boy and say, "Give me your drink or we'll hit you." The astonishing thing is that that was a judicial sentencing exercise in which the charge was robbery. I thought it strange that we were dealing with 12-year-olds behaving as 12-year-olds always have, and they were going through the court system and I had to think of a sentence. What is going on in the school and at home when someone cannot get a grip of 12-year-olds and say, "Come on, let's do better"? That was just a passing thought, and is a sad reflection on 2005.
I shall now discuss a couple of things that work. We are not talking about party policy today; I am of the view that nobody should be in custody unless there is no alternative. Terrific emphasis should be placed on young people and problems at an early age to try to keep them out of custody. I went to the young offenders' institution and remand centre at Feltham a couple of years ago and heard an astonishing story. "What are you doing here?" I said to somebody. "I was driving while disqualified for the third time." "Any other convictions?" "No, I just drive while disqualified." "Why do you drive while disqualified? What's the problem?" I asked. "Well", he said, "I can't pass the written and theory tests because I can't read and I can't write. But I'm a damn good driver and I've never done anything else wrong in my life." "Well how are you getting on with reading and writing now?" "Not at all well, nothing's happening." One despairs.
The Minister will have heard of Trailblazers, which is a good scheme originating from Feltham for one-to-one mentoring. Youngsters in the last few months of their sentence at Feltham are visited by mentors. If you were my mentor, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would be there twice a week seeing me for a couple of hours and continually thereafter, telling me about life, meeting me two or three times a week and helping me to get a job. The mentors might have a criminal background themselves, which is all the more reason why they will be useful in that respect. Trailblazers at Feltham is committed to improving the lives of young offenders and has some extraordinarily good statistical rates for lack of reconvictions.
What about custody? A young friend of mine, Tom Rogan, was at St. John's school in Leatherhead. Older children at that school had almost a mentoring relationship with younger and similar aged people in the Leatherhead area with problems. Some of them had attention deficit disorder, some had domestic problems and others turned to crime. They used to talk to them to try to find out what was going on and whether they could help. Tom said that they all thought, as 17 and 18-year-olds, that there was a place for custody, and I agree that there is. The point was made earlier that some young offenders glory in going to prison, but on the other hand, as Tom said, incarceration takes the cool out of crime. He went on to say that they were convinced, as 17 and 18-year-olds, that what those young people from disadvantaged backgrounds lacked were the skills to make their own way in the community, family support, training, education and confidence. They felt that there was much more work to do on that.
Finally, I want to refer to a new programme, which I think is called the intensive fostering programme. The Home Office will know about the scheme, which is to be used instead of custody. Effectively, there is a supervision order to the youth offending team requiring the offender to reside for one year with a professional carer. In cases where the family background of the young person is absolutely chaotic and dismal, there may be a requirement to live with professional fosterers, who have to be very decent and good families to give the love and care to a youngster who is going off the rails that they have so sadly missed in the past. I do not intend to sound soppy when I say that love, care, discipline, a good education and a secure background are extremely important. If we are to get more youngsters out of custody and get them off the conveyor belt to crime, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin said on one occasion, that is the way that we must move.
Those are a few passing thoughts. They come from someone who does not talk party politically today and who recognises the problems in the system. I believe that drink and drugs are greatly involved in some of today's problems. Many more drug rehabilitation places are necessary.
The hon. Gentleman speaks from huge experience as a judge and stipendiary magistrate. He has expressed his support for all the positive programmes that have been introduced. However, there is no reason why any of them could not be carried on with young people within the care system, as an attachment to supervision orders in care proceedings. There is surely no reason why any of these measures have to be taken with young people who have been through the criminal justice system.
The hon. Gentleman is right. One of the problems with all these courses is funding. Many are extremely expensive. Many of these courses exist outside the criminal justice system, but they are linked with it in many ways. I suspect that our successors will be sitting here in 30 years asking what on earth can be done about young people and crime and the large numbers in custody. This is one area of policy where there are serious contributions to be made from men and women of good will in every political party. We all share the same objective: more young people with constructive and good lives and fewer, if possible, in custody.
It has been excellent debate. We have heard three superb speeches from the hon. Members for Woking (Mr. Malins) and for Ludlow (Matthew Green) and from my hon. Friend Mr. Dawson. I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. It is a difficult subject, but I, as the Minister, do not shy away from it. I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss it with him and other colleagues.
My hon. Friend has, as usual, spoken with great passion, understanding and experience. His experience goes back beyond 1997, when he entered this House, to his former professional career. In some ways I was pleased that there were fewer speeches than there might have been this afternoon as it gave him a superb opportunity to lay out in full his beliefs and views on the issue. I am sure that in years to come when people ask what he stood for here, we can point them in the direction of his speech today. It summed up everything. My hon. Friend was candid enough to admit that of the letters in his postbag, half support his views and the other half oppose them. But that does not deter him from trying to strike the right balance. Nor does it deter me, even though we may strike it in a slightly different position.
