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Youth Justice System

Volume 622: debated on Tuesday 7 March 2017

On 24 February, we announced changes to improve governance of the youth justice system. We are creating a new youth custody service headed by a dedicated, experienced director who will lead on operational delivery, and we have appointed Charlie Taylor as the new chair of the Youth Justice Board.

Young people in custody now have more complex needs, and more than three quarters of them have been excluded from school. How will we put high-quality education at the heart of the youth justice system, so that young people can have a second chance of getting the skills they need to break the cycle of reoffending?

My hon. Friend is, as ever, spot on with regards to the importance of education. We are bringing forward plans on secure schools, and we are going to put health and education at the centre of that. I strongly believe that when people leave the youth justice system, they should be fit in body, fit in mind and fit to play a positive part in society.

Has the Minister had a chance to see this morning’s damning report on G4S’s performance at Oakhill training centre? Has he yet made a decision on whether he plans to allow G4S to flog off the centre to an American buyer?

Yes, I have seen the report. In fact, it confirmed what I encountered myself on a recent visit to Oakhill. We are aware of the difficulties there, and we are also aware that G4S is in the process of trying to sell the youth justice arm of its business. I am keeping a close eye on that process, and rule nothing out when it comes to looking after the children and indeed the broader security of society.

21. I congratulate the Secretary of State on the appointment of Charlie Taylor as the new chairman of the Youth Justice Board. I warmly welcome the new figures showing that fewer young people than ever are entering the youth justice system in the first place, but reoffending rates remain stubbornly high, especially for those young people sentenced to a period in custody. What more can the Minister do to improve those rates and stop our young people reoffending? (909107)

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), the Government strongly believe that we need to create an environment in which young people can learn and be rehabilitated, so that they can play a more positive part in society. Our plans for secure schools—one in the north-west of England and one in the south-east of England—will build on that in the future.

No, it is not. [Interruption.] The problem is not overcrowding. There are some issues around staffing, which is why we have brought forward our plans on creating a new role for the youth justice officer. Those individuals are going to be attracted to work specifically with children. We are also developing the youth custody service as part of our plans around Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, because we believe that there should be a distinct service to deal with children in the criminal justice system.

Youth reoffending rates are among the highest of all prisoners, and we have just heard that reoffending costs this country a total of £15 billion a year. Surely the obvious answer is to make sure that all prisoners serve their time in jail in full before they are released out into the public.

Specifically in the youth justice system, I believe that the most important thing is to ensure that when young people are in custody, we take every opportunity to treat them if they have mental health problems and to provide the necessary education for future employment prospects, so that when they leave the institution, they are less likely to reoffend.

It has been reported that Working Links, an outsourcing company criticised for its handling of probation services, including for failures in Wales and the south-west, is the company that it is in talks to buy Oakhill secure training centre from G4S. Is it part of the Justice Secretary’s reforms to youth justice to allow private companies with no experience in youth justice to run our youth custody centres?

It is not about ruling out whether private or public organisations should provide care in the youth justice system. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the original contract for Oakhill was signed in 2005, and the terms of the contract were set then.