rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether physical restraints, including seclusion and strip searching, are used on children in custody.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, if any of your Lordships are fed up with the sound of my voice today, I should say that no one is more so than me.
I welcome the opportunity to hold this debate, now that time has passed in which to digest the report of an inquiry I chaired, produced last year for the Howard League for Penal Reform. I declare an interest as the president of the Howard League. The report recommended that mechanical restraints such as handcuffs should never be used on children in custody; that the use of physical intervention should be severely restricted; that physical force should never be used to secure compliance or as punishment; that stripping children during searches should end; that prison segregation units should not be used for children; and that the Children’s Minister, not the Home Office, should have overall responsibility for children in the penal system. I shall be very interested to hear the Minister’s response to that last point, as some press reports have indicated that the Government may well be reviewing the situation and are thinking of transferring overall responsibility for children in the penal system to the Children’s Minister. Children are children are children, whatever they have done.
On 29 January 2007, as reported at col. 6 of the Official Report, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, stated that occasionally physical restraint, regrettably, has to be used on young people in secure accommodation but that it is for their own safety or for the safety of others. I am afraid that that answer, particularly the use of the word “occasionally”, showed a failure by the Government to understand the scale of the problem. Little has changed since the publication of the Howard League report. There are about 2,900 children in custody, of whom about 230 are in secure children’s homes, 270 in secure training centres and the remainder in young offender institutions. In the 12 months leading up to last October, as revealed in an article by Jamie Doward in yesterday’s Observer newspaper, written after he had been through some statistics which Ministers had kindly provided in answer to a series of parliamentary Written Questions, prisons used physical restraint on children in young offender institutions on 4,801 occasions. I suppose that, if you were to interpret the language in its most literal sense, that may mean “occasionally” 4,801 times, but given that similar restraint methods were employed in the same period in secure training centres on 3,036 occasions, adding up to nearly 8,000 occasions overall, one could hardly describe the use of physical restraint as occasional.
Indeed, the use of other measures to which the report referred has continued unabated, although the statistics are more available than they used to be. Our inquiry for the Howard League for Penal Reform found that one in five instances of restraint resulted in an injury either to the child or to a staff member. Last year, at Hindley young offender institution, three children sustained fractured wrists as a result of the use of control and restraint. At Ashfield in Bristol, on average, 30 boys each month are held in solitary confinement.
My inquiry, through the good offices of the Howard League for Penal Reform, visited segregation units and saw how young people and children are kept in solitary confinement. I can tell the House that the conditions in solitary confinement have not changed physically for decades. Some of the cells used for solitary confinement—and some stay in those cells for up to 28 days—are positively medieval in their physical facilities. I am afraid that in some places there are some medieval attitudes consistent with the physical facilities.
In my view there is absolutely no occasion on which it is necessary to carry out the fully undignified total strip-search. There is never an occasion where it can be justifiable to require a boy or girl to remove all their clothing, top and bottom, at the same time, but it happens. When are strip-searches justifiable? They may be justifiable in a small number of instances where there is a real ground for believing that, for example, drugs or other contraband are concealed. Those sorts of instances do happen. However, they cannot have happened 6,832 times at Huntercombe between January 2005 and October 2006. It is inconceivable that more than a handful of strip-searches, even conducted in a dignified way, were justified in that period.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, stated last year that at Huntercombe, children and young people were still automatically strip-searched in some instances. She was very concerned that force was used for those who did not agree to be strip-searched. Noble Lords should put themselves in the position of an immature child: they may be violent and dishonest, but they are often mentally ill and almost always immature. They go into a place such as Huntercombe, which does not stand alone in this matter, and automatically, as the chief inspector put it, they are strip-searched. Their human dignity is removed at a stroke, the moment they arrive.
When you set alongside that some of the induction videos that I have seen which are used for children who enter these institutions, you are left in despair. They had me thinking of television of the quality of “In Town Tonight”. I mention such an old programme because we are a rather aged House and there will be people here who can remember the rather rudimentary form of television used by that programme. If you want to engage with children, you put things in front of them that they understand. You use DVDs which talk to them in the way that computer programmes such as the Sims talk to young and older children these days. You engage with them so that they feel part of the process.
If our custodial institutions, which contain far too many children, are to have any effect in improving their lives, it has to be on the basis of a contract between the child and the institution. It may be that most of the conditions are made by the institution, but if you cannot induce consent from the child, you have lost the battle and are pushing them through the inevitable revolving door which will lead them from local authority secure children's home to secure training centre, from secure training centre to young offender institution, from there to prison and within prison to indefinite sentences, which are being given to thousands of people. They will be the very people who will add to the huge problem of overcrowding in prisons today, much of which is caused by people effectively facing life sentences.
