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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 339-vi
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Tuesday 11 December 2012
Frances Done and John Drew
Jeremy Wright MP
Evidence heard in Public Questions 381–442
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Taken before the Justice Committee
on Tuesday 11 December 2012
Sir Alan Beith (Chair)
Mr Robert Buckland
Nick de Bois
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Frances Done, Chair, Youth Justice Board, and John Drew, Chief Executive, Youth Justice Board, gave evidence.
Chair: Welcome, Ms Done and Mr Drew. I should call you the great survivors, as you are survivors of the Youth Justice Board. Welcome to this sitting of the Committee. We have acquired a new member today; Mr McDonald has joined us. I apologise for the acoustics of this room and we will do our best to counteract their limitations. We are working on youth justice and are very keen to hear from you. I am going to ask Mr de Bois to open the questioning.
Q381 Nick de Bois: Thank you, Chairman. Good morning. Mr Drew, in November 2012, in a speech to the annual Youth Justice Convention you said that the biggest challenge facing the youth justice system was one of resources. Are you able to give us an indication of what has been the specific impact of spending cuts on the youth offending teams, given that there is evidence of reduced caseloads? Supplementary to that, perhaps you could indicate when you will announce the grant for 2013–14.
John Drew: Thank you. Yes, I do believe that the resourcing issue is a very major challenge, so, first, I will give you a few facts in respect of that. We won’t know until January 2013 precisely how much the local contribution to youth offending teams has gone down. We know that we were able to protect the size of the youth justice grant in 2012–13, but we believe there has been a reduction locally in the local contribution.
Q382 Nick de Bois: Are you able to make any assessment of that?
John Drew: No; I would prefer to wait until we have returns. The year before, there was a national average reduction of about 20%. That is balanced to a degree by the reduction in caseloads, although you need to treat that with some caution, because what has tended to happen is a greater reduction in the less demanding cases and more serious cases.
Q383 Nick de Bois: So it is not a straight 20%.
John Drew: It is not a straight 20% or 16% reduction or what have you. My point was, in particular, a concern that in the past-perhaps not in the last 10 years but before then-youth justice has been a bit of a Cinderella service, and it has been tempting to some of the funders not to recognise the importance of investing in youth justice, not least because of its impact on adult criminal justice.
Q384 Nick de Bois: As I understand it, and I could be wrong, between 2000 and 2008, spending on youth justice increased in real terms by around 45%. So, is the "Cinderella" less about money and more about-
John Drew: I prefaced it by saying 10 years or more-not for the last 10 years, but before that. The reforms that were part of the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act gave a priority-a prominence-to youth justice that it had not had in the ’90s. Much of the bipartisan support for those programmes was a reflection of the fact that youth justice had been neglected at times during the ’90s, both perhaps locally and nationally. The concern is not to lose the advances that we have achieved over the last 10 years, and particularly in the last four years, where we have significantly reduced-59% over the 10 years-the number of first time entrants, where we have seen a significant reduction in the number of young people being sentenced to custody.
Q385 Nick de Bois: I am sorry to interrupt, but you are raising questions as you are speaking-and good ones. Do you think, though, that the amount of crime committed by young people has actually gone down, or are we dealing with it differently? It points to your point that first time entrants to the youth justice system have gone down. That is an interesting indicator, but it may cover up a number of issues.
John Drew: It most certainly does cover up a number of issues. You are absolutely right to suggest that there might be more than one thing at play. Such evidence as does exist suggests that, in absolute terms, the amount of youth crime has reduced, and not just within our society but across western Europe. That evidence is principally drawn from selfreport studies, where young people, under the cloak of anonymity, are asked whether they have offended or whether they have been the victim of offending. There is pretty unambivalent evidence that the amount of crime has reduced.
Secondly, certain categories of crime have definitely reduced because they have become more difficult, and with that in mind I would highlight offences involving the theft of motor vehicles, where the reduction is because the technology is advanced. Police forces would say the same in relation to certain categories of burglary as well. In our society and across western Europe, there has generally been a reduction, but there has undoubtedly also been a change in the way that we process young people who have started a pattern of offending, and that isn’t necessarily fiddling with the statistics.
