Cookies: We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. By continuing to use the site you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more.

House of Commons Hansard

Youth Justice System: Gypsies and Travellers

01 February 2017
Volume 620

  • I beg to move,

    That this House has considered outcomes for Gypsies and Travellers in the youth justice system.

    I am very pleased to have secured this debate in order to raise the experiences and disproportionate representation of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in our youth justice system. This is a significant issue for the youth justice system. The most recent annual “Children in Custody” report, an independent report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons commissioned by the Youth Justice Board, was published in November last year and revealed yet again the over-representation of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in youth custody, as have numerous reports before it.

    Despite a welcome decrease in the number of children in custody in recent years, analysis of the “Children in Custody” report by the Traveller Movement shows that the number of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children and young people in custody remains disproportionately high: 12% of children in secure training centres identify as Gypsy, Traveller or Roma, as do 7% of boys in young offenders institutions, and 51% of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in young offenders institutions report that this is not their first time in custody.

    The figures, which are troubling in themselves, almost certainly understate the true position. The “Children in Custody” report is based on survey data, not on comprehensive and systematic monitoring of young offenders and children. The surveys completed by young offenders are based on information from only five young offenders institutions, and young offenders institutions sited in the adult prison estate are not included. Yet the Irish Chaplaincy, for example, estimates that YOI Isis, which is situated in Belmarsh prison, currently houses around 20 Gypsies and Travellers aged 18 to 21. There is little data available on sentence length, although we know that a third of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys in young offenders institutions had been sentenced to less than 12 months in custody. It is therefore reasonable to assume that over a full year, the overall number of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys in custody in the youth justice system will be higher.

    However, perhaps reflecting the relative paucity of data, such over-representation in the youth custody system does not always receive sufficient official recognition and attention. All too often, Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children are overlooked by both service providers and policy makers. For example, Charlie Taylor’s recent review of the youth justice system did not mention Gypsy, Traveller and Roma young people at all, despite the representations made to him by those groups.

    Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children share similar characteristics with other children in custody, particularly in relation to having been in care and their poor educational experience. It is clear, despite the deficiencies of the data that we have and the lack of attention to their circumstances, that the disproportionate representation of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma young people in the youth custody system reflects the widespread failure of support systems and services prior to those young people entering custody.

  • I am delighted that my hon. Friend secured a debate on this subject. She is right that we have sufficient information, because of the work of the Irish Chaplaincy and others, to know that discrimination is a serious problem, but it is shameful that the Government do not collect the statistics. Would she welcome the Minister telling us today that the Government will use up-to-date census data and will have a comprehensive investigation of this issue?

  • As my hon. Friend will hear, that will be the precise thrust of my speech this morning.

    Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children are disproportionately likely to be the subject of care proceedings. That feeds through to the significant numbers of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in custody who have been in local authority care: 47% and 33% in secure training centres and young offenders institutions respectively, according to the Traveller Movement.

    Meanwhile, at every key stage of their schooling, Gypsies and Travellers have lower rates of attainment. Again, their poor educational experience prior to entering custody shows up in the youth justice system: 84% of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys in young offenders institutions had been excluded from school, and 55% said they were 14 or younger the last time they attended school.

    Although their routes into custody offer a depressing reflection of the disadvantage that Gypsy, Traveller and Roma young people experience in wider society, what is even more depressing is that these failures continue while Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children are in custody. Generally speaking, those children have a worse experience in custody compared with other children, whether in education, safety, health, understanding procedures, or being prepared for life after release. At every stage when the state ought to be looking after these young people, helping them to develop and preparing them for positive lives on release, it fails them. That need not be the case.

    Despite Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children being significantly more likely to have left education early, had lower rates of attainment and had higher rates of absences and exclusions, they have very positive perceptions towards education while in custody. Some 61% of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in secure training centres believed education would benefit them when they left. In young offenders institutions, 70% said education would benefit them, compared with 58% of non-Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children. Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys were also more likely to be involved in vocational and skills training or to have a job while in custody.