We have been grappling with two basic questions. First, is custody ever an appropriate response to offending by young people? Secondly, if it can be justified, how can we make a positive intervention in a young person's life that can help them to turn away from offending? On the first question I want to make the Government's view absolutely clear: custody should only be used as a last resort. The vast majority of young people who get into trouble can be steered away from offending without the need for custody. Indeed, we have given statutory backing to that requirement in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000.
The statistics show that by and large those who go into custody have committed a serious offence for which there is no realistic alternative sentence, pose a danger to the public or are persistent offenders for whom other options have not worked.
Every year, about 190,000 young people get into trouble with the police. About half are dealt with outside the court system by means of reprimands or final warnings, and most of them stay out of trouble after such intervention. Of those who go to court and are convicted, the overwhelming majority get either a low-level disposal or a community sentence, such as action plan orders, supervision orders, or community rehabilitation orders. Only about 4 per cent. go into custody each year, and they are mostly young people who have failed to respond to non-custodial sentences.
Reference has been made to antisocial behaviour, but young people are not sent to custody for one-off acts of antisocial behaviour. Reprehensible as they are and urgently though they need to be dealt with, we are talking about young people committing serious crimes or having a long-standing record of repeat serious offending.
There is a serious, new but growing problem of young people being sentenced to custody because they are in breach of antisocial behaviour orders. They are often young people without substantial criminal records, but we have opened up a new avenue for custody.
My hon. Friend raises what I know has been an issue of public debate, and because of that and my responsibilities, I have carefully examined the figures. The numbers of young people going into custody due to a breach of an antisocial behaviour order are very small. People are served with ASBOs not for dropping litter in the street, for example, but for very serious behaviour that can destroy the lives of individuals and families. It is a serious matter, although I reassure my hon. Friend that the numbers are small.
When a young person is sent into custody, it is important that it is not seen as a stand-alone initiative. If we have learned nothing else, it is that periods of custody must be followed with intensive supervision in the community. The hon. Member for Woking quoted the example of Trailblazers, and was quite right: part of that ongoing supervision and support is often provided by mentors who can provide the personal support to young people that is often necessary to sustain the change that we all want to see.
The Minister is arguing that young people who end up in custody are often repeat offenders whose behaviour other systems have failed to address. However, 84 per cent. of young offenders who go to prison reoffend within two years. They are being sent into a system that is almost guaranteed to fail them as well.
I know that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend both raised the issue of reoffending rates, and I share their concern about the high levels of reoffending. I am determined to do everything that we can to reduce those levels, although they indicate that individuals going into custody are young people who are already showing an embedded pattern of crime in their behaviour, which regrettably often recurs after their release from prison. We must, at the very least, reduce the rate and seriousness of reoffending. I assure the House that the Government will do everything possible, working in partnership with the Youth Justice Board, to do that.
In everything that I am saying, I do not wish for one minute to appear complacent about the current situation; nobody should be, and we intend to do more. The hon. Member for Woking mentioned the intensive supervision and surveillance programme, which combines challenging, purposeful activity with intensive surveillance, and can include electronic tagging. From a standing start in July 2001 to the end of November last year, there were 1,346 young people on ISSP schemes. Those young people would otherwise have run a serious risk of being in custody, but we can sustain them in the community under that intensive supervision.
That is very encouraging. We have had other feedback from sentencers and professionals in the field to support that view. That is why the draft youth justice Bill, which was announced in the Queen's Speech, will contain proposals for further measures. These will include an intensive supervision and surveillance order, turning the packaged support that we have been discussing into a substantial provision, which the courts will be able to use as a clear alternative to a custodial sentence. We will also be making the statutory criteria for custodial sentences tighter still.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned intensive fostering, and that is also something that we want to see develop. Clearly, if a young person has been deprived of decent, normal relationships, that may in some way be behind their offending behaviour. If we can get them that experience of family life and put them back on track, that will send a sensible and positive message.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was rather critical of the drug testing and treatment order. It is true that there were relatively high levels of reoffending in the early pilots, although, again, those who were subject to DTTOs were high-level offenders and chaotic drug users. The evidence is that if we can get people through these programmes, many of them will stop committing offences. Reporting back to sentencers is an important aspect of the order; it is an additional responsibility for sentencers, but my experience is that offenders who know that they must go back and have their progress reported directly to sentencers have an added incentive. Indeed, those who go back to the sentencer, having managed to stay off drugs and free from crime—this would apply to young people, too—get a massive boost when the sentencer can, for once, say something positive about them, rather than repeat the usual negative message. However, we shall no doubt return to the issue in due course.