There are very good reasons for responding in a measured and thought-through way to young people aged 10, 11 and 12 when they first get into trouble and are first reported to the police. Those are to do with the fact that we know from broader studies that 70% of boys at some stage or other will commit an offence that, if prosecuted, would be indictable. But, actually, most don’t reoffend and, therefore, you need to have a measured way of responding and not overreacting, for fear that, if you overreact and drag a child into the system, you stamp pretty heavy labels on them which may lead them to think that they are someone with criminal tendencies and encourage them into that. A measured response in the first instance is a sensible thing. It is also sensible because many of the things that lead young people to commit crime are to do with deficiencies and weaknesses in the supports around them. If you can pass them back to those services, whether they are children’s welfare, health, housing or what have you, you can probably meet the needs that are the undercurrent behind their offending.
Q386 Nick de Bois: Presumably, at some point, you should be able to measure the effectiveness of that when you first come into contact with people and they avoid going down the route that leads to custody. That would be a measure of success.
John Drew: There are two-and only two-longitudinal studies that look across a lifetime at the consequences and impact of offending behaviour. There is the Cambridge Study, which started in the ’70s, and there is a more recent study in Edinburgh. Both of those bear out the message that a sensible measured response to young people at the beginning, when they are first reported to the police, has longterm benefits in terms of the likelihood that they will be offending into their 20s and beyond.
Q387 Nick de Bois: Moving on slightly, I have a question for either of you. How would you describe the early lessons from the Youth Justice Pathfinders?
John Drew: That is probably one for me. You know there were originally four Pathfinder schemes. The one in west Yorkshire is proceeding really well. There were two in London-in west London and east London. In the early days, the figures did not move in the direction that they had hoped they would. In other words, there wasn’t a reduction in the number of children in custody in those areas. In part, that was influenced by the fact that both areas were blighted by the autumn events in London.
Q388 Chair: Was that the riots?
John Drew: Yes. Sorry, I said autumn and meant August. You are absolutely right; I do apologise. But in both instances they are very determined to stay in the scheme and we have granted them an extension to work out how they can do that. Birmingham have withdrawn, and there are complex reasons for that. But the principal answer to your question "What are the early lessons?" is that they are the way that you drive down the number of children in custody, to make sure that custody is still used but used as a genuine last resort. It is by extremely detailed planning on the level of individual children, examining in real detail their circumstances in order to satisfy you that custody is being used as a last resort. That is the hallmark of the west Yorkshire scheme, and I am sure that is why they have made the very good progress they have made, and that is why the two London schemes have not simply walked away from the proposal, because they can see that there is something in that for them.
Q389 Nick de Bois: Is it too early to draw conclusions? Do you feel they need to run longer?
John Drew: They certainly need to run for the two years because that is the proposition, but it has shown that, where people really understand the territory they are working in, the nature of the children, the nature of the offences that lead children into custody and so on, they will get a benefit from having a greater degree of flexibility with funding so that they can invest upstream, as it were, in things that prevent the sort of offending that leads inevitably to custody. That would be useful for us as we begin to look at the proposition of devolving budgets, both, first, for remand and possibly later down the line for custody in general.
Q390 Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you both for coming to give us evidence today. Before 2010, youth justice issues were shared between the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Ministry of Justice, and it was a specific act to bring them together. This was controversial at the time. What effect has it had for both of you, and does it mean that there is a greater emphasis on treatment of offences rather than the educational aspect of preventing offending in the first place?
Frances Done: If I can answer that, Chair, the Youth Justice Board was sponsored originally, following the Crime and Disorder Act, by the Home Office, and between 2007 and 2010 it was jointly sponsored between the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Ministry of Justice. Then, on the change of Government, it became sponsored by the Ministry of Justice.
My response to whether that has made any difference in our approach is that it has definitely not, because we see the Youth Justice Board as a bridge between welfare aspects, the needs of children, and the justice element. That is one of the key roles that the YJB fulfils. Having said that, there were some pluses to having joint sponsorship in that we had an automatic in to the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Equally, there were some quite onerous requirements by having two different reporting systems and so on. That was a kind of negative.
I have to say that, as a Youth Justice Board, we need to relate to and influence strongly a whole range of Departments. Education, obviously, is a very key one, but Health is really key, as are Business, Innovation and Skills, DCLG, and Home Office, absolutely. So we have never seen joint sponsorship as being a necessity.
