Clause 25

Offender Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:15 am ar 23 Ionawr 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Accommodation in which period of detention and training to be served

Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Shadow Minister (Wales)

I beg to move amendment No. 40, in clause 25, page 18, line 25, leave out subsection (5).

The amendment stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle. I think that the appropriate expression may be that I have been left holding the baby, but I shall proceed. Clause 25(5) allows the Secretary of State to direct that some young people be removed from young offender institutions into adult prisons once they have reached the age of 18. We seek to remove that subsection from the Bill.

Before 2000, the law required that 18 to 20-year-olds be held in young offender institutions. Approximately 9,000 young adults aged between 18 and 20 are now in prison in England and Wales. The Government attempted to reduce the minimum age of imprisonment  to 18 in section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. Perhaps in the light of pressure from interested parties that were rightly concerned about the standard of provision for young people in adult prisons, that section was not brought into effect. The Home Office has called in interested groups to consider the specific needs of the 18 to 20-year-old age group, including standards for the management of offenders in custody and in the community. I should be interested to know the Minister’s feelings about that consultation and the views of those who were consulted.

The Government are attempting to enact an idea to which many groups, such as Rainer, the Prison Reform Trust and the Howard League for Penal Reform, are opposed. I cite the views expressed by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons in her 2004-05 annual report, which stated:

“Our reports continue to document the inadequate provision for young adults”.

Is prison the best place for 18 to 20-year-olds? This age group suffers severe difficulties and therefore requires special attention. The Prison Reform Trust found that 78.4 per cent. of young men released from prison in 2002 were reconvicted within two years of release.

We have heard about the general problems of mental health from which young people suffer proportionately more highly than others. To deal with the problems of education and training as well as mental health problems, special provision is needed to accommodate such needs. Reducing reoffending in this age group requires us to prepare young offenders for the world and to teach them skills that we often take for granted, such as how to organise personal finances and how and where to look for employment. We have often discussed such needs in the Committee. Without being taught those skills and receiving other treatment for drug abuse and mental health problems, young adults will remain as likely as ever to reoffend. Crucially—the Minister showed his personal commitment to this in his evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee—that cannot be done in prisons.

The 2004-05 report of Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons stated:

“The poorest provision at present is to be found in establishments that hold young adults within an adult population.”

Different age groups have different needs, but there is inadequate funding in prisons to take account of such needs. The Prison Reform Trust report “A Lost Generation: the experiences of young people in prison” revealed that far too many 18 to 20-year-olds were being moved around an overcrowded system and experiencing impoverished regimes involving long hours locked up without the support and supervision that they require, causing disruption and distress.

Will the provision as drafted make the situation worse? Will it not be a case of having no room for young adults in secure training centres because resources are a big issue, which means that they will be put into prisons instead? The Minister knows that there is a problem in Wales, as his evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee showed. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough referred to the matter in his contribution on mental health issues. Can the Minister  assure us that the measure will not be used as an excuse to free up space in the already overcrowded youth custody system?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman may be reassured that the measure is not being put in place to relieve overcrowding in the young offender detention system by placing such offenders in the adult prison system, because the adult prison system is itself overcrowded. One does not cure one bit of overcrowding by further overcrowding an already overcrowded adult prison estate.

There is a young offender institution and an adult prison in my constituency, and I have visited several young offender institutions and adult prisons in the past 18 months or so. Young offender institutions take people up to the age of 21, and there are often people of 19 or 20 in those institutions who look about 13 or 14, yet some people aged 16 or 17 in custody look 25. Some foreign nationals in young offender institutions do not have accurate records of when they were born, so they may be over 21. However, I am told by people who work in young offender institutions that such detainees often say that they are under 21 in order to be imprisoned in the young offender institution rather than the adult prison. There is a huge problem of actual age as compared to maturity, and the slightly lesser problem of older foreign prisoners being housed in the young offender estate.

I am concerned about what considerations the Secretary of State takes into account in deciding whether a person who is 18 but not yet 21 is to be considered for detention in a prison as opposed to a YOI. Clearly the Secretary of State will not personally make that decision. I do not imagine that even the Minister with responsibility for prisons will make that decision; it will be delegated to people within the Prison Service or in the private prison estate. We need to be extremely careful that prisoners who are vulnerable young people in some respects—yes, they have committed serious crimes, otherwise they would not be in custody; I do not shed a tear about that—are not pushed into the adult estate when they are not suitable and could not cope either physically or mentally with the conditions of an adult prison.