We have discussed the state of the juvenile secure estate and the regimes for young people who are placed in custody. I acknowledge that criticisms of it have been made here and elsewhere, and there is certainly scope for improvement; I do not deny that for a second. However, it is worth spelling out some of the improvements that have been made in provision for under-18s over recent years.
Until 2000, there was no separate secure estate for under-18s. In that year, we took the major step of giving the Youth Justice Board responsibility for purchasing and commissioning juvenile secure places. We saw that as a key step in raising standards and improving the conditions in which juveniles are kept. We have invested heavily in improving custodial provision. In 2003–04—the last year for which we have audited accounts—the Youth Justice Board spent £225 million on the secure estate, which was a 20 per cent. increase over 2000–01.
That investment has clearly brought results. The Youth Justice Board has established an entirely separate juvenile estate for boys, and I am delighted to be able to confirm that it has achieved the goal of removing all 15 and 16-year-old girls from Prison Service accommodation. It has also set up a national system for placing offenders, and it is worth saying that boys under 15 and all girls under 17 are held in secure training centres or local authority secure children's homes. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre feels strongly about the number of local authority secure children's home places that are available, and it is true that the number of such places has fallen in recent years from 297 to 235. At the same time, however, we have developed the secure training centre places, which were not there in the past. Between them, those two areas of provision now offer accommodation and supervision for the younger boys and for most of the girls who come into the custodial system. They provide 509 places, considerably more than there used to be.
I did not say much about secure training centres. However, would the Minister confirm that in their staffing ratios, the quality of life that they offer and the training of the staff whom they employ, they do not meet the standards and principles of residential care for children?
I can see that there are differences. However, I think that some of the differences that appear to my hon. Friend to be negative are positive. Secure training centres offer greater scope for education, more space, and more opportunity to do certain activities and, by and large—from what I have seen—they are safe and do constructive work with young people. It is sometimes argued that we developed them because they are cheap. They are a little—not much—cheaper than local authority secure children's homes. The average annual cost of a place in a secure children's home is about £185,000, and one in a secure training centre is £164,000. They are not cheap; they are expensive, and we are right to make that investment. I take extremely seriously the safety of children in secure training centres.
I accept that my hon. Friend takes the safety of children in secure training centres extremely seriously. However, there have recently been two deaths in such centres, one during an incident of restraint. I gave some statistics about the thousands of times in which restraint has been used in secure training centres. What has the Home Office done to investigate the methods of restraint used by staff in those establishments?
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will come to that a little later. I hope that he will allow me to conclude the part of my speech that emphasises the improvements that we have made in provision for young people in custody. The increase in educational funding has been substantial, and a young person in custody now has an average of 24 hours' education and training every week. Some might think that that is not remarkable; that that should be our standard. I agree. However, it was not achieved in the past, and we are achieving it now. That is wholly positive.
Of course, hon. Members are right to press for further improvements. I am sure that more needs to be done, and we should all consider what might be possible. However, it is also fair to acknowledge the improvement in standards. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre pointed out that a rather partial quotation from the Children's Rights Alliance was used in the recent the Youth Justice Board publication. None the less, it acknowledged that improvement had occurred, as did the Audit Commission, which regards our youth justice system as a massive improvement over what there was before.
A matter of particular concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre, and to hon. Members of all parties, is the serious and pressing issue of suicide and self-harm. The recent death of Gareth Price at Lancaster Farms YOI, like all deaths in custody, was a terrible tragedy, and I send my deepest sympathy to Gareth's family, and to the staff at Lancaster Farms. My hon. Friend mentioned earlier that he and I went together to Lancaster Farms just a few days ago and met the member of staff who tried to save that young boy's life. We should never forget the efforts that staff make, and the care that they show the vulnerable young people in our custodial system. I pay tribute to them for that, and am grateful that my hon. Friend has joined me in doing so.
We take such deaths extremely seriously. First, there is a police investigation whenever there is a death in custody. That is quite right because, depending on the circumstances, there might be grounds for a prosecution. Certainly, there is a need for a report to the coroner. Of course, the coroner carries out an inquest into all deaths that occur in custody. There is also the chapter 8 review, using the Department of Health guidelines, which is conducted by the local authority for the area in which the young person resided ordinarily. As the prisons and probation ombudsman has been given the responsibility for investigating all deaths in custody, including, now, those of juveniles, there is also the investigation that he carries out with support from the Youth Justice Board. So a rigorous and comprehensive view is taken of any death in custody, and rightly so.
Shortly—before the end of February, I hope—the Home Office will be able to respond to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which published before Christmas an extensive and important report on deaths in custody. I hope that the House will see from our response that we take these issues seriously.
Will my hon. Friend tell me why the Home Office turned down the recommendation from the coroner at the Joseph Scholes inquest that there should be a public inquiry? I know that he has taken a great deal of action in this regard, but surely there is a good case for a public inquiry.