    Despite indications of a positive appetite for education, opportunities are being missed. In secure training centres, only 55% of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children, compared with 70% of other children, said that they had learnt skills for jobs that they would like to do in future. Youth custody institutions and facilities need to develop targeted strategies to improve educational outcomes for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma in custody, and need to promote courses that will allow those young people to lawfully participate in businesses that fit with their family lives and culture on release.

    A similar picture pertains in relation to health. The Irish Chaplaincy’s “Voices Unheard” report first identified that a significant proportion of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma prisoners suffer mental health issues. The Traveller Movement’s research into the “Children in Custody” responses found that those children in secure training centres were twice as likely to report having unmet health needs, while a quarter of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys in young offenders institutions said they were disabled and 23% reported emotional or mental health problems.

    Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in secure training centres were significantly more likely to report feeling unsafe and experiencing bullying or intimidation by staff or other young people. According to the Howard League, half had been restrained compared with 29% of other children. We see a similar experience in young offenders institutions with Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys reporting higher rates of victimisation from other young people. Gypsy, Traveller and Roma detainees were also three and five times more likely to have their canteen and property taken off them by other young people in young offenders institutions and secure training centres respectively.

    Finally, in secure training centres, Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children struggled to maintain contact with their families, and were less likely to know who to look to for help when opening a bank account, finding accommodation or continuing health services when released. Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys in young offenders institutions were also less likely to know who they should contact if they encountered problems on release.

    It is clear that many steps need to be taken to address the poor outcomes for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in custody. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) suggested, a significant barrier is the lack of adequate data. In schools, every headteacher knows the exact ethnic breakdown of his or her pupils and is therefore able to adapt strategies and policies to correct any disadvantages they experience. Shockingly, such data are not available in the youth custody system. Reports such as “Children in Custody” present only a partial snapshot. As the then prisons Minister conceded on 9 March 2015 in answer to a written question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, Ministers

    “are unable to determine the actual number”

    of young Gypsies and Travellers in youth custody establishments.

    The limitations of relying only on survey data are compounded by the fact that the youth justice system still uses ethnic monitoring systems based on the 2001 census classifications. Since 2011, the census has used the so-called 18+1 ethnic categorisation, which enables the identification of Gypsies and Travellers. Reflecting that, the police are expected to update their ethnic monitoring system soon to include Gypsies and Travellers, while the adult prison estate has monitored Gypsies and Travellers since 2011.The youth justice system will therefore be the only key criminal justice agency without proper modern ethnic monitoring of Gypsies and Travellers.

    Given the troubling picture presented by the Traveller Movement, the Irish Chaplaincy, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons and others, it is not surprising that pressure for the youth justice system to address the issue is mounting. In November last year, amendments tabled by Baroness Brinton to the Policing and Crime Bill would have required the introduction of ethnic monitoring in the youth criminal justice system for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children and young people. In the debate on her amendments on 16 November, Baroness Brinton pointed to the need to move to the 18+1 system to consistently capture the representation and experience of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma young people in the youth custody system. The national police chiefs lead for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma issues, Deputy Chief Constable Janette McCormick, wrote to the Lord Chancellor, urging her to support the amendments.

    I recognise that obstacles exist to introducing that system of ethnic monitoring in the youth justice system. In the Lords’ debate on the Policing and Crime Bill, Baroness Whitaker acknowledged that

    “Many young people from the Gypsy and Traveller communities are fearful of admitting their ethnicity because of the bullying and exclusion”

    that they had previously experienced—but, as she pointed out,

    “trust can be developed if the information is shown to be helpful.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 November 2016; Vol. 776, c. 1499.]

    I also recognise concerns about the cost and complexity of changes to case management systems. Similar arguments were raised about the extension of ethnic monitoring to encompass Gypsies and Travellers in the police systems, but discussions with the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs Council revealed that there would be no cost to upgrading their systems. It is highly doubtful that the youth justice system can have a significantly more difficult or complex case management system than the police, which have eight or nine additional data sets and 45 territorial police forces to contend with.

