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Young Offender Institutions

Volume 630: debated on Tuesday 31 October 2017

12. What recent steps he has taken in response to the finding of the chief inspector of prisons that no young offender institution inspected in the last year was safe to hold juveniles. (901523)

Improving safety and reducing the risk of serious incidents of violence and self-harm in youth custody are among my highest priorities, and we are committed to reforming custodial provision.

Given that no prison is safe for children, that over a third of children in prison have diagnoses of mental health conditions and that nearly 70% of children sent to prison reoffend within a year of release, does the Minister believe that it is time to find an alternative to sending children to prison?

I recognise that the recidivism rate of 69% is unacceptable, and that is why I am bringing forward two new secure schools, one in the north-west and one in the south-east of England. We recognise that we have a problem with the environment in the youth custodial estate; I have never hidden this from the House. The mental health issues are deep-seated. We are dealing with approximately 1,000 individuals who are locked up at any one time, and they can often be quite deeply damaged; I assure the hon. Lady that I am cognisant of that.

I very much welcome the idea of the secure school in the north-west. That is the right direction of travel, but will the Minister give a guarantee to the House and to the public that staffing levels will ensure that such schools both are safe and become places where we can break any reoffending cycle?

The hon. Gentleman is fully aware that the part of the world that he used to represent as a Mayor is quite ahead in dealing with individuals more holistically. Staffing is an issue. We have brought forward a youth custody officer role, which will start in 2018, and we are bringing forward another 80 people for a course to improve the type of care that those individuals can offer. We are under no illusions about the challenges. The guidelines on how we are procuring secure schools and their staffing arrangements will be announced in the new year.