The Howard League for Penal Reform report, which was contributed to by many people, including the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, was a wake-up call to the Youth Justice Board and the Government, but judging by what has happened since we produced the report, they have been waking up very slowly. As long ago as 1996, the Audit Commission, in a memorable report, demonstrated that, if you spend £1 when a youngster is a child on the prevention of crime, at 1996 prices you save £7 later. If one conservatively doubles those figures to meet 2007 prices, you have clear evidence that we are throwing the wrong money at the problem in the wrong way. By brutalising children in particular in the ways that I mentioned, and which the report refers to, we are perpetuating the problem. I hope that we will hear a constructive answer from the Minister about those issues tonight, and I look forward to hearing some interesting speeches.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord. We all hugely admire his report, which has been a benchmark against which we should test standards of care for children in such institutions. I make a formal declaration of interest. The executive search firm of which I am a partner has recently been entrusted with an assignment for the Youth Justice Board. I am not personally involved in the search, which is being led by a consultant in another practice.
I also declare a more passionate and long-term personal interest in this subject. Before I entered politics, for many years I was chairman of the juvenile court in Lambeth. I presided at the time of the Brixton riots. I also worked in child and adolescent mental health units, as well as being closely involved with the Children’s Society. I also lived in the area—a location some three miles from the recent tragic incidents.
We speak in the wake of the UNICEF report describing the unhappiness, lack of well-being and poverty of children in this country, which has come as a great shock to us all. We need to spend time thinking that through.
What struck me at the time—and I have not changed my mind since—is that, in a criminal career, if someone cared about a child, any problem would be picked up by the school and the child might be put in a special school. They might be picked up by social services and given special social service provision, or specialist mental health provision might be found for them. But the children with the least, with no advocates or stakeholders, were the ones who ended up in court. In court, you noticed that those children almost invariably could not even read the oath. They had been failed by the education system. When they did not go to school, nobody bothered to find out where they were, because, frankly, they were such a nuisance that it was better to turn a blind eye. I can think of no occasion in 15 years where a child in serious difficulties would appear in court with two adults who had been that child’s parents and carers since the child was born.
At the same time, I would constantly have conversations with my friends and colleagues about how critical it was that their child went to a particular school. They would say that two years at a particular sixth-form college would transform the child’s life and would have such an influence in terms of culture, peer group and values that the child would, after two years in that educational institute, be a new and different, cultured, civilised and enlightened person. Somehow no one seemed able to translate the values that they had for their own children, which came from care, control and supervision. What parent of teenage children does not know that it is supervision that ultimately stops them hitting the buffers from time to time? So the least privileged go down into penal institutions.
I was asked at that time to chair a report for the Children’s Society, Penal Custody for Juveniles. We came up with a series of recommendations that hold as good today as ever: that courts should not be able to sentence juveniles to prison department custody; that it should be local authority not Home Office provision; that there should be a juvenile crime authority in each local authority, a bit like the young offender teams; and that there should be proper community programmes. The noble Lord has just made the same point.
I am patron of the Surrey Community Development Trust. These are the people who really do hug hoodies and give them practical alternatives; they look after these youngsters when they are being perfectly impossible. That is the only way in which to prevent them from ending up in prison. The star of my panel was a wonderful person from NACRO called Helen Edwards. We know Helen Edwards as the head of the National Offender Management Service in the Home Office, and one of the best things that the Home Office has done is to take her on to its team.
We meet today a year after the noble Lord’s report. I especially want to emphasise the issues around education and ask the Minister what he can do to make the rest be as good as the best. There are good examples, but so often there is apathy and disappointment. We had this with children in long-stay subnormality hospitals. I gave evidence to the report 30 years ago, and we finally got to the point where those children were thought of not as subnormal but as entitled to education. We have been working on looked-after children and children in care, and the Government have often said that children in care need particular help, so surely we should do more for education of children in secure accommodation. That is why this call to the Minister for Children, who is now part of the Department for Education and Skills, surely has merit.
Lastly, and briefly, I refer to strip-searching, especially for girls. I ask noble Lords to look at the documentation around the treatment of girls who have been subject to sexual abuse. Children, especially girls, are very sensitive about their bodies and are developing their identity and working out their views on sexuality, but they have all their clothes removed, and if they do not comply they are forcibly put through a strip-search. That cannot be right or civilised.
