§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton rose to call attention to the report of the Howard League Commission of Inquiry into violence in penal institutions for teenagers under 18 entitled Banged Up, Beaten Up, Cutting Up; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I address the Motion, I should like to say that I am very pleased to welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, to our debate. There has been some speculation as to whether or not he would speak from the Front Bench or the Back Bench. However, the matter has now been resolved. I warmly welcome him.
§ The report concentrates on violence in penal institutions for teenagers under the age of 18. I am glad that we do not have to deal with penal chains in this debate. The House of Commons was dealing with penal chains for women only very recently. The report reveals horrifying and totally unacceptable violence in institutions for the young—not only by bullying, but also, and particularly disturbing, self-harm and, in far too many cases, suicide or attempted suicide, however difficult the authorities seek to make it.
§ But the report goes much wider. It deals comprehensively with violence in society in general and particularly in the home which has led many young people to commit the unsocial and often violent crimes which result in their being given penal custody. The review was conducted against the background of the obligations which the nation owes to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by this country in 1991. I shall attempt to cover that wider ground.
The first matter I find disturbing is the fact that the Government do not pay due regard to the UN convention which they ratified such a short time ago. At that time the number of 10 to 16 year-olds guilty or cautioned was static or falling, as the Home Office figures for 1990–93 show. Those figures are given on page 19 of the report. That static or falling tendency has now been reversed, seemingly as a result of deliberate policy by the Government. The 1988 Green Paper Punishment, Custody and the Community, represented a real advance and seemed to have general consensus as well as reflecting government policy. I shall quote the extract from it given in the report:
Most young offenders grow out of crime as they become more mature and responsible. They need encouragement and help to become law abiding. Even a short period of custody is quite likely to confirm them as criminals, particularly as they acquire new criminal skills from more sophisticated offenders. They see themselves labelled as criminals and behave accordingly".
How long ago, that seems now. The Criminal Justice Act 1991 reflected the spirit. It introduced a number of community-based penalties for young people under the age of 18 and limited custody for 15 to 17 year-olds to 12 months' detention in a young offenders' institution.
§ All that now seems to have changed. The general understanding then among those working within the criminal justice system was that many young people committing criminal offences were vulnerable, came from chaotic family backgrounds and were in need of special care and protection. That understanding accords with research by the Policy Studies Institute for the Home Office in 1994; alas, it does not seem to be appreciated by the Government.
§ It is clear that the Government have been blown off course by the panic outcry against so-called "persistent young offenders" and by the killing of James Bulger in 1993. Unfortunately, that combination led to confusion between the persistent, or very persistent, and the very serious offender. I believe that that was a mistake.
§ I suppose it is coincidental that the Government now behave as if they would prefer not to have acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991 and would prefer increased and more severe forms of custody and the reduction of punishment in the community. Hence some of the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
§ I should also mention what I can only call the infamous sound-bite at the Conservative conference that "prison works". Prison certainly does not work: upwards of 70 per cent. of its inmates offend again. Prison fails to inhibit re-offending among the young as well as older prisoners. The most successful young offender institution has a reconviction rate of 70 per cent.; others are much worse. How anyone can subscribe to the boast that prison works when we have a success rate of only 30 per cent. or less is beyond my imagination.
§ The abandonment of the 1988 White Paper ideals has led to overcrowding. Sentencing patterns have changed. That makes things worse for constructive regimes in our prisons. Overcrowding means that prison officers do not have the time (what with locking and unlocking) to conduct prisoners to and from education and other meliorative activities. Overcrowding tends to heighten tensions in prison and makes it much more difficult for prison officers to watch out for, and prevent, routine violent behaviour such as bullying. They are much more likely to be watching out for serious trouble. Even in the most positive regimes, programmes and activities (including leisure activities) become restricted or go by the board.
§ I turn to another major worry; namely, the conflict of interest and duty between the Home Office and some other government departments, notably the Department of Health. The latter department, certainly when it was the DHSS, was responsible for the welfare of children. But apparently that responsibility ceases when the child becomes a criminal which can happen at the very young age of 10. Indeed, it is even lower in Scotland and 188 Northern Ireland. The child is still obliged to attend education, but the national curriculum does not seem to operate in prison.
§ Most penal establishments try to encourage all young people to attend classes, but the quality of facilities is low. The standard of literacy among prisoners, both old and young, is low and speaks for itself. An illiterate and innumerate prison society is probably a more violent society and, in any case, its members are unlikely to be eligible for any but the lowest paid jobs on release.
§ If the departments for health and education had a higher status as regards young prisoners, a far higher quality of regime could be obtained. I wonder whether the Minister can comment on the quality of regimes, particularly in education, and say whether the Children Act 1989 and its regulations are followed so far as possible where the young offender is concerned.
§ I reiterate that far too many children from violent and chaotic backgrounds are sent to penal institutions where they meet violence. Violence tends to breed violence. If children need to be locked up, they should go, preferably—I know this is an ideal—to local authority secure accommodation where violence is much less known than in penal institutions and where children are far better attended to than in prison custody. As the report shows and strongly recommends, the children would benefit and society would benefit if that were to happen.
§ I wish to say a few words about training centres on the model of the glasshouse designed for defaulting soldiers. Children are not defaulting soldiers. Discipline designed for adult soldiers is not in the least appropriate for child offenders. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to say something about the proposed "boot camps" and whether she thinks they will offer less opportunity for violence to take place than local authority secure accommodation. The same applies to all secure training centres that are planned. I believe that the culture of violence revealed by the report in existing penal institutions is something which children should not he exposed to. I very much hope to hear from the noble Baroness that steps are being taken to make things better. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Drumadoon)
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, for affording me the opportunity of making my maiden speech on such an important and interesting topic. Perhaps before I pass to the short contribution that I seek to make to your Lordships' discussion I should begin with an apology for any confusion that may arise through the introduction of yet another Lord Mackay into your Lordships' House. I hasten to assure your Lordships that this is no part of a clan takeover. Moreover, now that there are three Lord Mackays in Her Majesty's Government your Lordships should not take that as evidence of the development of a clan within a party. My noble friend the Chief Whip has assured me that that would not be welcome.
189 It is, however, a great privilege for me to make my maiden speech with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor in his usual place on the Woolsack. It is over 25 years since we first worked together as lawyers in Scotland. At that time I was a solicitor; indeed our first contact occurred when I was only an apprentice solicitor. Despite my lack of seniority, I was in a position of being able to give instructions to my noble and learned friend who was at that time in practice at the Scottish Bar. I understand that those days are behind me! In the fullness of time, with not a little encouragement from my noble and learned friend, I was myself called to the Bar. It was then that certain confusion began to arise. As is the position in your Lordships' House, we were not the only Mackays around. For that reason papers sent by firms of solicitors occasionally ended up with the wrong Mackay and—possibly more surprisingly—consultations were even arranged with the wrong clan member. Those clients of mine who came face to face with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor felt honoured by the experience. I regret to say that his clients did not take the same view when they came face to face with me. Reactions of annoyance and shell-shock were common. I trust that your Lordships will not similarly discriminate between our speeches in the future.
I should explain that throughout my practice as a lawyer I have practised almost exclusively in Scotland. It is only through membership of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board that I have had any exposure to those who have been detained in penal institutions for young people in England and Wales. Your Lordships will appreciate that on occasions such young offenders are themselves the victims of crimes of violence. They apply for criminal injuries compensation and on occasion they are held entitled to receive it. My limited experience of the situation in England and Wales does not really qualify me to comment in detail on the report which the Howard League has prepared. Rather I seek to content myself with a few observations based on my experience as a lawyer in Scotland. At different stages in my career both as counsel and as solicitor I have worked with juvenile offenders. I have both prosecuted them and defended them on charges ranging from the most trivial to the crime of murder. Of necessity I have had to visit clients in various institutions throughout the length and breadth of Scotland.
As the Howard League report helpfully reminds us, juvenile courts in Scotland were replaced in 1971 by the children's hearing system. That system deals with all but the most serious offences committed by teenagers generally under the age of 16 years. Children are referred to the children's hearing when they are deemed to be in need of compulsory measures of care. That can arise on a variety of grounds, whether they be accused of committing offences or whether indeed they have been the victim of such offences. As your Lordships will know, the children's hearing is constituted by lay members of the public who are properly trained in this important work. They work not only with the young offenders themselves but also with their parents, social workers and other professionals trying to address the whole needs of the child. As total a view of the welfare 190 as possible is taken, and sometimes this can be dealt with by a non-residential supervision requirement. On other occasions some form of residence is required. Occasionally it is with another adult relative, and sometimes with foster parents, but from time to time the young people have to be kept in secure accommodation notwithstanding the fact that they arc riot yet 16 years of age.
I think it is well recognised that both within and furth of Scotland the children's hearing system is much admired but nevertheless those who pass through it do not always benefit from the approach which is adopted. The complete look at the welfare—the involvement of the parents and other professionals—does not meet with success in every instance. That seeks to illustrate the first point that I wish to make to your Lordships; namely, that it is unrealistic to expect that any one procedure for dealing with young offenders can be expected to achieve 100 per cent. success with every individual who passes through it. As any young offender passes through a system, whether it be the children's hearing system or the young offenders institution, or what have you, he or she benefits in a different way and to a different extent. One must bear that in mind when considering this important topic.