    From my conversations, I do not believe that what is needed in the youth justice system is a complete corporate systems overhaul, but instead a small amendment to existing data systems. In any event, the cost of updating the system is outweighed by the benefits of helping to turn around the lives of these children and ensuring they lead purposeful, positive lives on release. I know that point is recognised by Lord McNally, chair of the Youth Justice Board. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to discuss the matter with him recently and I very much welcome his constructive engagement.

    I am also pleased that in a letter to Lord Rosser following the House of Lords debate last November in response to points he raised about the cost of changing systems, Baroness Chisholm said that the Youth Justice Board is committed to moving to the 18+1 classification, but I note that no specific timescales or costs were suggested in that letter.

    Children from a Traveller background clearly experience greater levels of need and have worse experiences in custody than other children. A year ago, the then chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said that

    “with any other group such huge disproportionality would have led to more formal inquiry and investigation into what part of their backgrounds or interaction with the criminal justice system had led to this situation.”

    I applaud the Prime Minister’s commitment to monitoring racial disparities in public service outcomes and nowhere is that more acutely needed than in relation to Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children. I was therefore very pleased that in responding to me at Cabinet Office questions on 2 November last year, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General said that he would ensure that every Government Department and agency would use the 2011 census classifications. Nowhere is it more surely time to move from warm words to taking action properly to capture and monitor the data needed to address the needs of this deeply disadvantaged group of children than in the youth justice system. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us the tangible steps the Government are taking to do that and that they are taking them quickly.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on securing the debate. She has a long history of engagement in these issues, both before coming into Parliament and since.

    Young people are some of the most vulnerable in the secure estate. We are determined to improve standards in youth justice so that we not only punish crime but intervene earlier to prevent crime and reform offenders to prevent further crimes from being committed.

    There has been a significant and welcome reduction in the number of young people entering the youth justice system in recent years. However, we are concerned about the levels of disparity that exist in the justice system. Last August, the Prime Minister announced an audit of public services to reveal racial disparities, and the review, headed by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), has been established to provide an independent assessment of the treatment of and outcomes for black and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system. Gypsies and Travellers fall within the scope of the review. In November last year, the right hon. Gentleman wrote to the Prime Minister setting out some of his emerging findings. The final report is due to be published in the summer, and we will give its findings careful consideration.

    We also welcome the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry launched in November last year, which will look at the effectiveness of Government policy in improving outcomes for Gypsy, Romany or Traveller communities across education, health and employment as well as the criminal justice system. We will monitor the outcome of that inquiry.

    I note the recent report by the Traveller Movement on Gypsies, Romany and Travellers in the youth justice system, for which the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston drafted the foreword. I commend its work to promote increased race equality, inclusion and community cohesion.

    The Youth Justice Board does not currently require local authorities to collect data specific to the identification of Gypsy, Romany and Traveller children and young people. However, the YJB and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons publish an annual report, “Children in Custody”, which monitors the number of GRT children in young offenders institutions and secure training centres. The latest report, published last November, found that of the young people surveyed in STCs, 12% identified as GRT in 2015-16, which was up from 11% in 2014-15. For young offenders institutions, 7% considered themselves to be GRT, which was down from 8% in 2014-15.

    The report showed that in young offenders institutions there was no difference between GRT children and the rest of the cohort in understanding spoken and written English. It also showed that participation in education, work or vocational skills training in custody is higher for those identifying as GRT than among the rest of the cohort.

  • As I think the Minister is indicating, surveys show that Gypsy and Traveller young people’s experience of education in youth custody is positive; to the extent that they are in vocational training, they want to do it and their perceptions of being in education are positive.

  • Order. This is not a speech, Mr Lammy. It is an intervention.

  • I have seen that as I have been around prisons. That is something that the youth justice system can build on. I hope the Minister might indicate how that might happen.