My final message to the Minister is that it is time to bring an end to the cost-shunting. As long as the Home Office pays, children will always end up in young offender institutions. Will the Minister consider a levy on social service departments? The social services should be looking after these children, but they are very expensive and difficult and, if social services do not get a report in on time and turn a blind eye, the Home Office picks up the tab. I want the Minister to levy the social services departments so that, instead of using hidden institutions as a free gift, they are encouraged to make a virtuous decision and put the child’s interests first and not the inevitable interests of penal institutions.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, and the Howard League for Penal Reform for this report. It makes the most depressing reading. Brutalisation of this kind for our most vulnerable and difficult children indicts us for neglect. Whether they are homeless, in public care or in custody, too often our troubled and troubling children are cared for by individuals, with many honourable exceptions, unequipped for the job and lacking appropriate support. Staff care very much about making a difference for children, but often they are not supported to do so.
The Carlile inquiry highlights concerns about the mental health of juveniles in the secure estate. It is essential that these settings have greater access to forensic CAMHS—child and adolescent mental health services—if staff are to respect children and model good behaviour as the inquiry recommends. Consultation to staff groups and managers by CAMHS professionals can transform the quality of care provided. A consultant forensic psychiatrist recently referred to research on in-reach teams in Grendon Underwood prison. These teams were providing very little in terms of resources, but prison officers and governors said, “It’s transformed the prison. The officers feel supported; they’re able to cope with mental health because they have a community psychiatric nurse who talks to them”.
This afternoon I spoke with the manager of a local authority secure unit, Jon Banwell, who is also the chair of the Secure Accommodation Network. His is one of the very few units with access to specialist child and adolescent mental health services. He said:
“I believe that the Forensic CAHMS input is a vital part of our behaviour management service. The guidance and advice that our staff receive from CAMHS helps ensure that we give an individual child-centred response based on an awareness of a child’s needs rather than focusing just on the immediate displayed behaviour”.
The Youth Justice Board’s research of 2005, Mental Health Needs and Effectiveness of Provision for Young Offenders in Custody and in the Community, identified one-third of juveniles in the secure estate as having mental health needs. It highlighted the many other needs of these children and young people, and I note the presence of my noble friend Lord Northbourne in this regard. Some 48 per cent had difficult relationships with their peers and family members that would benefit from an intervention.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, in his influential 1992 report on staffing of children’s homes, Choosing with Care, thoroughly endorsed the involvement of appropriate mental health professionals on an ongoing basis as an efficient way of making use of scant child and adolescent mental health provision. I have witnessed such consultations to staff in a children’s home and spoken to managers of homeless hostels and head teachers about the benefits of such consultation to staff in terms of supporting the mental health of young people and relieving the stress on staff in daily contact with challenging children. I imagine that the Minister may well have had experience of that kind of multidisciplinary working when he was a social worker and that he would agree that it is a key part of safeguarding the welfare of children and preventing the maltreatment highlighted in the Carlile inquiry.
I warmly welcome the importance placed on CAMHS in Her Majesty's Government’s national service framework and the significant investment that they have made in this area. Can the Minister say when all providers within the juvenile secure estate will have access to specialist forensic CAMHS? I apologise for not giving him notice of this question and appreciate that he may wish to write to me.
My Lords, my contribution follows on very well from that of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, as I want to address the same problem.
About 50 per cent of children and young people detained in custody have a profound mental illness and a further 25 per cent have behavioural disorders. One in five young offenders was also identified as having a learning disability, with an IQ below 70, and at least half have profound educational needs as well. I would wager that it is the most behaviourally disturbed and mentally disordered who are subjected to the physical restraints that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, so ably described and which would be unthinkable to use with adults. I would wager that from my own experience of visiting with the Mental Health Act Commission those unfortunate children detained under the Mental Health Act in local authority institutions, where the relationship between the two issues was extremely clear. As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, it is also true that these children and young people are far less likely to receive appropriate treatment if they are in custody than if they are not. Will the Minister explain why that is so? What are the Government’s plans to raise the standards of access to child and adolescent mental health services to those at least of any other child outside the youth justice system?
