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Young People in Custody: Covid-19

Volume 680: debated on Tuesday 22 September 2020

I am very aware of the difficulties that many children in custody have faced over the covid period. I recently had a remote meeting with all the governors of the youth estate to discuss the impact of covid on young people in custody. As a result of that discussion and what we have heard, we have prioritised and focused on ensuring a return to face-to-face education and social visits, which are vital to young people’s mental health. I am pleased to say that we have already recommenced both of those across the youth estate.

With the second wave of covid fast approaching, will the Minister set out what plans she has to ensure that all young people and children in custody can access proper face-to-face education and rehabilitation, which are so vital for those vulnerable young people?

The hon. Member is absolutely right to focus on the importance of education. It is something that the Government have prioritised for the community as a whole, and it is absolutely right that we mirror that in our youth custody estate. That is why we have prioritised education in the youth estate as against the adult estate in the first stage of opening up, and it is why all such institutions are now open. We are looking at lessons learned. As we plan for the next phase of restrictions and closures in the community, we will be looking carefully and closely at how we deal with education.

Despite Ministers’ previous answers to my hon. Friends, throughout the pandemic the Government have actively supported children in prison being locked in their cells for over 23 hours a day, with their education and therapy sessions cancelled and family visits stopped. Does the Minister feel that these criminal measures have helped or hindered their rehabilitation?

I would like to clarify what the hon. Lady has said. We have not actively supported the lockdown; when we went into the pandemic, we were told by Public Health England that we were potentially facing 2,500 deaths in our prisons, and we rightly took action very quickly to stem that. Every death is tragic, but I am very pleased that, through our efforts, we only had 23 deaths. The problems in the youth estate are very different, but, equally, we did not want transmission among users and staff, leading to the NHS becoming overwhelmed and staff getting sick, so we took measures that were appropriate at the time. As I mentioned to the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), we absolutely recognise the importance of education. It is something that we are prioritising and have prioritised, and we will continue to do so.

It is good news that in the years approaching covid, the number of young people required to attend court fell by 10,000, but the bad news is that the backlog of young people requiring justice—their day in court—stayed the same over the same period. If Ministers lack the competence to end the backlog at a time when demand is falling by a third, what hope is there of the Government getting a grip in the challenging times ahead?

It is vital that we manage the backlog in the courts, and we are doing so across Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. I am looking closely at the youth estate because it is vital that we ensure that the youth—who are particularly vulnerable and who cannot do as many remote hearings as those in the adult estate—get justice and get it swiftly. We have opened up a number of youth courts and are working hard to ensure that youth justice continues.