On the question, though, of engagement by DFE, that really is very important, because we have huge agendas around safeguarding, looked-after children, children excluded from school-a whole range of issues. It is a cause of concern for us that, inevitably, because of the Government’s priorities at the moment, there is a huge emphasis on what you might call more mainstream children and probably less emphasis on nonmainstream children. It is our job to keep banging at the DFE’s door on the issues about the children that we are most concerned with, who are very often excluded from school very early and then don’t end up in any formal educational setting-for example, safeguarding issues and looked-after children. It is our job to keep butting away to make sure, with other agencies, that those features of the DFE’s responsibility have enough attention. I don’t think it is really about sponsorship; it is about trying to engage each Department in the things that will make most difference to the children who are about to come into or have come into the youth justice system.
Q391 Jeremy Corbyn: At a practical level, if you are discussing youth justice issues within the purview of the Ministry of Justice, inevitably you are dealing with courts, processes, detention, prison and so on. Does this mean that, because you are based in the Ministry of Justice, the issues of prevention, education and looked-after children-all the issues you have just mentioned-tend to get ignored, because you have now had this for some time? Do you feel you have to work very hard to look at preventing offending in the first place by early intervention, by children excluded from school and all the issues that we know can lead to exclusion and offending by young people?
Frances Done: We have to work really hard on that, not because we are in the Ministry of Justice but because it is hard work to do. The Ministry of Justice sponsorship does not prevent us from doing our job, which is to make those links. We are the body that always brings into the Ministry of Justice, in our relationship with the Ministers and our sponsored Department, the arguments about the needs of children, the way in which they need to be supported and those links. That is exactly what we are there for, so I don’t find the Ministry of Justice link a problem at all in that sense. The issue, though, is a wide one, because the prevention of offending for quite a while was very much something that the YJB and youth offending teams were concentrating on, and they developed a whole range of programmes and a focus on that. That has now moved in a wider direction, which we don’t have a problem with, because early intervention grants are about joint work across agencies, health, schools, children’s services and focusing on children. Troubled families agendas is another way of joining up that early intervention agenda. Very many YOT managers have been moved into troubled families lead posts because of their very expert role.
We have prevention. Now is going to be a very strong theme for police and crime commissioners, so we are working, as the YJB, very actively with police and crime commissioners and youth offending teams to make sure that the funds that are being transferred from the Home Office to police and crime commissioners are spent on prevention and attention to young people at risk of offending.
The agenda carries on; we just do it in different ways, depending on the Government’s particular way of wanting to do things at the time. I really can be absolutely clear that sponsorship by MOJ does not stop any of that, but that is what we contribute to the agenda. We are just making sure that that cross-criminal justice and welfare focus is absolutely maintained, all the time.
Q392 Jeremy Corbyn: Do you think youth offending teams are the best way to spend the money on this, or would it be better done through other agencies?
Frances Done: For now, from April next year, the focus of the money that previously was spent in youth justice on prevention will go to the police and crime commissioners, and that is why we are working very strongly with them. I think youth offending teams are always going to have a really important role. The challenge for them now is to make sure that the element that they can do most effectively they do in a very joined-up way with other agencies and that they are able to access funds to carry on doing it.
But the most damaging thing, relevant to Mr de Bois’s question, would be to lose the focus on prevention, early intervention and keeping an eye on that group between eight and 13, which are most at risk of offending, if nobody has stopped them before, and to get them at that point. Youth offending teams have a real expertise in that area.
Picking up the evidence, there was a lot of focus for a while because of the reductions in direct grants to YOTs, but they have become very adept at going out looking for money in other areas, and, also, they are strategically well placed in many areas, because YOT managers, by the definition of multi-agency operation, have learned over the years to find allegiances and alliances that can help them deliver. I see YOTs as very much part of a much bigger picture now about a focus on prevention, and it is absolutely essential it carries on, because the improving results in youth justice have been very much based on that agenda.
Q393 Jeremy Corbyn: Are you working to bring all the new police and crime commissioners in for some kind of discussions or conference, because they are all now working out their programme of what they are going to do and how they are going to operate? I suspect, if we don’t get in early on the agenda of preventing youth offending and youth offending rehabilitation, then the more easily your headline-grabbing decisions about the time you lock people up and the robustness of policing will tend to take over the agenda.