According to a report from the Healthcare Commission in November last year, primary care trusts are failing to provide adequate mental health care for all young offenders, making the task of reducing reoffending rates more difficult. It found that too many primary care trusts are failing even to meet their statutory duty to provide a health worker to youth offending teams and one-third are without a specialist mental health worker. I would not be so bold as to claim that effective mental health care at this point in their lives would necessarily reduce the 82 per cent reoffending rate for male adolescents aged 15 to 18, but I can be pretty sure that, without effective care, the offending and custody rates are not likely to go down.
The Healthcare Commission found that services for 16 to 17 year-olds were gravely inadequate in many areas, and that,
“In some cases, young people with serious mental [or] emotional health problems are facing waits of up to 18 months for treatment”.
This is before they even get into custody. With waits of that length, and with an average stay of nine months or so, they are hardly likely to get treatment while they are in custody.
The consequences of doing nothing about this group are likely to be grave. One of the striking things about talking with adult patients in special hospitals and forensic units is the fact that so many have never lived outside an institution for longer than a few months in their entire lives. An extraordinary number of them have been in young offender institutions. It seems to me extraordinary that we do not at this point provide effective interventions that are more likely to influence their futures positively than are the sort of Victorian prisons that we provide for them. No one is saying that these children and youngsters do not need containment, boundaries and certainties, or that they should be allowed to run wild and be destructive. They need containment, boundaries, a caring regime and interventions from specialists who understand about providing a different sort of care from the sort that they are getting.
My Lords, it is a pity that last week’s UNICEF report, which put Britain at the bottom of the league table of 21 industrialised countries for child well-being, did not look at the number of children coming into the criminal justice system and the number locked up. The former head of policy at the Youth Justice Board, Jon Fayle, resigned because the Government would not support its policy of reducing youth custody. Rod Morgan, the former chair who resigned a week before, protested that government targets for prosecutions shifted minor offences which used to be dealt with informally into an overstretched criminal justice system and that work to improve regimes in young offender institutions was being undermined. That is the elephant in the room in this debate.
Spending £280 million a year on locking up young people produces an 80 per cent-plus reoffending rate, and the money should be largely redirected into community measures for all but the most persistent or dangerous offenders. The number of young people in custody could be reduced by two-thirds, saving £70 million a year. As the noble Baroness has just said, half of the 3,000 under-18s in YOIs suffer from psychiatric disorders. Many vulnerable children are placed far away from their families and it is becoming harder to do any useful work with any of them. In this unfavourable environment, force is all too often used as a means of control, causing injuries, as we have heard.
My noble friend mentioned Hindley, where force was used on 236 occasions in the six months prior to the chief inspector’s visit last August. A number of children there suffered injuries as a result of C&R, including, as he mentioned, three with broken wrists. Her recent general inquiry into young people in custody found that half the boys in Hindley had been restrained, and at Brinsford it was more than a third. What is the Minister doing to see that restraint is used as a last resort, as the YJB recommends?
In the STCs, recent inspections at Medway and Oakhill show a reduction in the use of restraint, but at Hassockfield the withdrawal of the lethal seated double embrace led to an increase in the use of handcuffs. Why is there this difference between one institution and the others? The main technique now used in STCs relies on the infliction of pain. My noble friend said that that was unlawful. In the Minister’s opinion is it within the law to inflict pain deliberately on these young people as a means of control?
In an extreme case at Rainsbrook STC nearly three years ago, 15 year-old Gareth Myatt died as a result of restraint. The inquest last week heard about 34 other potentially lethal incidents where children subjected to the seated double embrace had incurred serious incidents or complained of being unable to breathe. That technique was discontinued but why was there not a review of the safety of restraint procedures generally as the Home Office promised in 1998? Should there not be an accelerated procedure for inquests on deaths in custody so that the lessons learnt from these dreadful incidents are applied as soon as possible?
The failure to keep uniform records of the use of restraint, including the ethnicity of the subjects, throughout the secure children’s estate is deplorable and must be remedied. Clearly, the YJB’s code of practice, intended to be,
“an agreed set of principles for the use of control methods in all settings where children are cared for”,
needs further development in the light of my noble friend’s report. For some, it may be a matter of life or death.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for arranging this debate. I assure him that we are not the least bit fed up with hearing his voice. He is a very busy person with many important commitments. We are very fortunate that he has dedicated so much of his time and energy to this relatively small group of unfortunate, unloved, unhappy and troublesome children. Unhappiness is a theme that runs through this whole sad story of our policies on children in custody. I have no doubt that we shall look back on these few years and wonder how we sank so low in our treatment of some of our saddest children.
