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Young Offenders

Volume 479: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1) what procedures are in place to identify (a) mental health problems, (b) learning difficulties and (c) addictions among those entering young offender centres in Northern Ireland; (218760)

(2) what percentage of residents in young offenders centres in Northern Ireland in each of the last five years have been diagnosed as having (a) mental health problems and (b) learning difficulties;

(3) what percentage of those detained in young offender centres have experienced (a) learning difficulties, (b) literacy and numeracy difficulties, (c) time spent as a looked-after child, (d) mental health problems or personality disorder, (e) family break-down and (f) exclusion from school;

(4) what procedures there are for assessment of those entering young offender centres for (a) mental health problems or personality disorders, (b) educational under-achievement, (c) learning difficulties, (d) addictions and (e) family difficulties or breakdown.

All young offenders coming into prison undergo a health care committal screen on the first night. They are asked questions about mental health problems, drug and/or alcohol use or misuse and if they have any particular literacy problems. All inmates are also seen, on initial committal, by Opportunity Youth to identify any alcohol or substance misuse problems. If specific mental health problems are identified then they would receive onward referral to mental health support within health care.

The first assessment will be carried out by a mental health nurse who will provide basic support but, if required, a further referral will be made to another specialist, such as cognitive behavioural therapists, Opportunity Youth or psychiatrists.

A health care induction programme, aimed at providing inmates with information regarding the health services available to them whilst in custody, has been produced and is being delivered twice a week to all new committals. Inmates are informed of the clinics and support services available to them and how to access them. All staff, including the dental team, deliver the induction programme on a rotational basis.

Wider research in the UK suggests that approximately 60-70 per cent. of prisoners have some mental health problem but detailed analysis has not yet been undertaken specifically in relation to the young offender centre population.

Inmates are also given an education assessment within 20 days of committal which assesses literacy and numeracy ability and also tests for dyslexia. They are also asked to make the assessor aware of any other known learning difficulties, in particular ADHD.

In the last three years 31 per cent. of male young offenders have shown some indicators for dyslexia, (this compares with a figure of approximately 10 per cent. in the general population). A pilot is under way to assess better learning difficulties among the young offenders and in particular ADHD, which will also develop and pilot appropriate interventions.

At present, education staff are able to assess but not formally diagnose specific learning difficulties, although they can and do identify indications for certain conditions and plan and deliver lessons accordingly. Prison Service will also consider a diagnosis of dyslexia, which is a more formal process than assessment and must be carried out by a suitable qualified individual, as part of the pilot.

The Prison Service does not routinely have access to the academic, social care and other records of individuals before they come into custody. However, our own assessments on committal show that around 70 per cent. have literacy and numeracy skills below level 1, which is comparable to that of an 11-year-old.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that lead responsibility for the provision of prison health care was transferred to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety on 1 April 2008 and therefore I have copied these questions and my response to the Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey MLA.