The other principal point I seek to make is to guard against a feeling of despondency. Those who work with young offenders, whether they prosecute them or defend them or whether they act as their social workers or their probation officers or they sit in court dealing with young offenders, are inclined from time to time to feel despondent about the problems these youngsters face and the serious problems they get into and, equally, about the serious problems they create for others. Indeed, reading through the Howard League report, that feeling of despondency comes across fairly forcefully in the text of the report itself. In my experience it is important to guard against such a feeling of despondency. Some young offenders learn quicker than others. Some benefit from their first experience in custody and resolve never to offend again. For others it takes longer. That is another important lesson which has to be borne in mind.
Undoubtedly the punishment element of youth custody is not confined to the loss of liberty. Bullying and occasional self-harm are major problems which require to be addressed. They are certainly being addressed in Scotland. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Blatch will explain in detail how they are being addressed south of the Border. Although these problems arise from time to time, it would be a serious mistake to imagine that every young offender who passes through an institution is faced with these difficulties. Not every inmate of a young offenders institution is either a bully or a victim of bullying. Many of them serve their sentence and get on with their lives when they come out. Certainly, my experience of working with them, both prosecuting them and defending them, is that they tend to be much more resilient than many of the very disturbing incidents which are discussed in the Howard League report suggest.
191 I hope that those observations from north of the Border will be of assistance to your Lordships in this very interesting debate.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I should like to express the pleasure of the whole House at the maiden speech which has been delivered by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon. He spoke from the Front Bench, but his interest in the matter as a Scottish lawyer and his concern for the needs of the child are widely appreciated. I am sure that the House will draw on his experience as a successful Scottish advocate.
I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for enabling us to have this debate on this sombre report by the Howard League. The House will know that I speak this evening on a subject on which I have no great expertise. Many Members of your Lordships' House have great knowledge of the subject. Nevertheless, I speak in the debate because of my concern about the position in Wales as revealed by the report. The report devotes four separate subsections to the situation in Wales, and they too make for sombre reading.
I am bound to begin with the prisons in Cardiff and Swansea, where most Welsh juvenile defendants on remand are placed. I believe that 11 teenagers have died in those two establishments during the last 11 years. The report itself deals at some length with the circumstances surrounding the death in Cardiff Prison in 1994 of 17 year-old Joseph Stanley. An inquest was duly held, but the commissioners describe its proceedings as a farce. They have come to the conclusion that there may never be a full explanation of what happened to young Joseph.
Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness what is the policy of the Home Office towards the sudden death of a juvenile within a place of custody, the need for a thorough investigation of the facts and the need to ensure that legal aid is available so that there can be representation of his or her family at an inquest.
On page 28 of the report we are reminded that since the suicide of 15 year-old Philip Knight in Swansea Prison in 1990 the Howard League has consistently warned of the danger to young people in Welsh prisons. It now warns that that danger has not gone away, and overcrowding must make it worse.
We are bound to ask why so many juveniles on remand are being routinely locked up in those two prisons for up to 22 hours a day with two or three in a cell, as described in the report. Why are there no education classes, no training and work facilities? Why is there that virtually complete inactivity?
The report rightly acknowledges that some improvements have been made since Judge Tumim's report in 1992. But it is also plain that conditions are still far below what could reasonably be expected. I sympathise, and I support expenditure on patching and improving old buildings in response to the pressing needs of the present. At the same time it should be 192 emphasised that that is also expenditure on a structure and a system which are beyond redemption. What is required is expenditure on new secure care units in the community in the context of a long-term programme.
My second topic concerns the slow pace of reform in Wales. Since 1989, reflecting a movement in England, there have been a series of reviews of secure care facilities in Wales, followed by a substantial review in August 1991 which recommended that there should be a single all-Wales unit of 18 secure places outside prison for boys only.
It will be next summer before the 1991 recommendation will be implemented. Plainly, and understandably, it cannot solve all the problems overnight. However, with support from the departments of state—the Home Office and the Welsh Office—I believe that it has a substantial contribution to make to the development and improvement of the service for young delinquents in Wales. However, given the anxieties expressed on page 75 of the report, I ask the noble Baroness what will be the regime for that unit.
There is worrying evidence that the Welsh courts in recent years have adopted a more punitive approach to their work. One senior prison officer at Swansea summed it up:I've never seen such a percentage of juveniles coming in".Further corroboration can be derived from another Welsh Office document that since October 1992 the courts in Mid Glamorgan—the area where I live—have dramatically increased the use of their powers to remand juveniles. I wonder whether the Welsh Office and the Home Office are seriously seeking an explanation for that increase and examining its implications.
The Howard League commissioners were also particularly concerned that the number of juveniles in Welsh prisons who had been through the care system was very high—it could be as high as 90 per cent. according to one witness—suggesting as it does a failure in the residential care system. I should like to know whether that linkage is being examined as recommended on page 75 of the report.
§ Those are my greatest concerns.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Chichester
My Lords, I should like to echo the thanks expressed to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, for his maiden speech. I do not know how often a maiden speech has been made from the Front Bench, and I have certainly never heard one before, but it was a great pleasure that the noble and learned Lord was able to bring to our attention experience from Scotland which might otherwise have been passed over.
Perhaps I should say, following the two previous speakers, that I speak from an English point of view. What I have to say is based on experience which may be somewhat out of date in many ways, but the report brought to my mind contacts with borstals which between 1960 and 1970 I had as a college chaplain in Oxford. My own college joined with four or five others in running camps in Wensleydale in which an equal 193 number of undergraduates and borstal boys shared a common life for a week. It included a two-day hike up the dales, sleeping out, and another week inside the borstal. In the 10 camps of which I had personal knowledge I do not remember a single occasion of a borstal boy absconding. Friendships were formed which in many cases have continued. I hope I do not embarrass the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, if I say that one of my most vivid memories is of her playing ping-pong with the borstal boys, and generally winning. I use that example to illustrate one of the points that I wish to make forcefully, which is the importance of personal influence.
The value of the camps, especially in preparing the borstal boys for release, was commended by all the borstal officers and governors. I should like to testify to the high quality and caring nature of the officers who came to the camps with the boys. What is relevant to part of this report is that I remember clearly their regret at the borstal system having been taken over by the Home Office and the changed ethos which resulted from that.
Most of the colleges were linked with open borstals but my own was with the closed borstal which had been built as a prison at Everthorpe near Hull. What I read on page 24 and the following pages of the report awakened memories of Everthorpe and the sensation of being locked in there. I do not know how many Members of your Lordships' House have spent nights locked into a prison, but it is a rather terrifying experience. That brief experience of being in prison enables me to understand what is stated later in the report about the pressures which lead to suicides and attempted suicides.
Another memory from those days bears on the use of adult prisons for boys on remand. In the 1960s many boys were sent after sentence to Wormwood Scrubs while it was decided which borstal they should go to. While there, they picked up a prison mythology—the glamour (I do not think that that is too strong a word) of the more notorious and longer serving prisoners in the Scrubs who were talked about. There is great danger in putting young people with older prisoners. Therefore I agree with and strongly support the recommendations at page 67.
I recognise that since 1970 things have changed. The number of young offenders has increased. I recognise that there are always likely to be those who do not respond. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, mentioned them when he said that no system can ever be 100 per cent. effective. However, the need to treat them all as persons remains. Caring must be a central element, and that requires a large number of highly trained and caring officers. I hope also that an imaginative way of using young people of similar age as volunteers, as we did in the borstal camps, may be found. Personal contact, personal influence, is valuable and important.
The 15 to 18 year-old young offenders are as much part of our future as are other young people who are still at school, and they should be treated and cared for as such. The report, I fear, lays out facts which indicate how far we are from carrying that out at the present time.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, perhaps I may join with others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for initiating the debate. Perhaps I may also say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, that he joins two other luminaries in this House—two other Mackays. We should not mind a few others coming down from Scotland as we greatly admire what is done with juveniles in Scotland.
I have read the report of the Howard League Commission of Inquiry. However, I hope that in addition to commenting on the report I may be forgiven in this short speech for drawing upon my personal experience, and that of my committee and staff, on the Oxford City Council Social Services, prior to that in the children's department, and even further back in the Home Office and Ministry of Health Inspectorate.
The profound belief of the Oxford department for which I worked was, first, that there should be a close working relationship between education and social services offering a preventive care work service to vulnerable families to prevent the break-up of families and to give support and a service to vulnerable children. We could wish that such a service had been given to the boys involved in the Bulger case, already referred to. If that had happened, the Bulger boy might be alive today.
Secondly, wherever possible and practicable, children found guilty of an offence and committed to care should be dealt with in the area in which they live. They should be kept in close contact with their families. To a large measure, that prevents suicides. I believe that on discharge children would join their families and have a better relationship with them. Furthermore, they could be kept in touch with local clubs, training facilities and the psychiatric services. I have to say that we had a splendid child guidance clinic to help the children and support the staff. It is an indictment or our time that a proportion of children sleeping rough are from residential establishments, not having been kept in touch with their families.
Thirdly, as the remand home (now called secure unit) was local, a sound relationship could be encouraged between the staff, the parents and the child. To this end parents could visit weekly, often at weekends. They could also attend case conferences and could be helped to understand their children and experience a sense of responsibility for them. Furthermore, the parents could help the staff to understand the problems and the background of their children. In my 18 years of service in Oxford City, only about 12 children were sent away from the city and many of them live to this day as happily married men with families within the city.
