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Young Offenders: Accommodation And Support

Volume 670: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2005

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2.44 p.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What accommodation and support they provide for young people who, on release from custody, are unable to return to their families.

My Lords, youth offending teams work directly with housing authorities, social services, housing providers and voluntary groups to provide accommodation support packages. When a young person is unable to return to the family home, or it is not appropriate that he or she should return, there is support in the forms of foster care, supported lodgings, hostel places or foyer schemes which combine accommodation with training and educational opportunities.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she accept that far better results will be achieved from the proper planning of support and accommodation at the beginning, rather than at the end, of sentences? Roughly 30 per cent of such planning does not take place until the day after release. Does she agree that current schemes should become much more sharply focused than they are to assist opportunities for jobs and training of ex-offenders as well as those for their accommodation?

My Lords, I do not accept that current planning is as the noble Earl suggests. However, I accept that early planning is certainly a very good thing. It is in line with the way in which the Government hope that these matters will be dealt with: a holistic approach that will, from the very beginning, look at the best way of reducing the level of reoffending by the offender. We certainly hope that that will be delivered through the new arrangements that we have through YOTs—youth offending teams—and the movement in relation to the National Offender Management Service provisions.

My Lords, will the Minister look at the valuable work carried out by organisations such as the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders? I declare an interest in that I preside over a committee of that organisation. Will she ensure that there is no cut in the grant it receives as the valuable work it does on resettlement actually stops reoffending? I should point out that more than 65 per cent of offenders reoffend within two years of leaving prison.

My Lords, I certainly pay tribute to that work. I shall certainly look—indeed, officials have looked—at the care and resettlement of offenders. In answering the Question of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, I should have made it clear that we also identify employment as an important issue. The noble Lord will know that I can say nothing about funding.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is extraordinary that our society often expects the most in terms of resilience and resourcefulness from the young people who have the least? As many of them have been in local authority care, what steps are being taken to urge local authorities to be good parents to these young people?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right about the work that needs to be done. He will know that the work of the Youth Justice Board and the youth offender teams and the work we are doing with local authorities enable better planning to take place for those young people so that they have the appropriate level of care, attention and input to maximise the opportunities of their not returning to crime.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say what proportion of those young offenders referred to in the Question have not taken up the opportunities that she has said are on offer? It would help all noble Lords to know to what extent the options are being taken up.

My Lords, if the noble Lord is referring to suitable accommodation, nationally 93.5 per cent of young offenders are in suitable accommodation at the end of their sentence—the figures for April to December 2004 are 52,911 out of 56,614. Whether that is as a result of them not taking it up, I cannot say. I can reassure noble Lords that through the work that is now being undertaken by the Youth Justice Board, together with the youth offending teams, the aim is to ensure that all young offenders are appropriately accommodated in a way that will reduce the likelihood of them returning to criminal activity.

My Lords, a researcher from a young offender institution in Wales, reporting yesterday at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said that many young men leaving such institutions choose to reject assistance and return to their families. Does the noble Baroness recognise that very often that family support is not there so they will shortly fall out of that "suitable accommodation" as it is recorded? Furthermore, the governors of young offender institutions are not aware when a young person has come through the care system. The same information is not provided as when a child enters the juvenile estate. Will she look into seeing whether that can be remedied?

My Lords, I accept what the noble Earl says in relation to the need for care. I do not accept that it does not happen. The noble Earl will know that we have put a lot of effort into the planning for young people to make sure that the support, even when they go home, is appropriate. We very much take on board that the young offender may wish to go home. That will not always be the best place for the person to be, unless there is appropriate support. So there is planning.

I should mention the intensive supervised treatment programme, which enables people once they have been released to receive the appropriate training, support and job opportunities in a way that makes a difference.