Skip to main content

Criminal Justice: Secure College

Volume 764: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to support young people in the criminal justice system in the light of the decision not to go ahead with the building of a secure college.

My Lords, in recent years we have seen welcome reductions in proven offending by young people and in the number of young people in custody. However, we have not seen similar success in reducing reoffending by young people. We are carefully considering how the youth justice system can more effectively prevent offending by young people and set them on a path to a better future.

My Lords, will the Minister convey to the Lord Chancellor the thanks of this House for his abandonment of his predecessor’s misconceived plan to house in a so-called secure college one-third of the young offenders in custody? Can he tell us whether and how the £1.56 million staffing and procurement costs and the £4.04 million of development costs incurred during this sorry saga can be recouped?

I am happy to convey the good wishes of your Lordships’ House to the Secretary of State. As to the spend, it will not be recovered. The pathfinder designs could be used or adapted to other forms of youth or adult custody in the future, and alternative provision could be developed on the prepared site at Glen Parva. However, the noble Lord and the House may be relieved to know that we will not be spending £85 million on the secure college.

My Lords, will the Minister agree that the purpose of the secure colleges, as against secure training centres, was to double the time available for education in these prison establishments, thus leading to better job opportunities for inmates on release? Now that this option is not available, and bearing in mind the shocking report produced by the prison inspector about the lack of staffing in prisons, how will these objectives be met, and what will be the future role of the Youth Justice Board in providing the type of education required?

The noble Lord is right that the secure college had at its heart the ambition of improving the provision of education for young offenders. As he will know from his experience in this area, a large majority of them have either been expelled from school or not attended school, and many of them are barely literate or numerate. The Government intend to focus very much on the education of young people. Since March 2015 a greater focus on education has followed, and the number of hours of education available to young people has more than doubled. However, we are not complacent.

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that I am truly grateful that this plan has been abandoned. However, has he looked at all the wealth of research on community interventions with reoffending young people? Down the generations, material has been produced on how working in a one-to-one relationship with these youngsters can change their behaviour significantly. I ask the Minister to look at that again in the review, because that is what changes lives.

The noble Baroness was a doughty opponent of secure colleges and I acknowledge that. Of course, she will be as pleased as the rest of the House at the drop in the number of young offenders in various forms of youth custody from 3,000 in 2007 to just over 1,000 now. However, we need to do more, and she is right that when young people leave we will be encouraging them to become re-established in the community and to make up for the very unfortunate starts that many of them have had.

The Minister will know that for many years we have been incarcerating far more young people per 100,000 of the population than almost any other country in Europe. Do we still hold that unmeritorious accolade?

I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord the statistics off the top of my head. At the moment we certainly incarcerate something like 85,000 of the overall adult population. As I said, we have reduced the number of young people in prison, and I shall write to the noble Lord with the comparative figure in due course.

I think it is right to say that there are now fewer than 50 girls in the category to which this Question applies. A couple of years ago the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, which I chair, held a year-long inquiry which showed that even those girls do not need to be held in this kind of accommodation and can be dealt with in the community. Does the Minister accept that?

I can assist the noble Baroness and the House by telling her that, as of today, 36 girls are in custody—19 in secure training centres and 17 in secure children’s homes—so it is a reducing number. I think that those who are responsible for sending young women and girls to prison have it well in mind that it should be a last resort. The Government are anxious to keep all young women and girls out of prison if it can possibly be avoided.

My Lords, in connection with the question asked by my noble friend Lady Howarth, the Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Taskforce, formed by NHS England, is currently looking at ways of holding these damaged children near enough to their homes to ensure continuity of treatment. Can the Minister assure the House that the findings of this task force will be included in whatever work is done in the Ministry of Justice?

It is very much a matter that will be at the forefront of our mind. Of course, one of the difficulties is that if a limited number of young people are in youth custody establishments of one sort or another, they will inevitably be scattered all over the country. Having, as it were, local institutions creates quite a challenge but it is a consideration that is highly relevant.

My Lords, the purpose of incarceration is rehabilitation. In view of the growing clarity of the importance of education in that function, when did the Government last review sentencing policy, and are there available sentences that enable children to be held in suitable accommodation long enough to achieve some educational progress?

The noble Lord identifies one of the main philosophies behind the secure college, which was to enable a sufficient block of education to be provided to young people when they were in youth custody of one form or another. That will be very much a part of the consideration that the Government give to maintaining some sort of continuity, even if there are relatively short periods when a young offender is in some form of establishment.