  • I know that the right hon. Gentleman is very interested in expanding the evidence base on the experience of GRT children in the youth justice system, in particular. As the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston indicated, the genesis of a lot the problems encountered in the justice system predates their appearance in the system. A lot of them relate to the fact that those children do not attend school, so their first opportunity to receive education is in the system. We are conscious of that, and we are pleased that some of the indicators show that, when those services are offered, children engage with them. We want that to continue.

    As I said, the youth justice system is of great importance to the Government. We have made it clear that outcomes are not good enough for children in custody. Reoffending rates remain stubbornly high, and not enough is done to support young offenders. That is evident for all young offenders, including those who identify as GRT. We also remain concerned about the level of violence in the youth secure estate. Recent figures demonstrate that levels of assault, self-harm and restraint remain too high.

    In December, we set out our response to Charlie Taylor’s review of the youth justice system and how we will improve outcomes for young offenders and safety across the youth custodial estate. We will develop a new pre-apprenticeship pathway to ensure that all children and young people are in education, training or employment on their release. We have committed to boosting the number of frontline staff in young offenders institutions, and we will develop two secure schools with a particular focus on education and health. They will look to attract a wide range of specialist providers and allow them the freedom to decide how best to deliver services. I look forward to updating the House on the progress of those reforms as the work develops.

    It is important that ethnicity classifications for young people are robust and accurate, so any potential disparities must be identified and suitably addressed. In 2011, the National Offender Management Service adopted the 18+1 ethnicity monitoring system on the centralised database used in prisons and young offenders institutions for the management of offenders, following the change of ethnicity classifications within the national census. The 18+1 system included as additional categories “Arab” and “Gypsy or Irish Traveller”, but the new classification is not consistently used by secure children’s homes, secure training centres and youth offending teams.

    The YJB uses a number of different IT systems to monitor performance across the youth justice system. The two largest systems are eAsset, the custody booking system, and the youth justice application framework, which is used to record the ethnicity of young people and draws on data from individual youth offending team case management systems. Both of those systems currently use criteria from the 2001 census categories, which means that they do not capture GRT as a distinct category.

    I am pleased to say that the Youth Justice Board has confirmed it is keen to move to the 18+1 system. However, although we support working towards consistency in the data that are recorded, further work is required to assess the feasibility and costs associated with such a move.

  • I am very encouraged by what the Minister is saying. Can he indicate how quickly that feasibility work can start?

  • No, but I will write to the hon. Lady with a guide to how long it will take. There are some issues around the implementation, as she will understand, not least because the national census criteria may change again. It is work in progress, but I am happy to write to her.

    Not only would the YJB have to make changes to its central systems, but it is likely that the youth offending teams would have to amend their individual case management systems too.

  • I am very glad about what the Minister has said, but to clarify that point, is he saying that that will happen and he is just going to give us a date, or that it might happen depending on the cost?

  • No, I am not committing to it happening. I am committing to coming back to Members with the approach we are taking. There are potential issues not only with the costs, but with how the work is going to be implemented across a diverse set of institutions, which are run by different organisations. I am committed to coming back with a schedule setting out the timing and how we are approaching this issue.

    Work has begun on looking into the implications of the changes. In October 2016, the Youth Justice Board informed the four case management system suppliers, which cover 158 youth offending teams in England and Wales, of its intention to move towards the revised classification system. It is formalising its business requirements prior to initiating a preliminary impact assessment, which will set out the dependencies with existing IT systems and identify the feasibility and indicative costs of moving to the revised classification system.

    On an issue raised by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston, the Government agree in principle with the use of the 18+1 system. We opposed the amendments that Baroness Brinton tabled to the Policing and Crime Bill for two main reasons: first, because further work was required to consider the cost and feasibility; and, secondly, because enshrining its use in legislation would create issues in the event that the Office for National Statistics decided to change the 18+1 system and introduce a new system of ethnicity classification in the future.

    Although there is much work to do, the Government are committed to accurate monitoring of ethnicity across the youth justice system.

    Question put and agreed to.

  • Sitting suspended.