Frances Done: Yes. Obviously, we were well aware of that possibility. We have been working with YOTs now for over 12 months, once it became apparent that police and crime commissioners were definitely going to be in place. We have been working with youth offending teams across 158 areas, and we have been providing them with support materials to enable them to demonstrate to their local police and crime commissioner, as soon as they came into post, what they have been able to achieve, how they have done it and why it needs to keep going.
The feedback from that has been very positive. In fact, in many areas, they have engaged with preparations for the police and crime commissioners. As soon as they have been elected, the YOTs have been in there, starting to make their cases. We are supporting that. I have written to all the police and crime commissioners in England, and we will be dealing with Wales separately through our Wales Office. I will be seeking meetings, in the next month or so, with some of the police and crime commissioners in the most populated areas, to engage with them. We have already had a response from at least three in the very largest areas, who are very keen to meet and talk about what we can contribute and support in the way of their work. They will be joining up prevention, preventing youth crime, victim support and community safety aspects of a budget that they are now being allocated. It is early days, but, so far, we have reason to be optimistic that they will be listening to what youth offending teams are saying, because youth offending teams are generally very credible and they have a good track record. That will be very helpful. In areas where maybe other directions of travel are becoming apparent, then certainly we will be engaging with those police and crime commissioners as fast as possible.
Q394 Chair: Are you rather overstating it to say that you are working closely with police and crime commissioners? They have only been in post for a matter of days. Most of them seem to be busy appointing deputies or other staff and locating desks and so forth. There hasn’t been time for relationships to build up. Obviously, it was a wise decision to get the local YOT teams prepared to engage with their police and crime commissioners, but, as far as you as a board are concerned, it must have been impossible, in the short time, even to establish which police and crime commissioners are heading in the right direction from your point of view and which ones you are going to need to engage with quite extensively.
Frances Done: It is early days, but we have a very good intelligence system on the ground. The point I was making is that, if this appears to be an area where the police and crime commissioner might not be, for whatever reason, very sympathetic to the kind of work that YOTs are doing, then we would get to know that quite quickly and we would seek to engage. We already have a positive feedback from police and crime commissioners in some areas-some of whom I know personally anyway-where we know that they are really keen to talk about what can be done and how they can help. Although the role of the police and crime commissioner has no direct control over justice agencies, quite rightly, there is a duty on justice agencies to cooperate with them. That is absolutely right, and youth offending teams are part of that. I see some real positives could come out of this, and it is our job to make sure they do.
Q395 Rehman Chishti: I am going to ask a few questions in relation to youth custody, and there are multiple questions here. First, why has the Youth Justice Board decommissioned so many beds in secure children’s homes, and on what evidence is the decision based?
John Drew: The evidence for any decommissioning is based on demand, so we are in a longterm reduction in demand since January 2009 now, in which the number of children in custody and the demand for custody has reduced, broadly speaking, by 50%. We had fewer than 1,500 children in custody last night and the night before, whereas the high point earlier in the last decade was 3,200. So there is this longterm demand. Within that, the fastest rate of decline has been with the 14-and-under age group, where there has been a 70% reduction in demand. Although it is not a simple equation to say the young children go into secure children’s homes, the middle age range go into secure training centres and the older boys go into YOIs, there, nevertheless, is a pretty healthy correlation. That has been the evidence for the particular reduction in secure children’s homes. I have to say it is not the fastest rate of decommissioning. In other words, proportionately, we decommissioned many more places in YOIs, which principally deal with the 15 to 17-year-old boys. But, again, that has been driven by demand, because there has been a significant reduction in the number of boys of that age being sentenced to custody. We are really sensitive about the question of secure children’s homes.
Q396 Rehman Chishti: You have given the breakdown in terms of age and reduction, but, as regards regionalisation across the country, are there certain areas where you get greater need than others, and, if so, what are they and what are you doing to tackle those issues?
John Drew: London is the major demand area, probably not in a way that would surprise you. 25% of children in custody or 25% of our caseloads and so on are generated within London, and then beyond that, in the major urban conurbations, you will see much higher numbers of children in custody or much higher numbers of serious offences.