The system is reprehensible both in its abuse of children’s rights and its ineffectiveness. It is a deplorable use of public money. How did we get into such a situation? I can only assume that it is a reflection of the Government’s strange faith in punishment as the way to solve social problems. This quite ill founded belief that punishment is the way to solve social problems must have shaped the Government’s choice of institutions that have been given the job of holding and trying to rehabilitate these damaged children, because as we heard these institutions are based on punishment.
These institutions hold two sorts of children. Some of them are minor offenders on the fringes, whose behaviour ought to be easily containable in the community. I know a family whose boy got a three-month sentence on his 16th birthday for not keeping his appointments with his social worker. However, most of these children fit into the category of those whom the inspectors for the Commission for Social Care Inspection found at Medway secure training centre; a place, incidentally, that seems to be doing the best it can. The children there presented a complexity of need. They had,
“attachment disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal and self-harming behaviour and in increasing numbers, a history of multiple unsuccessful placements in mainstream local authority care”.
These are incredibly damaged children, failed by other services and full of unhappiness and rage.
Home Office Ministers tend to respond to questions about the treatment of these children in custody by reminding the House that some of them have committed very serious offences. I hope that the Minister will refrain from doing so on this occasion because indeed they have. We know that they have. This is what children who have been reared in violence and neglect often do. But we are holding these children in places that are completely inappropriate to their needs. Would anyone want to put a child with such complex needs and with problems which need to be sorted out if the child is to have any chance of a better life and if future violence is to be prevented, in a place such as Oakhill secure training centre? According to the latest inspection report, of June 2006, 75 children are there, but there is only one qualified social worker on the staff. Children’s access to underwear and books is limited as part of the rewards and sanctions system. Young people who are on basic privileges for one or two days are subject to a ban that prevents them leaving their unit, so they get no time in the fresh air. Not surprisingly, five employees leave every month; in one month, 16 staff resigned their posts.
Does the Minister have any comments on the suitability of Oakhill Secure Training Centre, and does it still restrict the amount of underwear and books that children can have? Have the Government any plans for a radical reform of the system, or was the report in today’s Guardian to which the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, referred—that Mr Brown favours moving youth justice to the Department for Education and Skills—just a rumour?
My Lords, I join all those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on obtaining this debate. I must declare an interest as a member of his inquiry, which was a great experience. I am very glad that his voice lasted out for his very powerful opening speech.
I am also very glad that my noble friend Lady Stern introduced the question of punishment, because one of the things that worried me most about the Government’s attitude to the criminal justice system was when I heard that the number one priority of the Probation Service had been changed from one of aftercare to one of punishment. It seemed to me to mark a very dangerous change of direction, one that was mirrored in an article in yesterday’s Observer which said that there was a very definite rift between charities, the Youth Justice Board and the prison inspectorate about what they describe as a line that has been crossed in the treatment of young people in prison and Government, who are increasingly tending to criminalise young people.
I should like to make my remarks in the context of two current events. The first is the inquest into the death of Gareth Myatt, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, during which the previous chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, Mark Perfect, said that this death was a disaster waiting to happen and so it was a disaster that happened. I disagree profoundly with that second statement. It was a disaster that was waiting to happen but it was one that should not have been allowed to happen.
That brings me to the second part of my context, which is the very sad circumstances around the resignation of Professor Rod Morgan, the chairman of the Youth Justice Board. This is where my questions to Ministers come, because the inquiry carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, was responded to not by the Government but by the Youth Justice Board. I am surprised that if the Government take it so seriously, they did not respond. I can only assume that they were behind the responses that were made. Rod Morgan has been quoted as saying that during his three years as chair of the Youth Justice Board, he made it clear—mostly in private but occasionally in public—that he was not happy with the direction of youth justice policy.
It is the duty of the Youth Justice Board independently to advise Ministers. Recommendation 19 of our inquiry stated:
“Restraint should never be premeditated as it then becomes a punishment, not an intervention to secure safety”.
The answer was:
“We do not accept this recommendation”.
Recommendation 20 states:
“One certified physical intervention technique that is safe for children should be developed as a matter of urgency, and should be used across the secure estate”.
The answer was:
“We do not accept this recommendation”.
Recommendation 21 states:
“The YSB should oversee the use of the disciplinary system so that it is rigorously applied when an allegation is made against a member of staff”.
“We do not accept this recommendation”.
