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Young Offenders (North-West)

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 3 February 2009

1. What assessment he has made of the availability of rehabilitation schemes to young offenders in the north-west. (253521)

It is a core objective of the Government to improve rehabilitation schemes for young offenders with the aim of cutting crime and changing lives. We keep that under constant review.

I thank the Minister for his reply. One of the major contributions to reducing reoffending, especially among young men such as the ones held in Lancaster Farms in my constituency, is the use of residential outdoor courses, often supported by the YMCA. What will the Department do to encourage more use of those to help those young men rebuild their lives after their offences?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, and it is important that we provide a range of activities to give people some experience outside the criminal environment and to try to change their lives by acquiring positive skills. He will know that throughout the north-west we have undertaken work with the Prince’s Trust and the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. In the last three years in the north-west alone, 332 awards have been made by the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. That partnership is important and will continue.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as well as providing support for young people with substance abuse problems and mental health issues, Blackpool youth offending team is working with Blackpool council to identify suitable accommodation for young offenders? A homeless young offender is much less likely to be rehabilitated than one with a home. Will my right hon. Friend therefore try to ensure that suitable accommodation is available?

Indeed, my hon. Friend makes an important point. When people return to the community from a young offenders institution or other form of such accommodation, they need help and support not only with education and training but with housing. I am meeting the Housing Minister tomorrow to discuss that very issue.

One of the best things for young people in young offenders institutions is purposeful activity. It has been reported that at Lancaster Farms young offenders spend an average of only 9.7 hours a week on education or team activities, and 2.2 hours on sport or physical activity. Will the Minister look again at the level of activity of young people in those institutions and ensure that they undertake purposeful activities?

I will certainly look at that. There is a wide range of learning and skills provision—including work experience, the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, and Prince’s Trust and other high-intensity work—going on in those centres. In relation to Lancaster Farms, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace), we are establishing links with Lancaster probation service and Lancaster and Morecambe college to try to get people into employment when they leave the institution.

I must give the Minister a dreadful statistic. After 12 years of this Government, seven out of 10 young men released from the young offender custodial estate reoffend within 12 months and most reoffend 30 times within 12 months of release. What is he doing to stop that awful situation?

Those figures are coming down, but I accept in part what the hon. Gentleman says—there is still a high level of reoffending by young people leaving those institutions. As I have said, support is needed in learning and skills, literacy and numeracy, employment and housing, and in tackling the drug and alcohol problems that people have, and last summer we introduced the youth crime action plan to try to tackle some of those issues early on in people’s criminal careers. The hon. Gentleman mentions 12 years of this Government, but the Conservatives’ proposals to cut further money from this budget would be unlikely to lead to a positive improvement in activity at Lancaster Farms and Hindley in the north-west.

May I ask the distinguished Minister, for whom I have a very high regard—[Interruption.] May I ask how widely schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh awards—a fantastic scheme that does a great deal for the rehabilitation of young offenders—are available in north-west England, an area that includes my constituency?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, and who am I to ignore the great cheers that he received from his hon. Friends? If we are engaged in a mutual love-in, I may say that I have a great respect for him and his work as a member of the Speaker’s Panel and in this House. There were 332 awards made by the Duke of Edinburgh scheme in the last three years. Those young people have gone through the system, improved their lives and benefited from those awards. I want to see more of that, and that is why the partnerships with the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme and the Prince’s Trust are important in the north-west and throughout England and Wales.

May I remind the Minister of another of the Government’s figures, which show that three quarters of those in young offenders institutions are dependent on drugs? Why did only 100 young offenders from Lancaster Farms YOI start drug treatment last year? Does the Minister agree with the chief inspector of prisons’ view, published in her annual report last week, that it is remarkable that so little has been done to tackle the fourfold increase in alcohol-related problems in prisons?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this Government have increased by a massive amount the resources devoted to overcoming those problems. Obviously, there is a lot of drug-related crime, which means that individuals who enter the system need greater support. In the north-west alone, three drug and alcohol programmes and two offending behaviour programmes are in operation. In particular, there is the CARAT scheme, which provides counselling, assessment, referral, advice and throughcare. It deals with self-esteem, drug programmes, sexual health, the supply of drugs, healthy eating, steroid abuse, stress management and relapse prevention. All those schemes are funded by Government resources that, unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman’s party has pledged to cut from our Department.