The case for a public inquiry has been put by hon. Members. The coroner who conducted the inquest into Joseph Scholes's death wrote to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to urge him to consider a public inquiry, and we considered the arguments for such an inquiry very seriously. It was of great concern to us to ensure that we responded to the concerns that the coroner expressed, which were in three areas. First, he was concerned about the sentencing issues to which Joseph's case gave rise, particularly as regards sentencing for robbery. It seemed to us that it was appropriate to refer that matter to the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which will draw up sentencing guidelines in respect of robbery. We want the council to consider carefully the case of Joseph Scholes as it draws up its guidance.
Secondly, a number of operational issues arose from Joseph's case. We asked David Lambert, a former assistant chief inspector for the social services inspectorate, to undertake a review of all the operational issues and to report back to the Home Office his findings. I anticipate that his report will be with me very soon. We shall certainly want to learn from any operational issues that he deals with and makes recommendations on in his report.
The third strand of concern relates to the provision of custodial places. As the Youth Justice Board is conducting a review of the secure estate—my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre referred to the document that it published—it was timely that we asked the board to incorporate questions about Joseph Scholes's case in its consideration. My hon. Friend and others will note from the document that that is one of the specific requirements that I have placed on the Youth Justice Board as it carries out its review.
We have sought to break down the concerns into those three strands and to deal with them urgently, so that we can learn from Joseph's tragic death. We let Joseph Scholes down terribly, and there is no hiding from that. We have to learn from his case. The fact that we do not agree that a public inquiry is needed should not lead anyone to think that we do not regard this as a most serious matter, but we are seeking to develop responses as quickly and comprehensively as possible in the way that I have outlined, rather than through a public inquiry.
The Minister has mentioned in relation to two of the concerns that he has outlined that there will be reports. Will he reassure the House that those reports will be published in full, with all relevant details? One reason for the demand for a public inquiry is the concern that somehow the system will sweep this matter under the carpet. It would go some way towards meeting people's concerns if all the reports were published in full as a result.
On reports by the prisons and probation ombudsman, which do not apply to the case of Joseph Scholes because he did not have the responsibility at the time, there are sometimes difficulties in publishing reports in full because of personal details. However, in relation to the three issues that I have outlined, it will, I hope, be apparent from the Sentencing Guidelines Council report that the case of Joseph Scholes has been taken into account. Any recommendations made by David Lambert will be made public, and I see no problem in publishing all of his report. Subject to further clarification, I can give the Chamber that assurance.
It is apparent in the Youth Justice Board's document that it is taking account of the case of Joseph Scholes in its review, and I am sure that we will look to its eventual proposal, following the consultation period, to see that it has taken account of that tragic case in its future plans. I am a firm believer in transparency in most things, and certainly in this area, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will seek to make it plain what lessons have been learned and how recommendations will be put into effect.
New policies and practices have been introduced by the Prison Service and the Youth Justice Board since 2001. They include counselling, support groups, specialised psychological interventions and measures to improve general health. It is worth emphasising that from April almost all prisons will have their health services commissioned by the local primary care trust. In other words, the national health service will take over all health provision in our prisons, and in most of them that will be from this April. That is leading to substantial new investment in health, and it will inevitably lead to improvements in the quality and standards of health care that is provided. That is a wholly good thing.
We now have in place suicide prevention co-ordinators in all our establishments, and the Youth Justice Board has funded dedicated juvenile outreach teams. Further measures are being put in place, and more action is planned to improve regimes. We are putting in place first-night and reception facilities, better systems for recognising vulnerability, child protection training, mental health nursing, counselling and peer support. We also want to minimise the use of segregation.
It is important to remember that young people in custody often have very serious problems that form a major part of the background to their offending—for example, family histories or a history of substance misuse. Looking after and safeguarding such damaged young people will never be an easy task. Identifying which young people are most at risk is critical, and although a significant number of young people in custody are assessed as vulnerable, many can be safely accommodated in a juvenile young offender institution with the right help. Others who are more vulnerable may be better placed in a secure training centre or local authority children's home.
Hon. Members—and my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre in particular—raised concerns about the use of restraint, especially since the death of Gareth Myatt in Rainsbrook secure training centre in April last year. Investigations and inquiries into Gareth's death are still in progress, so I am not in a position to say much about the particular circumstances of the case. However, I can confirm that the Youth Justice Board is reviewing the safety of restraint techniques in secure training centres and considering how better behaviour management practices could help to minimise the need for restraint. It is vital that all establishments are safe for young people.
In November, the Youth Justice Board issued a consultation document, "Strategy for the Secure Estate for Juveniles", which has been mentioned several times. It sets out in detail some of the achievements that I have referred to, explains the assumptions and principles underlying the board's approach to custody, and outlines plans for the period 2005–06 to 2007–08. The consultation period ends on