The underlying philosophy in dealing with juvenile delinquents is that it must be clearly understood by parents, children and social workers that there is a state of mind which understands that there is right and wrong. There may be extenuating circumstances leading to wrongdoing, but they cannot and must not be an excuse for committing crimes.
There is much good work being done by some local authority secure units, remand centres and youth treatment centres. However, there should be well trained 195 staff, social workers, residential care staff and educationists. It is a sad reflection on our services that there has not been training for those seeking to work with children and young persons in a residential setting who have committed offences. A voluntary organisation has set up a training college for residential staff; namely, the Caldecott College. I declare an interest in the college as I am chairman of the Caldecott Community. I pay tribute to the staff of the college who have set up this new venture; and I also pay tribute to Sir Evelyn de Rothschild who is helping to make the training possible.
It is on the statute book that there should be five secure training units, each with 40 children aged 12 to 14 years at a cost of £30 million a year. That may or may not be a successful project. But I believe that it is an expensive one and I do not believe that it is the right one. Where possible the care, control and training of juvenile delinquents should be carried out in the area in which they live, mixing with the people they know and learning to make personal relationships with those with whom they have been brought up.
I cannot believe that the prison type of strategy is the right one for training our children. Many of them suffer emotional disturbance and, sadly, we have to send some children away from the area in which they live because there are very few therapeutic units that are able to help children locally. Of course, it is a very expensive area.
I recognise that the Home Office has a difficult task and I know that my noble friend Lady Blatch understands the problems. It is the wish of both the Department of Health and the Home Office to work together. I hope that we may help the children of our areas by setting up good local secure units with good trained staff working with the parents, social workers, clubs and youth training centres in the areas in which the children live. In that way I believe that we will prevent children from sleeping rough on our streets.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, if anyone is interested in my views on young offenders, I suppose I may recommend my book Young Offenders, published two or three years ago. However, like everyone else tonight, I am subjected to the iron discipline of the House with its seven-minute sound bites. I may have to use most of that in offering congratulations, especially to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. There are so many reasons why he is admired in this House that I shall only add one more. It is that, as president of New Bridge, which I founded 40 years ago, he has made a tremendous success of that organisation.
All of us concerned with young offenders, young children and young people, look up to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. She has gained a kind of sanctified status in the area. Perhaps that is almost embarrassing but I find it a great privilege to follow her. I also look forward to hearing my acting Leader, my noble friend Lord McIntosh, because he will make sure that the impression that the Labour Party is not so interested as it once was in penal reform is a delusion.
196 I must not forget to congratulate the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, the maiden speaker. The right reverend Prelate wondered whether anyone had made a maiden speech from the Front Bench. I am sure that people have. I myself made one from the Front Bench 50 years ago. I congratulate the noble and learned Lord on his.
I have only a few minutes, so what can I say? I shall not deal with the most difficult problem, which was just touched on at the end of the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and which is that some people have to be sent away. In the most severe cases, such as that of the young schoolboy who murdered the headmaster, I do not think it is enough to say, "Let the local authority provide some accommodation". The state has to take a responsibility in that case and the Department of Health has institutions of a suitable kind. I am only saying that if people are to be sent away outside the local authority area, the Department of Health and not the Home Office should be responsible.
I would rather spend these few minutes on discussing what are called "local secure units". A certain magic is beginning to be attached to their name. They are fallible, like everything else in this world. Last week I visited one which it was suggested to me might be the best. I also visited a prison which I know very well, although it is not called a prison: it is the Feltham Young Offenders Institution. I was able to make a comparison. It is worth spending a few minutes on considering the two kinds of institution.
No one can doubt that if one had a young person in whom one was interested, one would rather he went to the high-class local secure unit than any kind of penal institution. But the facts may not be in the minds of most noble Lords: they were not in mine. Orchard House, which I visited, is a fine place where 70 staff look after 28 young people, eight of them in a totally secure unit. That is 70 staff to 28 young people. I also visited Feltham, where there are two units. In each unit there are 64 young people under 18, looked after by 16 staff. So the ratio in a secure unit at the moment is 10 times as good as in prison. If we are talking about prison, we must realise that we are not talking about a level playing field.
What are the implications? I am not the devil's advocate. I have never, so far as I remember, said a good word in this House for Mr. Michael Howard's policies. However, I almost began to feel sympathetic at one point, relatively speaking, though I shall not dwell on penal reform to the extent of coming out for Howardism. The fact is that prisons are not really quite so bad as the report makes out. Its heading is Banged Up, Beaten Up, Cutting Up. I pay my tribute to the Howard League for producing it and to the secretary who is giving a new impetus to the league. However, I hope that when the Howard League produces another excellent report it will not reproduce that cover. It is a totally misleading account of life in prison. No one who goes to prisons every week as I have done this morning could assume that that is life in prison. Perhaps I may put before the Howard League. with great respect, that I hope that it will not spoil an impressive report with that kind of nonsense on the cover.
197 That is by the way. Looking at the future, what do we think? I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, that there are a few people who should go somewhere else under the Department of Health. I do not say that there should be five units of 40 people, but at any rate some ought to go. Otherwise I am all for saying that no one under 18 should be in prison. We should transfer them to places that are much better, but that means spending money.
Let us face the implications. If we are considering giving effect to the Howard League proposals, we are talking about spending money and giving young people under 18 a much better regime than they have now. There is no way of getting round it. It is not just an ideological question; it is a question of money. I leave that thought before the House, because it did not occur to me until I went to those two places last week and saw the enormous difference. The governor of Feltham or anyone else can go there tomorrow and say: "If I had the money, of course I could do a much better job". That is one important point.
The other point expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has been mentioned before in these debates. The training of staff in secure units is by no means satisfactory. It may vary greatly but it is not satisfactory. There again, we must spend much more money on training staff.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, when I read this report I could not help recalling how bullying and self-harm were among those problems with which we had to cope when, a long time ago and even before the reminiscences of the right reverend Prelate, I had some direct concern with the running of prisons and borstals. The problems, indeed, are not new. But we had smaller numbers; drugs were not so prevalent; the gang culture of those days—Mods and Rockers notwithstanding—had, I think, a smaller element of violence than today; and the public was not that much concerned about prison conditions. It meant that, when resources were being handed out, prisons and borstals came a long way down the queue. But at the same time we were left to grapple with our problems in comparative obscurity and the Home Office spokesman in the Lords did not have to face debates on prisons every other fortnight or a so-called "Prisons Minister" appear on the box night after night.
It seems to me all to the good that there are now some signs, however faint, of a social conscience about the way in which those committed to custody are treated; and that it has proved possible to carry out improvements, some of them quite expensive, without affronting public opinion. But there is obviously still some considerable way to go. One trouble is that the very nature of prison life always has been a fertile breeding ground for bullying. Boredom, aggression looked on as normal behaviour, limited access to prison currency like tobacco, the reliance sometimes put by the officers on the prisoners' own pecking order, the reluctance of individuals to tell on their fellows, all add up to the creation of a state of affairs where bullying 198 can too easily flourish. I could continue at length on this topic, but time is short. I shall limit. myself to four simple questions.
The first relates to official guidance. On 20th December, answering a Question about Holloway (at col. 1603), the Minister stated that the Government took the issue of bullying in all prisons very seriously and that clear guidance had been given to establishments on how to address and reduce the problem. She will have seen the suggestions in this report that, when seen from the other end, as it were, in the prisons themselves, the application of the guidance seems to be patchy and uncertain. I hope that the Minister will feel able to comment.
Secondly, does the Minister see any hope of ending altogether the practice of holding 15 and 16 year-old boys on remand in adult prisons such as Kingston upon Hull and Gloucester, as well as Swansea and Cardiff? The undesirability of keeping boys locked in their cells for much of the day and, equally, the risk of undesirable associations, speak for themselves. The Minister may agree that the educational facilities which it is possible to provide for boys of school age who are detained on remand in prison leave a good deal to be desired.
My third question links directly with the previous one. It relates to the programme for the provision of more local authority secure units. When we were discussing the 1994 Bill, I recall that we were told that there were some 270 places and that the Health Secretary was providing financial aid for a further 170—not all of them, I appreciate, for those who had been through the criminal courts. But, far from there having been an expansion since then, the total seems, so far as I can make out, to have shrunk and the provision of these units seems to be even patchier than it was. It would be most helpful to know what the prospects are. It looks as though the programme is running very late.
It is probably quite unfair, but I cannot help wondering whether there is just a hint here of divided responsibility, and whether this is the long-term consequence of the decision, which I regretted so much at the time, to move the children's department from the Home Office, where it helped to provide a human face to what is inevitably otherwise a somewhat austere department.
My fourth and last question relates to the comments in the Howard League report about the privately run Doncaster prison. Tribute is paid to some of the facilities, but it is suggested that there are no proper programmes in place to deal with bullying and self-harm. Those who visited the prison came away with feelings of concern about the ability of the inexperienced staff to provide a safe and caring regime for young people. Those comments do nothing to lessen the apprehensions that some of us have felt all along about the ability and qualifications of the staff of the new secure training centres to cope, among all the other difficulties, with the problems of bullying and self-harm. I am pretty sure that the Minister does not share these apprehensions and will no doubt say so. However, I fear that my doubts cannot be easily removed. Only time will show whether, as I hope, I am wrong.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
My Lords, there is much in the report that we are debating, for which our thanks go to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. The report is to be commended and very carefully read. However, that view has to be tempered by the continued attitude contained therein of those who wish to approach the problem of crime or thuggery committed either in prison or outside with a "soft glove", which is an offence to decent citizens and undermines the very fabric of our society.
