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Volume 449: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will consider the merits of establishing a public inquiry into (a) the deaths of children in custody and (b) the role of sentencing policy in such cases; and if he will make a statement. (86229)

Any death of a child or young person in custody is thoroughly investigated. (Fortunately such deaths are comparatively rare.) The main form of public inquiry into any death is the inquest. Developments in case law in recent years have greatly extended the scope of inquests into deaths in custody, so that they can now inquire into a wide range of possible contributory factors (although sentencing policy will rarely, if ever, be a directly contributory factor to a death in an individual case). In addition, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman conducts his own independent inquiry into any death of a young person in a young offender institution or a secure training centre; and the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board is likely to commission a serious case review under Part 8 of the joint Department for Education and Skills/Home Office/Department of Health guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children (1999). Many of the young people who become involved in serious or persistent offending are at risk of self-harm, whether or not they are in custody. It is not possible to quantify how many young people’s health, including mental health, has been positively assisted by care received while in custody. There is no reason to believe that sentencing policy is increasing the rate of mortality of young people under 18.