Prison is not a nice place to be. Young offender institutions are not nice places to be. I am afraid that sometimes people have to be sent to them because they have committed serious crimes, but we need to be careful about treating people badly within the prison system by sending unsuitable youngsters into the adult system, for example, because it could lead to more damage than the Minister would want.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ceredigion for speaking to the amendment and for the comments from the hon. and learned Member for Harborough. I wholeheartedly agree that we have tobe careful about this issue. I want to reassure the Committee and, I hope, the hon. Member for Ceredigion that we are seeking a contingency for the reasons that he outlined. Clearly there will have to be a great deal of discussion, and I will come to some of the things we are already doing in terms of adult offenders and what needs to happen.

A project was set up as part of the National Offender Management Service offender management programme to look at management and standards for young adult offenders by March 2007. It is talking to the stakeholders that the hon. Gentleman quoted, including Rainer and a variety of bodies. The project has carried out four reviews of matters relating to young adult offenders: age range; legislative arrangements for their management; custodial estate provisions; and community provisions. Each review was informed by an examination of recent publications, analysis of statistical data, workshops and focus groups, and in addition meetings were held with operational staff and offender policy leads, the voluntary community and private sector, leading interest groups, inspectorates and the prison and probation ombudsman. The team also visited a number of prisons, youth offender institutions and probation areas, including the north-west pathfinder for offender management. The project has worked closely with the Youth Justice Board throughout.

The age range review has examined the practice across all Departments, good practice overseas and research evidence in relation to offending patterns and maturity. There is an emerging argument in favour of looking to realign our age definitions in line with other agencies, but the full implications need further exploration before any firm recommendations are put to Ministers. As yet, no firm decision has been made. Decisions on legislative changes, if necessary, will be made once any change options have been decided; for example in respect of YOI age range definitions.

The custodial and community reviews have been based on an assessment of the way forward on the key characteristics of the young adult offenders age group and, consequent on those, the development of a regime to reduce the reoffending. The review of the custodial estate has identified options for the future management of young adult offenders. The priorities of public protection and reducing reoffending while ensuring that vulnerable offenders are protected will determine the preferred option, dependent on the offender need profile and the outcome of the cost-benefit analysis.

I hope that that underlines what the Government are trying to do with young adult offenders and young people provision across Government, focusing on prevention and then dealing with reoffenders. I have been impressed with the work of organisations such as SmartJustice, in the deflections that they are trying to achieve in the development of young offenders. We are attempting not to put 18-year-olds in prison but to enact a contingency that is required under current legislation.

Subsection (5) allows detention and training order trainees who become 18 during the course of their sentences to be placed in an adult prison, which is a necessary provision for a situation that might arise when section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act is brought into force. Section 61 abolishes the sentence of detention in a young offenders institution that is currently available for 18 to 20-year-olds. Following that change, if we then decided that young offenders institutions would no longer be provided for 18 to 20-year-olds, that would create a   problem for the under-18 estate, because moving an 18-year-old trainee to a young adults institution would no longer be possible. Clause 25 would instead enable him or her to be placed in an adult prison.

I might be asked why 18-year-old DTO trainees cannot stay in the juvenile estate until the end of their sentences. There is no difficulty in a trainee remaining for a reasonable period, but an offender who is just under 18 at the time of conviction may be over 18 by the time sentence is passed and may then have to serve up to 12 months in custody. He or she could then well be over 19 by the end of the custodial period. An even more extreme case would be if the trainee was then released from custody but subsequently breached the terms of the notice of supervision. He or she could be sent back to custody by the court. By that time, the trainee could be over 20.

Forcing the Youth Justice Board to place 19 or 20-year-olds in the under-18 estate, where they would be mixing with 15-year-olds and so on, is clearly not desirable. There are obvious safeguarding implications. As I have tried to make clear, the policy on young adult offenders in custody is currently under review and no decision on the way forward has yet been taken. We are listening to the groups—experts in the area—that the hon. Member for Ceredigion asked us to.

If and when there is a need to place DTO trainees in prison, policy guidelines will be in place to ensure that the transfer to prison happens only in appropriate cases, with due consideration to the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998 and to meeting the needs of individual vulnerable people. I should emphasise that, unless detention in a young offenders institution is abolished and the age of adult imprisonment consequently reduced to 18, we have no intention of placing DTO trainees in adult establishments. The subsection is purely a contingency arrangement. With that explanation and commitment, made in Committee and Select Committee, the hon. Member for Ceredigion knows what we are trying to achieve and should be able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Shadow Minister (Wales) 11:30, 23 Ionawr 2007

I thank the Minister for that generous response. Again, he has assured me that there is a precautionary principle at work here, but my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle and I wanted to flag up the needs of this very different group. The Minister has assured me that the Government share, at least in part, that concern. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.