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Youth Custody Provision

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2016

Our system of youth justice does need reform. Although youth offending is down, recidivism rates are high, and the care of young offenders in custody is not good enough. I know that concerns across this House can only have been heightened following the “Panorama” investigation into events at the Medway secure training centre. That is why today, in a written statement, I have appointed an independent improvement board to investigate what has happened at Medway and to ensure that the capability of G4S, the Youth Justice Board and other organisations to meet appropriate standards is sufficient.

The roll-out of the new minimising and managing physical restraint system has been delayed for a year. In 2013-14, there were almost 3,000 assault incidents in the children’s secure estate—a 7% increase on 2012-13, even though the number of children in custody had fallen by 20%. What is the Secretary of State doing to address this rising number of incidents and to ensure that a new, safer system is implemented?

The hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to the fact that there has been a reduction in the number of young people in the youth estate. However, as the number has reduced, so those who remain tend to be those who have been arrested for the most violent crimes and who pose the greatest difficulties for those who have to care for them and keep them in custody. It is vital to ensure that when restraint is applied, it is done so in a way that minimises risks to young people, but also ensures that safety can be restored. One of the purposes of Charlie Taylor’s review of youth justice is to make sure that the workforce is appropriately trained to restrain young people in their own interests and those of others.

I recently visited Swanwick Lodge, a secure home for 10 to 17-year-olds in my constituency. Its work focuses on tackling the root causes that have led to those young people’s loss of liberty with education, substance misuse therapies and early intervention. Will my right hon. Friend describe what other measures are in place to tackle youth rehabilitation and reduce reoffending?

Before my hon. Friend came into the House, she did a great deal of work to help disadvantaged children achieve better educational outcomes. She will know as well as anyone in the House that some of the children who end up in trouble with the criminal justice system have grown up in homes where love has been absent or fleeting, and where no one has cared enough to tell those young people the difference between right and wrong. The work being conducted by the Education Secretary to improve our child protection system and the work being led by the Communities and Local Government Secretary to tackle the problems of troubled families are integral to ensuring that we reduce the number of young people who fall into crime.

It was obvious to those who watched the “Panorama” programme that the G4S workforce was under-qualified, under-trained and under pressure not to report incidents that should have been reported, because of the threat to G4S’s profits. Is it not now time that we recognised that the most difficult and vulnerable children in our system should not be looked after by a profit-driven organisation, but by properly trained and publicly accountable staff?

I do not doubt for a moment the hon. Lady’s sincerity in caring about these young people. The allegations about what happened in Medway were of course terrible. It is also important, however, to take on board the fact that private sector organisations, including G4S, are responsible for the care of young offenders, not least at Parc in Bridgend, and have been doing an exemplary job in other areas. It is quite wrong to draw conclusions about the private sector or the public sector. What matters is getting outcomes right for children. We should not, on the back of human misery, try to carry forward a narrow ideological argument.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the distinguished former soldier General Sir Rupert Smith on taking on the airborne initiative at the young offenders institution on Portland? Does he agree that getting appropriate young offenders out on to the moors for five testing days is an excellent scheme that demands our support?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I have to say that the capacity of cadet forces and military involvement to turn around the lives of young men who find themselves in trouble has been attested to over the years. Everything that we can do to support the Education Secretary in extending the work of cadet forces or to support General Sir Rupert Smith, a man who is a hero in my eyes, in helping to rescue the lives of young people we should do.

The allegations in the “Panorama” programme on 11 January about Medway secure training centre were truly appalling. I am glad that the Secretary of State has listened to the chief inspector of prisons and to us, and will appoint an independent improvement board. I also note that the director of Medway has just resigned.

The three STCs in England—Medway, Oakhill and Rainsbrook—are run by G4S. Following a damning inspection report last year, the Rainsbrook contract was taken away from G4S. This has nothing to do with ideology, but on the basis of the evidence before us, will the Government now take away G4S’s Medway contract and ensure that G4S is not awarded any future contracts?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it is because the allegations are so serious that we have to investigate them properly. The independent improvement board will both investigate what went on and ensure that children are safe. When any organisation fails in the delivery of public services, as G4S did at Rainsbrook, we will take steps to remove the contract, and a new organisation has been given that contract. Of course, if G4S has failed in this regard, then we will take all steps necessary to keep children safe.