I want to concentrate on just one word in the report—"bullying". It is described on page 33 as,conduct motivated by a desire to hurt … or frighten someone",which takes several forms including actual assault or threats of violence which all too often lead to actual violence and in some cases death. It is admitted that bullies can make life unbearable for their victims. The report further admits that if bullying is allowed to flourish it creates no-go areas, not only in prison but, increasingly, outside. We have all heard of the no-go areas of Brixton and Liverpool. But now, even in my own local town of Harrogate, which was always traditionally recognised as a rather gentle spa where life goes on in a very pleasant and gentle way, there are now areas where even the police fear to tread.
It is sad, to say the least, and worrying at worst, that the Youth Treatment Service declares (page 91) that it,does not view it as acceptable to 'bully the bully—It declares that,The normal punishment is [merely] to reduce … privileges so that the bully gets early bed, no pocket money … no access to certain parts of the unit".That cannot be, and is not, good enough. There is nothing much left to deter from his ways the young thug who has been committed to prison. Indeed, outside prison the thug in the street has little to fear from a custodial sentence. He will think nothing of setting to work to bully, beat up, rob, maim and sometimes kill people of whatever age. The only way to counter this evil is to give the bully some of his own medicine. By that I mean a flogging.
I know that that suggestion is anathema to organisations such as the Howard League, and perhaps to some Members of this House and many Members of another place. But it is not anathema to many hundreds of thousands—in fact, I should think the majority—of citizens outside these Houses. Flogging has the purpose of making the bully aware of his own aggression and making it hurt. It is also humiliating. Not even a bully likes that.
I am well aware that Britain is associated with various conventions, and not least with the European Court of Human Rights. However, if by such association the very fabric of our life is threatened, there is every justification for withdrawing from such affiliation.
Of course, ideally we have a responsibility to try to provide the right environment, wherein thuggery has no place. It would be highly desirable to prevent it from birth. The trouble is that bullying starts in the home. I say "the trouble" because today so many mothers need to go out to work that the upbringing of the young very 200 much takes second place. I do not want to be taken the wrong way. I have absolutely nothing against women playing a very active part in life. In particular, there are many areas in which women are far better qualified than men. But one cannot have it both ways. If a mother is away from home, her guidance of the family evaporates and trouble starts.
Another way in which we can lend a hand in turning young people into useful members of society is by gainfully occupying them. Perhaps some form of national service would be ideal and beneficial in many ways. At school stern punishment could well be applied without the governing authorities forever living under the threat of being sued or taken to the all-powerful Court of Human Rights.
Unless such matters are addressed in a more practical and determined way, I fear that within a comparatively short space of time citizens of this country will be driven to taking the law into their own hands—in my view, rightly so. As we know, that has been demonstrated recently by two people who were invaded by violent burglars. I find that prospect frightening. It leads inevitably to anarchy.
Parliament has a responsibility to tackle these problems in a positive and determined fashion, which excludes a pussy-footed approach to those who have no desire other than to maim, kill or injure to satisfy their sick minds. Some of that does not feature in the report.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, I too should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, on initiating this debate. I agree with the extremely interesting maiden speech made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, and in particular with his point that no system in the world will be perfect and achieve 100 per cent. success. Some very important points have been raised, in particular the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale.
There are two issues of great importance raised by this report. The first is that, notwithstanding the dedicated commitment of the overwhelming majority of staff who deal with young offenders in the institutions in which they are put into custody, there is uncovered a degree of bullying, self-abuse, suicide attempts and sexual assaults among those young people which is unacceptable in a civilised society as behaviour occurring while that society is responsible for keeping them—children—in the establishment. Secondly, there is the issue of the prevention of crime and protection of people in the community from future offences that could be committed by young people.
I cannot agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, about the second of those issues, the prevention of further offences committed by people who have been deprived of their liberty. To a certain extent the question as to which institution by name children and very young offenders are committed is, in one sense, less important than the kind of institution to which they are committed and the regime that is possible. Many of those young people have themselves 201 been the victims of violence and abuse. I cannot believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in particular, would want to condone turning a blind eye to continued violence and abuse while they are in custody.
I have met many such young people when lecturing in a voluntary capacity to young people in prisons. Many of them indicated that they had serious problems very early in their school careers. Often they are within that group of young people who are at risk because of behavioural problems which do not necessarily stem from the school but from a variety of circumstances—the community, the school and the home. I do not feel that it is helpful always to blame the parents. Sometimes the prevailing attitudes of peer groups make it extremely difficult for parents to counter that influence.
But there is a need within the provision of care for non-statemented special needs pupils to strengthen the preventive work that is done with very young children when first problems become apparent. The report highlights the fact that by the age of 11 years many such young people are truanting. Teachers will tell anyone who talks to them that they are aware that there are young people—they can be identified—who need, above all else, time: time from responsible, trained, experienced adults who can deal with young people who have behavioural and social attitude problems.
Therefore, the thread that runs through the answer to the challenges posed by this report is how we have a society which has so many people with a high level of education who are unable to be employed while at the other end of the spectrum work remains to be done. I make the point again. From conversations with prison officers and people working with young offenders it is clear that the most valuable resource of all—human time from adults—is denied to the system on the scale that is needed.
In this category I should like to refer with great sorrow—I am glad that my noble friend Lord Longford has returned to the Chamber—to the fact that I do not believe from my limited experience that the threat of bullying and physical and sexual abuse is, as he indicated, something which never or seldom occurs in penal establishments. I apologise to my noble friend if I misunderstood him.
I believe that our penal establishments—this is of particular concern when it affects young people—are understaffed to a point at which containment, instead of an attempt to reform and change attitudes, becomes the only means open to those working in the prison system. I believe that if we wish to see a change of attitude and want to protect members of the community from offences committed in the future by those young people, then as a society we must have the courage to say, "Custodial sentences—yes; but if the person is a child or a young offender, that custodial sentence must be in an appropriate institution". We must have the courage to fight those who believe that revenge is all, in the interests of preventing future offences occurring on the scale that occurs when young people are put into a system where they are abused and taught to be more violent and more uncivilised by the time that they leave.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Lincoln
My Lords, along with other Members of this House, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for initiating this debate on this, as he puts it, "sombre" report. Also, I add my voice to those congratulating the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, on his maiden speech.
The report continues the work of the Howard League in drawing attention to the need for special care of young offenders and to the fact that prisons are, by and large, an inappropriate response to offending by young people under the age of 18. I should declare an interest as a member of the council of the Howard League. I want simply to concentrate on one issue; that is, the issue of suicide and self-harm.
Your Lordships will recall from the report that the commission found widespread self-harm throughout the prison system, even in prisons with well developed anti-bullying tactics. The figures given in the report speak for themselves. While improved recording measures may have had an impact on some of the figures, it is surely misleading to attribute the increase primarily to that factor. The focus therefore needs to be directed, as other noble Lords said, towards the effects of overcrowding, the failure of key elements in the Prison Service self-harm and suicide prevention strategy, and the increasing levels of violence and alienation affecting young prisoners.
In fairness, the Prison Service has sought to develop a more coherent strategy to reduce self-injury and suicide and of course no system can ever be foolproof if an individual is determined upon that specific course of action. But the report draws attention to the serious gap existing between policy and practice.
In April 1994 many Members of his House joined me in meeting the parents of some of the young men who had harmed themselves while in custody. To meet the families of those people was a heartbreaking experience. Many tell stories of not knowing where their children were within the system; of being unable to obtain adequate help for them; of being unable to visit them. As the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, reminded us, an important element which needs to be emphasised over and over again is the element of holding families together. We need to break the cycle of violence and despair. Only time and affection can do that, as we know from our own experience of everyday living. My own children—two of whom are graduates and one of whom is still an undergraduate—are still extraordinarily dependent upon me and my wife, and the same surely applies to all young people in relationship with their parents. Therefore the idea that imprisonment is a safe and simple way of protecting the public ought to be questioned, as it is in the report.
Of course some young people are committing serious and deeply anti-social offences. But to concentrate on incarcerating damaged and delinquent adolescents in large and soulless institutions, often a long way from their families, is both harmful and inhumane. We are not protecting the public when up to 90 per cent. of 203 young people reoffend after being in prison. We are not protecting dedicated prison staff when they are called to do a job in extraordinarily difficult circumstances without adequate support. And we are not protecting young people and helping them with their offending behaviour when we simply lock them away.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, mentioned, many of those adolescents have been in care for much of their lives. Many have been excluded from school or have excluded themselves from school for one reason or another. Very few of them have ever had a stable relationship. I remember visiting a young offenders' institution many years ago near the open prison in the west country. I remember going into the dining hall and talking to an officer, looking across at a young lad laying out a knife, fork and spoon on a table. The officer told me that he had had to teach the boy how to set out a knife, fork and spoon on a table because the boy had never had a meal in proper, ordinary, dignified circumstances. That is the level of some of the problems with which the Prison Service attempts to cope. Unemployment, alcoholism, violence in the family are the background to their childhood.