My question to the Minister is: was this the advice that was given to Ministers by the chairman of the Youth Justice Board, or was it a deliberate recommendation response by Ministers alone?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew for this debate. He led the independent inquiry for the Howard League for Penal Reform into the use of strip-searching and physical and solitary confinement of children in penal custody. He is therefore well qualified to address the issue. I congratulate the Howard League for the initiative that it has taken on this matter. The report is compulsory reading for all those interested in penal reform. Add to that the contributions of all noble Lords who took part in this debate. They all point to a serious cause of concern, and I look forward to the Minister's response on the issues raised. On this matter, glossing over will not do.
My noble friend Lord Avebury mentioned the UNICEF report. We need to ask what exactly is happening in our penal institutions. Overall, there are nearly 11,000 under-21s in prison, and at least 300 of that number are held in young offender institutions. The number of children has more than doubled since 1993. There is a worrying trend that, despite a decline in the number of children convicted or cautioned, we now lock up more children than anywhere else in Europe. We need to ask why our justice system has produced that anomaly.
We have figures about physical force used against children—15,512 times during a 21-month period in England and Wales. In commercially managed secure training centres, physical restraint has been used over 1,200 times, despite the fact that they hold only 190 children most of whom are aged 14 and 15.
I am aware that the Youth Justice Board is responsible for commissioning secure places for children and young persons under the age of 18. Some progress has been made in commissioning new facilities, improving regimes and safeguarding. That is welcome, but we need it to undertake vigorous systematic monitoring of physical control in care and the system of physical interventions used in such centres. There is ample evidence that these institutions did not keep central records of how many children had been injured in restraint incidents.
We sentence far too many people to prison and children are no exception. It is clear that the success or failures of imprisonment are measured by the reoffending rates. As far as children are concerned, this is nearly 80 per cent. The facts are there for all to see. Prisons hardly work for children. One of the points raised in the report is the need for a holistic approach. We all know the issues identified: exclusion from schools, previously spent time in care, alcohol and drugs problems, pregnancy, previous involvement in criminal offences, and physical and mental abuse.
If there is one outcome I am looking forward to in this debate, it is an assurance from the Minister that all the recommendations of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, will be seriously considered and implemented by the Home Office. In addition, we should extend the provisions of the Children and Adoption Act 2006 to involve the Children’s Commissioner in monitoring and delivering children’s services in our secure establishments. It is time that he played an important role in that respect.
It cannot be beyond the capacity of the Home Office to ensure that children are kept in a healthy environment, that they are safe and that prisons make a positive contribution towards their welfare and economic well-being. The message must be clear and unequivocal: every child matters. Children must be protected from maltreatment and receive safe and effective care.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on securing this debate. I hope to spare the noble Lord’s blushes, but this report will go down in the annals of child custody in prisons as a seminal work, or a benchmark, as my noble friend Lady Bottomley said in an impressive contribution that drew much on her personal experiences. I urge the Government not to be deflected in any way from taking action on the demanding observations made by the noble Lord and his colleagues.
There was, as it were, a curtain raiser for this debate in the Oral Question tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, on 29 January. The questions came from all round the House and there were some demanding and informed interventions. While we have every sympathy with his position, some of the Minister’s answers were distinctly guarded. For example, in reply to a question on segregation by the noble Lord, Lord Low, the Minister replied that this was “not highly desirable”. Can he go a little further? There are seven recommendations in the report and on this matter, if on no other, the Government’s response needs to be much more robust.
I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, will want more reassurance regarding her supplementary question on that day, which reminded the Minister that restraint was still widely used. That has been covered by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who gave devastating statistics. The Minister admitted that the practice was still widely used, which I understand to be the case. The five recommendations in the Carlile report were specific and demanding. Can the Minister go further than the slightly defensive language he used in response to the noble Lord’s question? Phrases such as “operational requirements” are, frankly, not reassuring. Can the Minister convince the House that these recommendations set out in, perhaps I may say, uncompromising language are being taken seriously?
In the week before the Recess, the House expressed its views in the strongest possible manner, on the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in the vote on whether to include the Prison Service in the ambit of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. The inclusion of that amendment in the Bill would be a huge step forward for greater transparency and accountability within the prison system and I hope that my noble friend Lord Hunt will have some success in persuading the Government to include that measure when the Bill returns to this House. It would have an indirect and direct effect on the matters that are under discussion tonight.
My noble friend Lady Bottomley has referred to “bottom-of-the-pile” children who fetch up in the courts, sometimes unable to read the oath. There is a lower rung than that. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in a moving speech, referred to speech and learning difficulties. Such children often cannot even speak and have been given no start at all.
