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Youth Justice Board

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What plans they have for the development of the Youth Justice Board in light of the transfer of responsibility for the board to the Ministry of Justice.

My Lords, the Youth Justice Board remains key in implementing our strategy for children and young people who offend or who are at risk of offending. At present, we have no specific plans for further development. The creation of the Ministry of Justice provides the opportunity for the various parts of the justice system to work together better. Agencies such as the Youth Justice Board will have a critical role to play in making that a reality.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Has she had time to study the comments of the Durham coroner at the end of the inquest into the suicide of 14 year-old Adam Rickwood, who was on remand in a children’s prison? Adam hanged himself just after he had been restrained and had had pain inflicted on him by four male staff because he would not go to his room. Is restraint using pain infliction still being used today on children in secure training centres to get them to do what they are told? Will the Minister now set up an urgent and thorough review of the restraint of children in prison using pain infliction, as called for by the Durham coroner?

My Lords, Adam’s death is a tragedy. We are following up the coroner’s recommendation at the inquest of an urgent review of the legal position of the use of physical restraint to ensure good order and discipline in secure training centres, and I shall of course keep the noble Baroness informed.

My Lords, will the Government publish last November’s report of the Youth Justice Board on past abuse suffered by children in custody and a way forward, which seems to be very germane to this issue? Can the noble Baroness tell us which Minister in the department will be responsible for the board?

My Lords, I do not think that we have any plans to publish the report. The Minister responsible will be my honourable friend Bridget Prentice.

My Lords, does the Minister recollect that in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which set up the board, there was a very important provision enabling the board to make grants to local government for the purpose of stimulating and developing good practices among children and young persons, for saving young persons who are at risk and for making various provisions for research and allied objects? How much has been spent in total on those grants in the six years or so of the board’s existence? If that information is not available, can the Minister say how much was spent in the past financial year?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the Youth Justice Board has a grant in aid, mainly from the offender management area, of about £417 million in total. Of that, around £42 million goes directly to youth offending teams to support programmes which we believe are critical to the success of the youth justice system and which will incorporate some of the elements to which the noble Lord referred. The YJB also spends £18.5 million on resettlement and aftercare provisions. He rightly referred to the provisions within the Act and the terms of reference under which the Youth Justice Board was set up about the importance of working closely with local authorities to develop these programmes further. If I can get more detailed figures for the noble Lord, I shall do so and place a copy in the Library of the House.

My Lords, according to reports, Adam Rickwood had a long history of mental disturbance and had been admitted to hospital seven times with incidents of self-harm. In her plans for the Youth Justice Board, does the Minister intend to ensure that such vulnerable children get the treatment they need and are not sent to totally unsuitable establishments, such as STCs?

My Lords, there is no doubt that in trying to tackle the issue of the 3 per cent of young offenders who end up in a custodial setting, we need to bear in mind their physical and mental needs during their time in custody. I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured that this is one of the issues kept at the forefront of our thinking.

My Lords, is the structure of the youth offending teams likely to remain the same? Will the process of monitoring and evaluating their work remain the same?

My Lords, 157 youth offending teams are monitored, as my noble friend will know, by the Youth Justice Board. The proposals set out in the recent Government White Paper Strong and Prosperous Communities will enable the Youth Justice Board to align the performance framework for youth offending teams with those new arrangements. Youth offending teams are also inspected as part of the five-year cycle by nine national inspectorates led by HM Inspectorate of Probation, and new performance assessments of those services have been introduced as part of the reforms in Every Child Matters. I hope that that gives my noble friend a flavour of the holistic approach to ensuring that the teams are monitored effectively.

My Lords, the department’s new manifesto, Justice—A New Approach, sets out how the new Ministry of Justice intends to proceed. It comments on youth justice that:

“Youth courts have seen a 26 per cent increase in business since 2002, which is making it more difficult for sentencers to keep a grip on individuals”,

an idea that could have been expressed in a more felicitous phrase. Does that reflect a 26 per cent increase in youth crime since 2002?

My Lords, we have increased our ability to bring young offenders through the court system, as is necessary to ensure that we not only deal with and tackle issues raised by youth offending but find ways to ensure that these young people do not reoffend. As I have already indicated, the percentage of those receiving custodial sentences is around 3 per cent.

My Lords, will the Minister expand a little more on the question of the noble Lord, Lord Elton? If there is such a report, it would be helpful in understanding what is happening on children and previous abuse and how they should be treated in the future. Will she explain why the Government do not propose to publish this report? Is there any real reason?

My Lords, I indicated that I have not been told of any plans to publish it. As your Lordships have asked the question again, I will of course take the point back to my honourable friend Bridget Prentice and get a fuller answer for the noble Baroness.

My Lords, the number of children in custody at the end of March was 2,870. That is an increase of 85 on the same time last year. Is the Minister content with that figure, which absorbs 70 per cent of the budget of the Youth Justice Board, or would she prefer to see more of its budget spent on diversion and prevention?

My Lords, I do not underestimate, for one moment, the importance of diversion and prevention in ensuring that our young people do not end up in custody. The figures I have for those in the under-18 secure estate on 11 June are 2,445 in offender institutions, 245 in secure training centres and 229 in secure children’s homes. The proportion of juvenile offenders receiving a custodial sentence has reduced.