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Armed Forces: Military Corrective Training Centre

Volume 739: debated on Wednesday 25 July 2012

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the present number of inmates in the Military Corrective Training Centre; and what is the average percentage of inmates who are successfully returned to their units on completion of sentence.

My Lords, as at 24 July there were 101 detainees at the Military Corrective Training Centre, Colchester. On average, over the past five years 56 per cent have returned to their unit to continue serving on completion of their sentence. This demonstrates that the centre is very effective and enables the Armed Forces to capitalise on the training, investment and operational experience of those individuals being retained, which otherwise might be lost.

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that very reassuring reply. Are there not some lessons to be learnt in this regard, maybe in the civil sector, but particularly by the young offender centres whose performance in this area is sometimes deplorable?

My Lords, I am grateful for the positive response from my noble friend. The programme of educational courses and military training that detainees undertake reinvigorates them with the military ethos. On return to their units, the vast majority go on to achieve promotion and to have a successful military career. Direct comparison with the civil sector is difficult because those in Her Majesty’s Prison Service have committed criminal offences, while the majority of those at MCTC have committed non-criminal conduct offences. However, last year 13% of detainees at MCTC had previously served periods of detention whereas some 90% of those sentenced in England and Wales in Her Majesty’s Prison Service had offended before.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the statistics are even better than that because quite a lot of people sent to Colchester serve time there and are then sent for discharge, so of those who are able to go back the percentage is even higher?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point. Indeed, the latest report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons is exceptionally positive and has graded the centre as good for its four tests of a healthy custodial environment: safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement—something that it very rarely does.

My Lords, I declare two interests: one as adjutant-general, when I was responsible for the MCTC, and one as Chief Inspector of Prisons. I visited the centre when the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, sent young offenders there under the mistaken impression that it was a boot camp. In fact the experience of being in a disciplined environment, particularly in the way that they were treated by staff, was wholly positive for those young offenders sent there. Is consideration being given to sending young offenders to the MCTC as part of their sentence, particularly if they want to join the Armed Forces and their level of criminality is not great? Armed with the experience there, they are more likely to have a proper career when they join the regular services after that. If they misbehave, they can of course always be sent straight back to custody.

My Lords, I am very sorry to disappoint the noble Lord but the answer is no. It has been the policy of successive Governments since 1963 that our Armed Forces are manned by volunteers. We have no shortage of applicants who have not committed any crime. In 1996, the Glasshouse was set up as a trial at MCTC for approximately 30 civilian young offenders aged 18 to 21. They underwent a military-style regime, including drill, physical training and room and kit inspections. In 1997 the Government ordered that young offenders tough enough to cope with this would be sent to MCTC, but the scheme was stopped in 1998. I understand that it was too expensive.

My Lords, there is so much sense in what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said. Could not consideration be given to sending people from the Armed Forces to places such as the young offender institution at Brinsford in my former constituency? I am sure that many of those young people have given up hope. What they need is some discipline and some hope, and they could have those instilled in them at Colchester and elsewhere.

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. However, our primary objective is to have a professional, volunteer Armed Forces.

My Lords, how many inmates of the Military Corrective Training Centre have been deported after sentence or at the completion of their sentence in the past two years? Of that number, how many have been charged and sentenced through the military judicial system rather than the civilian judicial system? What rights of appeal against deportation do they have, and to which individual or body?

My Lords, the Ministry of Defence does not track the numbers of deportations or rights of appeal. It is a matter for the Home Office. I will undertake to get these figures for the noble Lord and write to him.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that comparing anybody in a civil prison with anybody in a military prison is very difficult because the overriding characteristic of people in a civil prison is probably that they are educational failures, usually having left education at the age of 14? That should be remembered every time we look at this.

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. Our objective in the military is to get these guys and girls back as quickly as possible to carry on serving in the Armed Forces.