This House must be indebted to the Howard League for commissioning this report and to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and his committee for doing such an excellent and unequivocal job in holding the Government to account. Many of the committee’s recommendations are radical. The Government must not hide behind such phrases as “operational requirements” and so on. Fresh root-and-branch thinking is required. I concede that the environment of the Oral Question of 29 January was not an easy forum for the Minister. Tonight we would like to hear evidence that the Government are really—and I mean, “really”— acting on the recommendations of the Carlile committee. I hope the House will see to it that this report and the issues it has raised will not go into the long grass or, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, be the subject of a very gentle wake-up call, and that we will have further opportunities to monitor the Government’s response. The report deserves better, as do many of those unfortunate children whose treatment has been so ruthlessly exposed.
My Lords, I start with my customary thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, for his very valuable report, which, despite what some noble Lords may think, the Government have taken very seriously. They continue to take it very seriously and no doubt, if the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the usual trenchant remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, are anything to go by, your Lordships’ House will not easily let us ignore it.
It is to the credit of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and of everyone who has taken part in the debate that these issues are always taken very seriously by your Lordships’ House. I hope that my comments this evening will go some way to reassure contributors to the debate that, although they might not agree with us, we do at least take these issues seriously and we listen and try to learn from previous experience.
Several noble Lords referred to some of the tragic instances in the youth custody arena and, in particular, to the tragic death of Gareth Myatt, whose inquest is currently in progress. Tempting though it is, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that inquest, and we should all await the coroner’s inquiry and the outcome of the jury’s deliberations. The comments that will no doubt flow from the inquiry will be of great value to the department and to the Youth Justice Board and others in fashioning a response and in understanding better the circumstances surrounding Gareth Myatt’s tragic death. It is vital that we respect that process.
I shall begin by giving my understanding of the problem that faces the custodial part of the youth justice system and those who work in it. I shall then go on to describe the measures that the Government have taken and those that we have in hand to safeguard children and young people in custody and to ensure that their behaviour is managed effectively and humanely. In doing that, I shall try to respond to some of the points raised during the debate. I do not expect to cover all the questions that were asked, but I assure noble Lords that I will provide them with a fuller response to the points that I have been unable to cover than I would have been able to give from the Dispatch Box.
For most of those who go there, custody is the end-point of what we all accept is a lengthy journey through the youth justice system. Except for the small minority who, out of the blue, commit very serious crimes, most of those going into custody will have been the subject of several community interventions designed to help them to change their lives and to stop offending. They end up in custody because, for one reason or another, as all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate recognise, those interventions have not worked.
That may sound like a simple case of failure on the part of the system but, when one considers the complex problems that many of these young people have, it is really not at all surprising. Study after study has shown a similar picture: family breakdown; inadequate parenting; lack of schooling; low educational attainment; and alcohol and substance misuse. By any standard, that is a formidable combination of difficulties. It is regrettable but, as I say, hardly surprising that community youth justice interventions do not always provide the answer. What is clear is that these are neglected or, at best, inadequately cared-for young people whom society as a whole has failed. Sending them to custody is the last resort, when the courts have decided that other types of intervention have not succeeded and are not going to succeed.
I do not wish to suggest that custody is the solution to all those problems—far from it. At best, it provides the community and the young people themselves with some respite or a breathing space, but it should be recognised that for very disadvantaged children such as these, custody can have some positive benefits. It can remove them from a bad or unsafe environment, and it provides education and healthcare—not infrequently to higher standards than the young person has previously experienced. However, unavoidably, custody brings together a group of volatile young people whose behaviour is very difficult to manage. Some of them are very large and strong; some are aggressive; and few have any understanding of discipline or the need for self-discipline. Without the most careful management, the way that they behave will pose a risk to themselves and to others. Managing that behaviour will never be easy and, however well it is managed, there will be occasions when it is necessary to use physical intervention to prevent a young person harming himself or herself or others.
So we are asking those who work in under-18 establishments whose essential task is to care for and support these challenging young people to take on the great responsibility of managing their behaviour, which sometimes involves some risk of injury to themselves. It is right that our concern should focus on the welfare of the young person, but we also owe it to the people who do this difficult job to recognise how much is being asked of them. It is essential that they receive clear guidance and are properly trained to undertake it. But I wonder how many of us, however good the training and the guidance, would have been able and willing to undertake this demanding and often unrewarding work.
