Skip to main content

Youth Justice System

Volume 658: debated on Tuesday 23 April 2019

Significant reform has been undertaken since 2010, and we remain committed to driving further improvements. While fewer young people are committing crimes for the first time, with an 86% reduction in the number of young people entering the youth justice system for the first time, we still have more to do to break the cycle of reoffending. Working with youth offending teams in partnership is central to prevention, but for those who end up in custody, we believe our reforms to move to a secure school model will play a key role in reducing further offending.

The recent increase in knife crime has highlighted the very young age at which some of our most vulnerable young people get involved in crime. What steps is the Department taking to divert young people away from offending and reoffending?

We work very closely with youth offending teams and youth offending services run by local authorities to help with that prevention. I pay tribute particularly to the team in Lewisham, whom I was lucky enough to visit the other day. We also work closely with the Department for Education on exclusions and the role they can play in causing offending behaviour.

Feltham young offenders institution has had a difficult recent history and problems with sustainability of management. Following the recent attack on prison officers, I am grateful to the Minister for how quickly the management, the Prison Officers Association and the Department responded.

It is increasingly clear that the growing violence to which young inmates are subject, and which they experience prior to prison, is presenting new challenges. Will the Minister join me in welcoming new projects that use sport—such as Tough Cricket in Feltham, which works with faith communities—to support young offenders in more positive activity and help to develop an alternative set of values?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her work following the incidents of violence that she has mentioned. Once again, I thank the Prison Officers Association for its constructive engagement, and our thoughts are with the welfare of the injured staff. She is absolutely right to highlight the importance of sport as one of the positive ways we can divert young people away from violence and offending behaviour.

Too many young people who get involved in crime have been failed by the education system or have special educational needs, which often go undiagnosed or are not coped with well by schools. What more can be done to ensure that young people do not fall foul of the system and end up with very few qualifications and very little hope for the future?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Central to tackling the problem is partnership working, not only with youth offending teams but with colleagues in the educational sphere. We are fully engaged with Edward Timpson’s review of exclusions, and we are working very closely with the Department for Education on matters such as speech and language therapy, learning disabilities and other factors that can play a part.

The age and maturity of children is so important. The age of criminal responsibility here is 10 years, which is low; it is 14 years in Germany and 15 years in Italy. There was a 60% increase in the number of young offenders between 1996 and 2004. What has been done to reduce the number of young offenders?

We have worked extremely hard across the Government, and with local authorities and other state and charity agencies, to drive down the level of offending. We have seen an 86% reduction in the number of young people coming into the criminal justice system for the first time, but there is more to do to break the cycle of reoffending for those who are already in the system, and that is what we are focused on.