The evidence is that we still spend vast amounts of money producing increasing numbers of damaged and recidivist youngsters whose ability to cope with normal life or engage in positive relationships is reduced by the process of institutionalisation. We know that there are alternatives which can work; the evidence of the 1980s amply demonstrates that. We know, too, that experienced practitioners from both the probation and social work services can indicate positive ways forward. Can we not, for once, listen to that experience?
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Viscount Tenby
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, on his excellent maiden speech and, if I may be permitted to say so without presumption, one well up to the "Mackay" standard (as we call it in this place).
The recent report from the Howard League on conditions for teenagers in penal institutions makes—I use the word without apology—sombre reading. We must accordingly be grateful to my noble friend Lord Henderson for giving this House the opportunity of discussing it. The fact is that sentencing policies for young people are in some disarray; disposals for young people are in some disarray and nothing illustrates that point more than this disturbing report.
Unlike many noble Lords, I suspect, I have had to send men and women to prison on occasion—not, it is true young offenders, but one is depriving people of their liberty just the same and committing them to an unattractive future which, quite frankly, can only be fully comprehended by those who have visited prisons.
There are two main reasons for custodial sentences; one unnecessary and the other necessary. The unnecessary category consists of those who are going to prison because they have come to the end of the legal road and the law does not provide for any other disposal. That is regrettable and a compassionate society should 204 by now have provided suitable alternatives. The other, necessary, category consists of those who have to be removed from society in order, rightly, to protect its citizens and to show society's displeasure at what has been done. That, I have no doubt whatever, we should continue to do.
There is therefore a clear need for custodial sentencing for all but the youngest serious offenders. However, I am concerned with what happens in prison to people who are there and that is why the report makes such disturbing reading. I made clear at the time that I was, as I still am, opposed to the establishment of secure training centres for a whole variety of reasons which were well aired in this House during the debate on the Criminal Justice Bill last year. I believe that the money set aside for those centres—of the order of —30 million—could much more profitably be spent on secure local authority places. Indeed, it is likely that the average weekly cost for inmates of the new STCs will not be far different from that for someone in a local authority unit.
Why is it preferable to look at secure local accommodation as an alternative to YOIs, STCs or prisons? This report tells us why. Staffing ratios may be 1:2 as opposed to 1:30, enabling constructive relationships to be developed. Security is, if anything, tighter, as it is bound to be with such a staff presence. Education for younger children—and there is a requirement for those under 15 which staffing levels in prisons and a lack of resources usually make unattainable—is a priority, and the secure local unit I visited some time ago, which is the same local secure unit visited by the noble Earl, Lord Longford—though I must say I came back with a slightly different interpretation from the one he has given today—was very impressive indeed. Bullying, so rife in adult prisons and remand wings of adult prisons, is easier to contain, again because of staffing levels and the relatively small numbers involved. In short, for me, local secure units have made their case.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, as the noble Viscount has mentioned me, perhaps I may be allowed to intervene. Does he realise that in the unit to which he referred, which is a fine place to which I pay tribute, there have been children of 12 along with young people of 17? But there is no perfection. It is a great mistake to talk as though there is a magic in it.
§ Viscount Tenby
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Earl for that intervention and I daresay that we shall continue, with the greatest deference to each other, perhaps slightly to disagree on this. I yield to no one in my admiration for the noble Earl's knowledge of prison matters. I am just a flea in comparison. However, I have stated my view and I am afraid that I shall have to stick to it.
It is true that a further 270 places in local secure accommodation will be coming on stream to add to the 254 currently available. Again, my figures differ slightly from those of my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale. Perhaps the noble Baroness the Minister will be able to set us right about that. But I sense—I hope I am 205 wrong—that there is very little will to regard such accommodation as a viable alternative to penal institutions so far as concerns teenagers. Of the five STCs planned, it seems likely that only two will see the light of day in the near future, and their geographical spread leaves much to be desired.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, I have, as a Welshman, been very disturbed by the lack of any secure local accommodation in Wales, resulting, as the report says, in teenagers being remanded to two of the more inadequate local prisons at Swansea and Cardiff, where bullying is prevalent and conditions are sub-standard. Thankfully, secure local accommodation is coming on stream in Neath later this year, but a Welsh boy sentenced to an STC at some date in the future can, for example, expect to be no nearer to his country and his family than Campsfield House in Oxfordshire, and that is if he is lucky.
While it is true that custody, whatever the form it takes, is for the protection of society, not to try to make something of the material once it is inside so that the risk of re-offending on release is considerably reduced, is a fonn of corporate madness. We all understand that, surely, but nevertheless 88 per cent. of 14 to 16 year-olds re-offend, as do 77 per cent. of young—17 to 20 year-olds—adult males. So prison only works on the level—and admittedly it is a very important level—of the protection of the community.
Can we not be a little more adventurous and constructive and look for additional benefits from prison, like turning a boy whose life is a mess into a useful citizen? Why cannot we at least ensure, as an absolutely basic requirement, that every effort is made to educate these young people when they are inside, for that at least provides some hope for them, some hope of breaking the vicious circle, on their release? What is certain is that the conditions described in this valuable report offer little chance of future progress or success.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Viscount Brentford
My Lords, I congratulate my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon on his speech and look forward to drawing on his Scottish experience in 1he future. There are a number of ways in which English prisons can draw on the benefit of the different attitudes in Scottish prisons. Perhaps that will be able to come to pass, although I appreciate that the situations are very different.
I am glad that the name of the new clan on the Front Bench is Mackay and riot certain other names beginning with "Mac", or we might have had my noble friends bearing the name Campbell going on the warpath in your Lordships' House. I also express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, for introducing the debate, which I believe is proving valuable.
I approach the subject from the point of view of what I said in the debate on the Loyal Address. At col. 183 of Hansard on 20th November last year I made the point that 82 per cent. of our young offenders in custody being reconvicted within four years was a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, a view with which I gained the 206 impression my noble friend the Minister agreed. We need to tackle this rate of recidivism with much more determination. Regretfully, I cannot find any answers to the problem. The Home Office digest, Information on the Criminal Justice System, makes the point that 68 per cent. of young offenders aged under 21 are reconvicted within two years. The report itself refers on page 67 to up to 90 per cent. being reconvicted. That is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs and I should like to see more research on the issue.
The report raises two questions. First, can action be taken to minimise the violence and force which young offenders receive both from inmates and from staff? Secondly, is detention, particularly in prison, being over-used for young offenders? Neither of those questions is easy to answer.
Reference has been made to bullying and self-harm. It is clear that there is less of both in secure accommodation than in prison. Page 76 of the report makes that clear. One main reason may well be that in secure accommodation counselling and group meetings can take place, something for which there is no opportunity in prison. That is one reason why secure accommodation is so important.
Pages 82 to 83 of the report give examples of control and restraint. There is reference to taking hold of clothing or of certain parts of the anaromy. The report states that, if it is necessary to grasp limbs, then they should be held at the knee or elbow to reduce leverage.
On both the issues of bullying and restraint the report makes clear that national policies and guidelines need to be in place and that there should be training on their implementation. I was glad and encouraged to read in a letter from my noble friend Lady Blatch last month, a copy of which she placed in the Library, that in the present financial year there is a 25 per cent. increase in the training budget for the Prison Service College. It will be able to spend £17.5 million this year on training compared with only £14 million last year. That is encouraging. We need to think of the point of view of the prison staff as well as of the point of view of the inmates, particularly young offenders. It is fair to the staff as well as the inmates that more: raining and help should be given to staff. I am encouraged. I hope that it will prove helpful in the context of the subject we are discussing.
I turn to the question of punishment. It must be purposeful. While I accept that a danger to the public requires secure detention, we need to ensure that the purpose includes creating a situation where an offender will not want to re-offend and where other people will be deterred from offending themselves. The impression I have from the report is that imprisonment further damages young people already damaged. That is a tragedy. I appreciate the problems, but we need to try to look beyond them.
There is no evidence in the report that the purpose I have outlined is being strengthened either by non-custodial punishment, by secure accommodation or by prison. The statistics on page 58 make it unequivocally clear that there is no clear improvement 207 in recidivism from any of these different punishments. There are various reports by Bottoms and Maguire pointing out the difficulties and research is continuing.
I wish to emphasise again what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, said about the 1988 Green Paper dealing with encouragement and help for young offenders. That is still crucially important. Judge Tumim makes the same point on page 24 of the report. We need to help young offenders to rebuild inter-personal relationships. The significance of relationships was stressed by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Chichester, my noble friend Lady Faithfull and others. We need to concentrate on that. We need trained staff to be able to help avoid recidivism. May we please not swing too far away from the 1988 position and keep researching the use of non-custodial sentences where appropriate.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Henderson of Brompton for having brought to the notice of your Lordships this report by the Howard League Commission of Inquiry. As a fellow Scot, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, on his balanced maiden speech.
As a member of a board of visitors of a borstal and then a young offender institution for many years, I know that the problems of violence among young people under 18 years of age, both inside and outside penal institutions, is a very serious and disturbing matter and one which must be addressed.
It is so ironic and tragic that a headmaster with the qualities and calibre of Mr. Lawrence should no longer be alive, because it is people like him that society needs in order to lift these damaged young people out of the paths of crime and, even more important, to stop them getting involved in the first place. Unless there are teachers and concerned people like youth leaders with the energy and leadership skills to guide young people out of their criminal environment, there will be little hope for many of them achieving a successful crime-free life.