What are we doing to ensure that restraint, strip-searching and single separation are used as sparingly as possible? That has been a theme of this debate. The Youth Justice Board’s code of practice: Managing Children and Young People’s Behaviour in the Secure Estate, which was published in February last year, set the framework for a great deal of work in this area. I will give some examples.
Hassockfield secure training centre is piloting the use of a technique known as therapeutic crisis intervention to help staff defuse tense situations without having to use physical intervention. Restorative justice approaches are being piloted at Ashfield young offender institution, and a review of restorative justice work throughout the secure estate is due to report shortly.
The behaviour management code of practice has been integrated into the Youth Justice Board’s effective regimes monitoring framework, and each establishment that is not already fully compliant with the code has an action plan for achieving full compliance. The Youth Justice Board is closely monitoring implementation of those plans.
We have recognised—this point was referred to by a number of noble Lords—that statistical data that we collect on the use of restraint can be improved. A set of common definitions and new accounting rules have been agreed to enable statistical data to be collected in a way that allows clearer comparisons of practice across the three sectors of the estate. The new data reporting and recording system will come into effect from April.
The Youth Justice Board is working with the Children’s Workforce Development Council to agree core competencies for all staff working in the secure estate, so that we can raise standards of care. A review of family liaison work in relation to young people in the secure estate is under way, and that, too, is due to report shortly.
That is a snapshot of just some of what is being undertaken. I have heard it suggested that the Government have not taken these issues seriously enough. I hope that that brief resumé at least demonstrates and goes some way to convincing those who carry that view that we are very serious indeed about these issues.
I know and understand from previous debates and Questions on this subject—to some of which I have had to respond—that there are concerns about the use of handcuffs in secure training centres and the sensitive issue of the practice of strip-searching girls on arrival in custody. As far as handcuffs are concerned, practice varies. Two of the secure training centres—Medway and Rainsbrook—report that they do not use them. A third centre—Oakhill, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, referred— has a policy of reducing the use of handcuffs and reports that it has not used them since April last year. Hassockfield continues to use handcuffs, but reported use has reduced considerably and the centre is piloting the use of “soft cuffs”—made from Velcro. No one likes the idea of applying handcuffs to young people. If it is possible to reduce their use, that is clearly a good thing. Clearly we shall have to give further consideration to that. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, could give some further consideration to it. His report did not focus in a major way on that, but I know that he is very concerned about it. I can also tell your Lordships that the Youth Justice Board is looking at the use of handcuffs more generally and hopes to report on that this year.
Young offender institutions and secure training centres, as a matter of policy, conduct a full search—a strip-search—of all young people arriving in custody. Again, that is not something we would wish to subject a young person to if it was not absolutely necessary, but we believe that it is necessary to prevent weapons and drugs being brought into establishments. The noble Lord’s report suggested that that was not the practice in secure children’s homes, but it is important to note that secure children’s homes are much smaller and take younger children. We cannot simply replicate practice that may be workable there in establishments taking large numbers of more volatile and physically mature 17 year-olds. We are, in effect, being criticised for placing too much emphasis on security but if, heaven forbid, a trainee or member of staff were to be seriously injured by a weapon smuggled into an establishment, the criticism from every quarter would be that security had not been tight enough. We have the difficult job of striking a balance that achieves the highest level of safeguarding. Weighing too heavily on either side can, of course, lead to increased risk. As I said at the outset, these are not easy or straightforward issues.
Many questions were asked; I shall try to run through some of them quickly. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, asked about the change of departmental responsibility. The cross-government arrangements in place around Every Child Matters and Youth Matters ensure that the DfES, the Home Office and the Youth Justice Board work together to support young people and prevent offending, whether they are in or outside the youth justice system. The current view is that the system works well, and we have no plans to change the division of responsibilities.
I was impressed by the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, and welcome her to this debate. The suggestion of a levy on social services was interesting and potentially attractive. There have been some discussions between the Home Office and the DfES about it, but before we could introduce such a levy we would have to be clear that a workable process was in place to enable funds to be transferred quickly and effectively. It is not something we have ruled out, however.
My time is up. There are many other questions I would like to respond to. I do not have the time to do so, but I repeat my undertaking to respond to those points that I have not managed to cover. I apologise in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who gave me notice of his questions. I have full responses which I shall ensure are prepared for him.
My Lords, time has run out. I simply thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It is not a debate of last resort; I suspect that it will be a regular resort in the future. I thank all noble Lords, especially the Minister for his response.