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Young Offenders

Volume 687: debated on Wednesday 29 November 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How the current level of prosecutions of young people compares with that of 10 years ago; and whether more young people are receiving custodial sentences.

My Lords, in 1996, 119,937 young people aged 10 to 17 were prosecuted, of whom 6,497 received a custodial sentence. In 2004, the latest year for which figures are available, 136,662 were prosecuted and 6,325 given a custodial sentence. In 2004, 172 fewer received a custodial sentence than in 1996.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for those figures. How many of the 6,325 who received a custodial sentence in 2004 reoffended? Can she tell the House about the National Offender Management Service? What is its status, is it fully operative, has it adequate funding and will its success be evaluated within the next two years?

My Lords, I do not have the precise number of reoffenders from the cadre to which I referred. Overall, however, about 60 per cent of those who offend reoffend within two years; for young offenders the figure is higher.

On the National Offender Management Service, the regional offender managers are in place, with the ability to contract. The National Offender Management Bill, which this House will consider in due course, will enable us to develop that service further. There are resources which will be attached to any such development.

My Lords, I am sure that the thoughts and sympathies of the whole House will go to the fiancée of Tom ap Rhys Pryce as a result of his recent murder. The two who committed the murder were convicted yesterday. Is the Minister aware that a report this morning suggested that people kill in this country not necessarily for the value of the goods they get, but because they want to increase their “street cred”? To what extent does she think that is the case?

My Lords, I join my noble friend in expressing my sympathy to the family of Tom ap Rhys Pryce. The tragedy is that a multiplicity of reasons causes young people and others to offend. It is distressing to hear that one reason may be the extraordinary pleasure it seems to give, but we have no indication that that is a wholesale feeling. We continue to look at these issues carefully.

My Lords, today’s figures from the Prison Service indicating that there are 80,000 inmates in British institutions are shocking for all of us. We have never reached that figure before. Would the Minister accept that those who are sentenced to serve one year or less do not receive probation supervision? What has happened to the Government’s custody plus programme, which was branded as being able to resolve some of those difficulties? It now seems to have been put on the back burner.

My Lords, to correct the noble Lord, the figure is 79,908. However, I can certainly confirm that that is an all-time high, and I join him in expressing concern about it. We have made plain that we would like to introduce custody plus as soon as resources are available. The Probation Service is rightly concentrating on high-risk offenders. There is a huge role for the voluntary sector, perhaps, in helping and supporting those at the lower end of the scale. We will look at the efforts we intend to make to broaden that opportunity for engagement when we debate the National Offender Management Bill.

My Lords, bearing in mind the Government’s recent moves on parenting, which are very welcome, will the Minister look at the possibility of linking up much more effectively, particularly with younger offenders who have committed a second offence or received a second caution—and of parenting assistance for those families? We have never got right the parenting issue along with support for a child in trouble.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend about the importance of parenting. Noble Lords will remember that the Department for Education and Skills indicated that it would commit £18 million to support parenting educative programmes, particularly for those struggling with a level of dysfunction in their children. That agenda is continuing, and we are looking very carefully at enhancing parenting skills; it appears to have a material impact on the way in which young people offend.

My Lords, many of us believe that children should not be in prison, but the fact that around a third of them are held more than 50 miles from their home can hardly help parenting initiatives. What do the Government intend to do to reduce that number?

My Lords, I reiterate the Government’s policy that sending young people to prison or to a youth offending institution should be the last resort. I hope that my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, indicated that, notwithstanding the fact that we are catching and convicting many more offenders, the number of young people sent to custody is reducing. That is in line with the Government’s intention that only those young people for whom custody is the only safe alternative should go to prison.