Many people will say, "Lock them all up, put them away". But the dangerous situation is that when they come out some months or years later they may be more likely to commit even worse acts of violence and crime unless they have undergone meaningful education and rehabilitation and can see a way forward into useful employment. If, however, they find that crime is their only way of financial gain then many of them will think that it is a risk worth taking.
I believe that this report is well presented and a great deal of time and work has gone into its preparation. I do feel that it is disappointing, through no fault of the Howard League, that because two of the prisons which refused visits hold young women and teenage girls the commission felt that it was not in a position to make recommendations about the treatment of young women and teenage girls.
208 The commissioners were concerned, however, after visiting Low Newton and talking to staff, about the high levels of prescription tranquillisers used and the amount of self-harm in women in that establishment. I ask the Government, because of this omission, and the fact that serious problems have been found at Holloway Prison by the Inspectorate of Prisons, to instigate an independent inquiry such as the one before us, but just for young girls and women under 18 years of age held in all penal establishments.
The number of females in custody is far fewer than for men, but the problems can be far more complicated and long lasting. If one has been at a boarding school, be it for boys or girls, there is always the risk of bullying and teasing even with young people from what might be termed privileged homes. Penal institutions having inmates with so many problems such as sexual abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, and violence and aggression often being entrenched as normal behaviour, must make bullying 100 times more likely to occur.
Vigilant, experienced staff who get to know the young people and who keep themselves alert to what is going on are the best form of prevention, as well as having a strict anti-bullying policy which is adhered to. The report worries me when it states:The Prison Service anti-bullying strategy is not widely implemented. Some prisons do little more than put up posters. Very few prisons are segregating bullies rather than victims. Those that do are not systematically addressing the causes of bullying behaviour".I am sure that it would help to reduce suicides and self-harm if all bullying was stamped out. The report states:The prison medical facilities are a disgrace".With a shortage of doctors now throughout the UK, I ask the Minister whether she will respond to this statement in the report and, if there is a serious problem, say how it is going to be rectified.
There seems to be a high level of stress, bereavement and family break-up among all persistent young offenders. Many of them are excluded and truant from school. Would it not be beneficial if all the under-16s did a full day's work, with homework and sports activities, and all others under the age of 18, if not in full-time education, did a full day's work and were encouraged to be useful citizens rather than being banged up in their cells for so long? The devil finds work for idle hands. I am sure that this would reduce the violence and bullying. Some of the remedial teachers I have met over the years have been committed and interested and many of the lads respond well to education in small groups.
Regional rivalries seem to be a problem. This could be a way of identifying and wanting to belong and to support each other, so as not to be an anonymous, institutionalised number. The bigger the institution the more problems there seem to be. When visiting Moorlands YOI near Doncaster I noticed that many things were thrown out of the windows, but at Wetherby YOI I hardly ever saw that happen. The buildings and surroundings seem to make a difference to the behaviour patterns. It is interesting that new buildings do not necessarily mean better behaviour and fewer problems. 209 The report does stress that the key difference between prison and secure regimes is the quality of the relationships between young people and staff.
Pressure of numbers often makes a prison like a conveyor belt, with a lack of case work for the individual. The homeless young person with a criminal record and no family support is the most difficult among the many problems. The future for him must seem very bleak when shut behind bars. I wish the report success in making people think about how society can tackle the many problems encompassed in it.
I should like to end on a hopeful note. I attended the carol service at Wetherby YOI just before Christmas. It was a very happy occasion with staff, young people (the inmates) and visitors all sharing in an ecumenical service with all the churches and the Salvation Army taking part, and a choir with music from the local church. There are many people who help within the Prison Service and the chaplains as well as the staff and members of the boards of visitors all try hard to prevent the very worrying situations which are highlighted in the report. They need support to keep up morale and to run establishments which are fair and safe and able to release young people with more of a chance to succeed than fail in the community to which they return.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I join in the congratulations to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, on completing his clan's hat trick in such a distinctively Mackay style. Just in case the noble and learned Lord should be tempted to think that he might enjoy a monopoly, perhaps I may advise him that we are debating a report produced by a Kennedy, so he will have a certain amount of company.
In thanking the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, for introducing the debate, I thank him also for bringing to our attention this really excellent report. There are very few gaps in it, but a great deal of balance and a great deal of good sense. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, has just drawn attention to one of its very few gaps. That gap exists because the Howard League was unable to gain access to two out of the three women's prisons which it tried to visit. I am afraid that recent events have given us some indication of what it may have been missing.
The Government are perhaps fortunate that they have me and not Mr. Gladstone speaking on this subject. His description of the manacling of prisoners was,the negation of God erected into a system of Government".The Minister responsible for prisons might not like that description and perhaps she and the noble Baroness are better off since they have only me to speak from these Benches.
The other big issue on which I did not read very much was the problem to which the Lord Chief Justice called attention, the sending of mental health patients to prison. But I did start to wonder when I read that 80 per cent. of the women who had indulged in self-harm had previously been victims of sexual abuse. That is a line which leaves a great deal to the imagination.
210 I got the impression from the report that the Government are following two contradictory policies. On the one hand, they believe that we should have more people in prison and longer sentences—the prison population has increased by 25 per cent. in two years. On the other hand, the Government believe that there is an imperative to cut taxes. I shall not discuss either of those policies, but I am not sure that we can have both. We are getting what the report described as,a bizarre and potentially dangerous lottery for a bed".It stated that almost all of the prisons that were visited contained more people than the official limit. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, is right about containment. Everything else more constructive is being cut back because of staffing shortages.
We on these Benches would not increase spending and taxation on everything—by no means. We think that this is one case where by rather shorter sentences and by not using custodial sentences at all in some cases expenditure could be significantly reduced. However, there is a staff shortage and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, was right about work for idle hands. If Saatchi & Saatchi were to summarise the content of this report, there would be no difficulty in arriving at the slogan, "Prison isn't working".
The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, touched on one leg of the Home Secretary's belief that prison works, the reconviction rate. I touch on the other, which is the Home Secretary's belief that while people are in prison they are not committing crimes. I have some sympathy here with the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, although I do not think that he will expect me to believe in the efficacy of his suggested remedy. However, when somebody carves a name on a man's shoulder, that is a crime which, if committed outside prison, would carry a fairly severe prison sentence, so I am not convinced that prison reduces crime; it merely changes its location. When someone says, "I hit him because he comes from Bristol, not because he is black", I do not think that that makes it any better.
I know that the Home Office is concerned about developing an anti-bullying strategy, but I noticed from the report that in many prisons—Swansea is mentioned particularly—it is impossible to carry out that strategy for lack of staff. You really cannot make bricks without straw and if you want to do things, you have to spend the necessary money.
I was disturbed by the case of the prisoner in Doncaster who was found wearing only a towel because all his clothes had been "taxed" off hi m. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, said about Doncaster and I noticed what the report said about Doncaster—that there did not appear to be very much awareness there of best practice. I think that the words "safe custody" should mean exactly what they say. We cannot rely on grassing; prison culture is too much against it. The only protection is to have enough staff to see what is going on. This is another case in which efficiency is not efficient.
Turning to the amount of self-harm, we are told that the records show an improvement. Historians are always interested in arguments that are based on the keeping of 211 records, but I do not believe that the increase in suicide is a result of an improvement in record keeping—or at least I hope that it is not.
I agree with many noble Lords that adult prisons are not suitable for the young. I think that we are doing as much harm as good—and possibly a great deal more—by putting young people there. I also think that combating crime is something that needs the carrot as well as the stick. You do not need to establish only that crime does not pay; you need to establish also that it pays less than going straight. That means that we must not only make crime unattractive, but that we must make going straight attractive. We have heard a lot recently about St. George's school, which is a mile and a half away from where I live. The next-door ward, which is in the catchment area of the school, recently had 37 per cent. of its adult population on means-tested benefits. That does not really make going straight quite as attractive as it ought to be.
Going along the educational ladder is not as attractive as it used to be. It leads to poverty and debt. The noble Baroness has heard me too often on that subject for me to bore her with it any further.
Being a 16 or 17 year-old is not particularly attractive. I was talking to one in the Strand yesterday, thrown out by his parents. He said, "It is no use my trying to look for a house until I am 18". In that case, thank God, the Salvation Army had moved in and he had something to eat. But in South Glamorgan, among 16 and 17 year-olds without employment, the word "shopping" means shoplifting. Although I agree with what the Government say about individual moral responsibility, to put people into that position is to lead them into temptation. I do not believe that that is a good idea.
Finally, those people whose lives are in many ways being ruined by the lack of an adequately financed policy are the people upon whom we rely to earn the money to pay our pensions. I do not think that that is very clever.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, there are specific and there are more profound reasons to be grateful for the debate. The specific reasons are the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, in opening the debate, the excellent, well-informed and civilised maiden speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the quality of the speeches in general as the evening has gone on. The more general and profound reason may not be so much the quality of the Howard League report upon which the debate is based as the importance of the report's findings to all of us who claim to live in a civilised society. It is up to us to be as responsible and careful as we can in seeking solutions to the problems which are graphically revealed in the report.
In the limited time available I wish to say something about the nature of the problem to which the report draws attention; to say something about present policies and their adequacy; and then to look at possible solutions to those problems.
212 The first thing that has to be said about the nature of the problem—perhaps the Government should be and will be congratulating themselves upon it—is that for some years juvenile crime has been decreasing, and decreasing to a considerable extent. Throughout the 1980s, the number of young people and children given custodial sentences was also declining. Of course there is always a difficult gap between the making of political policies and the social trends to which those policies are supposed to relate. We are not discussing the issue tonight in an atmosphere of panic about juvenile crime as a whole. That is just in contradiction to the facts.
But it is true that in the past two or three years, as a result of deliberate policies introduced by the present Home Secretary and his immediate predecessor, there has been a substantial increase in the total prison population and in the prison population of young people. That can be related directly to political policies and attitudes of the Government.
I am not going to say now, or at any time, that there is no place for custodial sentences for young people. Much as I admire the Howard League report, I am unable to subscribe to those parts of its conclusions which say that we should be working towards the elimination of custodial sentences for young people. It is not realistic to deny that there are young people who the safety of the public requires should be taken away from their homes and put into some form of institution from which they cannot escape.
However, we have only to look at the evidence from the report and from many other people about the kind of people who are in custody to realise the inadequacy of the regimes to which they are subjected. The obvious example is that there are far too many prisoners of all ages, including young people, who are in custody on remand, when a high proportion of them will not receive custodial sentences in the end. One way of reducing the prison population, and overcrowding, and solving the problem of inadequate staffing, is to do something dramatic about the excessive use of remand in custody.
One has only to look also at the social and ethnic background of prisoners in custody to realise that there is something very wrong. John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera" claims thatSince laws were made for every degree,
To check vice in others as well as me,
I wonder we ha'n't better company 'pon Tyburn tree". We do not have better company on the modern equivalent of Tyburn tree, and it is a criticism of our society that that is the case.
Then, specifically looking at young people in custody, how many of them—how far too many of them—are disturbed young people, those who have been experimenting with drugs or are addicted to drugs, those who are mentally sick, those who are inadequate in all sorts of other ways, those who are uneducated, who have been abused, who have spent their young lives in care, who are homeless, who have broken up with their families, and who, if they are old enough, have been unemployed. The experience of everyone who knows young people in custody is that, although some of them need to be custody, they do not need the kind of regime which is available to them.
213 Present policies involve two major types of institution. One is local authority secure accommodation, to which reference has been made. It is well known that we support the Department of Health initiatives to expand that accommodation, and that we wish it would go further. The second is the Prison Service. I need not repeat the criticisms which are made in the report and which have been made by many speakers, about the inadequacies of Prison Service accommodation for young people and in particular of privatised Prison Service accommodation, as evidenced by Doncaster.
A third type of institution is supposed to be the secure training centre. We went over that ground in 1994, and of course there are no secure training centres. Although the element of training proposed is to be commended, nevertheless the whole concept of secure training centres, with its emphasis on persistent young offenders, their remoteness from families because there are to be only five of them, the size and other aspects of the conditions, are all as objectionable to us now as they were when they were first proposed.
What slightly disappoints me about the report is not so much the description of conditions in custody—bullying, self abuse and so on—but the lack of analysis about what kind of regime in custody works. I am sure that my noble friends Lord Longford and Lady Farrington are right when they say that to deal with the problem for those who find themselves in custody will require considerably greater resources, particularly staffing resources.
The contrast made by my noble friend Lord Longford between the best local authority secure accommodation and Feltham, in terms of staffing, is dramatic and vivid. Nothing other than the allocation of greater resources will deal with that effectively. The result of all that custodial treatment of young people is—the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, made a very thoughtful speech on the subject—an unacceptably high level of re-offending and recommitment.
The noble Viscount described some of the evidence which demonstrated the differences between custodial and non-custodial sentences in terms of re-offending. That is a very difficult statistical ground because, clearly, some of those who are serving non-custodial sentences are less convinced criminals than others. But nevertheless, if we are concerned with the protection of the public, it is by no means clear, despite what the tabloids say, that an increase in custodial sentences will provide greater protection for the public.
The truth of the matter is that our motives in putting away people, whether they are adults or young people, are hopelessly confused and self-contradictory. I believe that we no longer talk about vengeance. Some of us—the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, among others—speak a lot about punishment. Most of us talk about deterrence and rehabilitation. Nowadays, we all talk about the protection of the public and the community.
But we must recognise that the objectives of incarceration are sometimes in conflict with each other. As many noble Lords have said, there is no easy solution. I do not believe that we shall get anywhere by 214 demonising young people. We shall not get anywhere by talking about them as thugs or as somehow removing from them the humanity and the differences between them which are the characteristics of the human condition. Many of those inadequate and unfortunate young people in prison are of course also violent and have committed violent crimes. Society needs to be protected from them. But we shall not do that effectively unless we understand all the reasons that put them there as well as seeking to ameliorate the conditions in which they are held.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)
My Lords, I begin by offering the warmest possible welcome to these Benches to my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate. He has served the legal profession in Scotland with distinction. His wisdom and experience were reflected very well in his impressive and thoughtful maiden speech. I know that the House will benefit richly from his future contributions to our proceedings and I look forward with eager anticipation to his involvement in our debates.
I welcome the opportunity that has been presented by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, for this far-reaching debate on issues which are at the heart of juvenile justice policy. The terms of reference of the commission give violence in penal institutions as the clear focus. However, the report, and indeed today's debate, span the breadth of issues encompassed in our arrangements for the care of teenagers who become subject to the proceedings of our criminal justice system.
The report makes a number of recommendations that teenagers under 18 should not, in the view of the Howard League, be held in prison custody. I would like to say a few words about the Government's approach to dealing with young offenders and, in particular, our views on the use of custody. I make no apologies for the fact that we believe that custody should be used for some young offenders. The public has a right to be protected from the most serious and the most persistent offenders, whatever their age. In some cases the only way to achieve that will be a custodial sentence. There is nothing in this approach which is inconsistent with our commitment to the principle in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that custody should only be used as a last resort. That was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton.
Most young offenders are not of course remanded to custody or given custodial sentences. The proper use of cautioning by the police and effective community sentences have an important role to play in helping children who offend to return to a law-abiding life. Through guidance and national standards we have taken steps to help ensure that community penalties and police cautioning are used in an effective and constructive way which gains the confidence and support of all concerned.
Measures to prevent children from turning to crime are as important to police and court powers. The Government fund a wide range of crime prevention 215 measures. Later this month the new ministerial group on juveniles, announced last year by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, will meet for the first time to agree a programme of work to help strengthen measures to intervene effectively with those children who are most at risk of offending.
For those young people for whom a custodial sentence is judged to be appropriate, the main concern is not whether the institution is run by the Prison Service, a local authority or the private sector, but rather whether the regime is constructive, disciplined, secure and appropriate to the age of the young person. We recognise that it is particularly important for young people who are remanded in custody to be placed near to their home and that their needs are therefore better met in the local authority sector rather than in Prison Service accommodation, a point made so well by my noble friend Lady Faithfull. That is why we have provided funding to local authorities for a major 170-place new building programme. I understand that the majority of those places will be available by the end of 1996. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, will be interested to know that we are committed also to ending the remand of juveniles to prison custody once sufficient local authority secure accommodation is available. That is a point which matters as much to Wales as it does to England.
The Prison Service can and does provide constructive and positive regimes for sentenced young people; so too will secure training centres; so too do local authority children's homes. The report offers specific and general criticisms of the regimes in Prison Service establishments to which I shall refer in a few moments.
As regards local authority secure accommodation, which I know vexed a number of people, the responsibility for ensuring that staff in secure units are properly and adequately trained rests with the local authorities as employers. I am pleased to see that the Howard League urges local authorities to develop training and inter-agency collaboration, for that really is important too. Central government assist with a £35.5 million specific grant to local authorities through the training support programme.
The Department of Health, with the National Children's Bureau and a number of social service departments, recently secured a secure accommodation training curriculum with the aim of ensuring a consistent and thorough approach to the training of staff in the area. In addition, the Department of Health, through its training support programme, is funding the production of a specific training package to assist staff in all children's residential settings in approaches to the care and control of difficult adolescents.
There is, in particular, criticism that overcrowding has led to increasing numbers of 15 and 16 year-old remand prisoners being placed with older and more physically mature teenagers. While there has been a small increase in the juvenile population in prison, there is no overcrowding among that group. Prison Service policy is that, so far as is practicable, unconvicted male prisoners aged under 18 should be accommodated separately from unconvicted young adult males. Again, 216 I know that that was a point which concerned the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester. However, governors may approve mixing and joint use of facilities in order to give young prisoners the widest possible opportunities for work, education and training.
The report deals at length with the issue of bullying. Bullying is a social problem which exists in all walks of life inside and outside prison. It is an unfortunate but inevitable fact that where young prisoners, many of whom have been convicted for violent offences, are gathered together, bullying may occur. On rare occasions bullying can have tragic consequences, as we all know. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, asked whether the Government were taking steps to improve matters. I can say that the Government take bullying in prison very seriously. Since 1993 the Prison Service has operated a national anti-bullying strategy and provides clear advice to establishments on how to reduce the problem. The strategy draws on many years of experience and good practice from individual prison establishments. Indeed, I have visited young offender institutions where the bullying strategies are being tackled and where they are working well. The effect of the strategy has been encouraging, especially in prisons holding young people where the Prison Service is determined to push home the message that bullying is anti-social, cowardly and will not be tolerated.
It is unfortunate therefore that the report does not recognise the hard work of staff in many young offender institutions in its conclusions on the incidence of bullying in prisons. It is suggested that the bullying strategy is a paper exercise and that it is not widely implemented. Those charges simply do not stand up. Successive reports from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons have praised the commitment and dedication of prison staff in young offender institutions who are in the front line in the fight against bullying and who make the strategies a reality.
The report states that very few prisons segregate bullies rather than their victims. That is at odds with the findings of inspectorate reports, many of which comment favourably on the work of prison staff to support victims and to segregate bullies. I see that the noble Earl wishes to intervene. I give way.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I am much obliged to the Minister. However, if she will forgive me, I do not believe that that is quite what the report says about bullying. It does not reproach the staff for not working; it says that there were insufficient staff to carry out the work. The propositions are very distinct.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I believe that there was room in the report for making the sort of comments I have just made about the dedication of staff where they are tackling such problems and where bullying strategies are in place, working well and showing positive results. I also made reference to the fact that the report says that prison staff do not segregate bullies. I have actually visited a young offender institution—the one at Feltham—which I know the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has also visited. There, they do segregate the bully and care for the victims.
217 Segregation of the bully and support for the victim are central pillars of the current anti-bullying policy. Prison Service research into the issue has shown that in a great many prisons holding young people facilities are available and are used to isolate the bullies and challenge their behaviour. That sends out the right message to the bully and ensures that the message is being heard.
However, we cannot afford to be complacent. The Prison Service business plan for 1995–96 makes a commitment that all establishments will implement a firm anti-bullying strategy within the financial year. A new unit based at Prison Service headquarters has been set up to look at ways of controlling violent behaviour which includes bullying. The unit liaises with prisons to provide guidance and practical help in meeting that obligation. I repeat: the Prison Service is absolutely determined to challenge the bully and to ensure that prison is a safe place in which young people can serve out their sentence and concentrate on building their futures.
The Prison Service recognises that young offenders, especially those on remand, may be vulnerable to suicide or self-harm. The causes of suicide and self-harm are complex and there are no simple solutions. The population received into custody is particularly vulnerable and, as we know, suicide has increased among young males in the community at large over the past 10 years. The statistics and examples highlighted in reports—such as the Howard League report—focus exclusively upon the negative and instances of failure. Sadly, the enormous amount of staff dedication to working with young offenders and the success stories go largely unreported.
The current strategy of providing care for the suicidal was introduced in April 1994. Its principles are based on sound research and it has received both interest and acclaim from other organisations faced with similar problems. The strategy emphasises the responsibility of all staff in identifying and providing support for those who are judged to be at risk. It is designed to achieve a shift from viewing suicide as a purely medical problem. Each establishment has a multi-disciplinary team whose job is to oversee and monitor local implementation. Prisoners may be cared for within the residential unit or within the health care centre. Support may be provided by staff, fellow prisoners trained as listeners, or by visiting Samaritans. Many establishments are able to provide a "care suite" where people can be housed and kept under observation during periods of crisis. The strategy is also underpinned by an intensive staff training programme.
For the future we will continue to seek improvements in the procedures already in place to ensure that young people are appropriately provided for by the criminal justice system. In particular the introduction of the secure training order for the hard core of 12 to 14 year-old criminals will provide a new alternative. I emphasise that I am referring to the hard core of persistent 12 to 14 year-old criminals. Such offenders will be sent to new secure training centres which will provide positive regimes offering high standards of care, education and training.
218 This is a timed debate and it will not be possible for me to address all the individual points which have been made, but I wish to highlight just a few. I refer first to the context and perspective of the debate. It is important to record that 11 per cent. of ma;e offenders aged 14 and under 18 and 2.8 per cent. of female offenders sentenced for indictable offences were sentenced to custody. That means that 89 per cent. of males were not sentenced to custody and 97.2 per cent of females were not sentenced to custody. The debate has centred around a perception that too many of our young people are going into custody. Almost all of thern are not sent into custody. The number of males aged 14 to 17 sentenced to custody has fallen from 12,500 in 1984 to 4,200 in 1994. That is totally at odds with what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, said. The juvenile 15 to 17 year-old sentenced population at the end of October was 1,073.
The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, referred to the important matter of welfare. The Children and Young Persons Act of 1933 sets out the need to take account of the welfare of children. The Home Office and the Department of Health are working closely together to see that that is honoured. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, also asked about the official policy on regimes in young offender institutions. One of the Prison Service's goals is to provide positive regimes which help prisoners to tackle their offending behaviour and allow them as full and responsible a life as possible. The Prison Service therefore requires young prisoners to participate in a rigorous, demanding and constructive regime which is focused on education and constructive activity designed to help them to lead law-abiding lives after release.
The noble Lord also referred to high intensity training centres. I suppose that in common parlance they are referred to as "boot camps". The noble Lord asked how they would affect new offenders. They will not have any impact upon the young people we arc talking about tonight. The new high intensity training regime is being implemented for persistent offenders in the 18 to 21 year-old age group. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked about the increase i n remands. There is no single explanation. There are a number of factors, of course, including demographic changes, but decisions about the use of remands to prison custody in individual cases are a matter for the courts. The noble Lord also mentioned secure accommodation in Wales. The new 18-place secure unit in Wales will be subject to inspection by the social services inspectorate, like all secure units. I can give that assurance.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also mentioned both the institutions in Wales at Swansea and Cardiff. Managers at both institutions are acutely aware of the need to provide a service for the young people held in custody. While this is not always easy within the context of busy local prisons, as the noble Lord knows, there are clear action plans in place and no lack of urgency to implement them. The juveniles are to be moved to newly refurbished accommodation next year and there will also be new reception and induction programmes and new education facilities. I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, is also interested in that matter. 219 The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked what we were doing about suicide and self-harm. He was joined by many noble Lords in the course of the debate. A new strategy for caring for suicidal prisoners was introduced in April 1994. Initiatives include listener schemes in which selected inmates are trained to support those going through a crisis; intensive training for staff; and the designation of a suicide awareness team in each establishment. Every death in custody is a serious matter and is investigated thoroughly, and indeed should be. However, I believe that I am right in saying to the noble Lord that legal aid is not available for inquests in such circumstances. Nor, I believe, is it available for any inquests in England.
The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, in a thoughtful speech, referred to the changing culture and nature of the times now compared with some years ago. I should like to add some of the factors that I personally believe are a feature of the debate we are having about young people. I believe that there is less family cohesiveness. There are too many young people with no structure in their lives. Too many young people have no proper framework within which to grow up and develop. I believe also that there is too much unspent energy, or that where energy is spent it is spent in the wrong way. There are too many young people for whom no ground rules operate other than the rules of the street. There is no anchor in their lives. Fearlessness is another factor. Young people are absolutely unafraid. They are not afraid of their parents, teachers, policemen, probation officers or social workers. I do not mean oppressive fearlessness, but there is almost a minor form of anarchy. We all have a responsibility to address these problems, starting with the first and greatest influence on any child—the parent and the home.
It is against that background that those who deal with young people who offend have to work with them. I believe that great efforts are made within institutions and within the Home Office and the probation service to meet the challenge of returning young people to a more law-abiding way of life.
The report is very subjective about the prison at Doncaster and certainly lacks a great deal of objectivity. I refute absolutely the assertion that Doncaster is not able to provide a safe and caring regime for young people. It has made solid progress since it opened. The particular needs of juveniles are recognised. They are housed in two identified units with extra resources. The management is well aware of the propensity among young people to bully, to threaten and to commit acts of violence against each other. Those issues are treated seriously and a clear anti-bullying policy is in place with robust procedures for dealing with bullying behaviour. A probation officer has been appointed. A full-time anti-bullying co-ordinator has also been appointed. A working party—Safety in Doncaster—is addressing broader issues concerning development of more controlled regimes and perceptions of safety in the prison environment. The level of proven assaults continues to decrease.
220 Doncaster further demonstrates a particular concern for caring for the suicidal through the use of a designated full-time suicide prevention co-ordinator. A meeting is held every morning of the week at which a team of people consider those at risk, reviewing all prisoners identified as being at risk. The model used is wholly consistent with public sector prison service strategy and builds effectively upon it.
The reference by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, to the phrase "going shopping" in relation to 16 and 17 year-olds in Glamorgan is, I believe, an insult to the young people of Glamorgan. It is a fact that a small minority of young people is responsible for crime. For example, 0.3 per cent. of males born in 1973 who had made six or more court appearances before the age of 17 accounted for 21 per cent. of all appearances in court of their age group.
I am defeated by time. I welcome the debate because it has provided an opportunity to focus on the complex issues involved in providing for young people who become involved with the criminal justice system. As we have seen, there are many concerns to take into account in attempting to strike the right balance in the provision of appropriate care for each of the agencies responsible for young people in custody. They are well aware of the burden of that responsibility. I can assure your Lordships that the needs of young prisoners are at the forefront of the minds of all those charged with the responsibility, and that goes for those of us who work in a ministerial capacity at the Home Office.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, it has been a most constructive debate. I thank and congratulate all noble Lords who have taken part, in particular the noble Baroness who replied in such a temperate way which I found attractive and reassuring.
I say only one thing about the debate: it has had a geographical spread as well as another kind of spread. The geographical spread started with the noble and learned Lord and continued with the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. I believe that the only part of our country not represented today is Northern Ireland.
§ It has been a worthwhile debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.