Q397 Rehman Chishti: You mentioned London, but what would the top four be?
John Drew: Of areas in the country?
Rehman Chishti: Yes.
John Drew: London, Birmingham, Greater Manchester and Greater London. Perhaps west Yorkshire will feel I shouldn’t have left them out of this.
Q398 Rehman Chishti: The second question is how do you respond to concerns that have arisen about the use of enhanced units in young offender institutions?
John Drew: We feel that the special units-there are four of them-are a real, positive contribution.
Chair: Did you say positive?
John Drew: Yes. They deal with very particular and different types of child. We have units dealing with longtermers-children who are on sentences that will see them go into adult prisons. Their needs are very different and it is sensible to keep them together. We also have two units that deal, in different ways, with children who have particularly challenging behaviour, which either means that they are very disruptive to the ordinary discharge of custody or they cannot safely be catered for within a normal YOI. We would like, over time, to see that specialisation developed further. I know the argument is sometimes put that, by having such units, you reduce the need to place children elsewhere and it is a sort of sleight of hand, but that is not how we see it. We reckon that there are many more children in YOIs who would benefit from being in specialist units than there are at the moment, and so we take every opportunity, when resources become available, to develop them.
Q399 Rehman Chishti: What would you say to the concern that has been raised that we don’t know how effective the new enhanced units are, and, therefore, we are rolling them out around the country when we don’t know how effective they are?
John Drew: Effectiveness in its most simple terms is measured by reoffending rates. The numbers passing through specialist units are so small that no analyst would allow you to attach too much credibility to them, so we wouldn’t publish reoffending rates in relation to the specialist units. It is also worth bearing in mind that many children will pass through a specialist unit but won’t spend their whole time in custody in one, so would you be measuring the efficacy of the unit or not?
I would say that in terms of other outcomes-such as the ability to focus on a young person’s needs, to develop a proper resettlement package, and to work out some of the needs that hadn’t been met prior to custody and make sure they are met post-custody-they have been effective. The evaluation that we, for example, commissioned to look at the Keppel Unit at Wetherby would bear out that conclusion. I don’t recognise the description that they are not effective. They all exist within the overarching conundrum on custody, which is that, if you lump every child who passes through custody together, you get a reoffending rate of 71%. That does concern us, it concerns the Government, and I am sure the Minister will be talking some more about that.
Q400 Rehman Chishti: Can I just follow up on this? In terms of the effectiveness of the enhanced units-for example, the Willow enhanced unit in Hindley- the point that has been raised is that these children are not there long enough for their problems to have been dealt with. How do you overcome that?
John Drew: I don’t think it is for the judicial system to provide a total response to the very profound needs that some of our children whom we encounter in custody have. In other words, I don’t think sentences should be determined on the basis of need. Sentence must be a response to the offence and must be balanced and measured in consequence of that. If you have a child who is in custody for an average period, which is 79 days at the moment, and in most instances you won’t have been able to meet all their needs in that time-these are not care homes anyway-what you need to do is to make sure there is a seamless transition from custody into the community, with the sorts of support services that are needed in order to continue to treat and respond to that young person’s needs. Most of the needs of more profoundly damaged children whom we encounter in custody are, in the long term, probably better met outside of custody than within custody.
Q401 Rehman Chishti: I have one final question, if I may, in relation to breaches. What progress has been made to tackle the high number of children ending up in custody because of breach through the use of compliance panels?
John Drew: The compliance panel, as your question implies, is our preferred approach to this. Effectively, it brings a group of people’s minds to bear on the issue of compliance and breach. Within the statutory framework for looking at noncompliance, YOT managers have discretion, but our view is that it is best exercised by a group of people who really examine the circumstances of young people. We have created a model, we have encouraged the exchange of information between youth offending teams about models that appear to work, and in other ways we have a toolkit that tells people how to go about setting up a breach panel and the like. In other words, we have pushed this heavily. At the moment, we only have figures up to and including March 2011. The disappointing thing about those figures is that, for the two years leading up to March 2011, there has been no significant change in the number of breaches, so they have actually risen as a proportion of the number of children in custody. Those who are there as a consequence of breach in March 2011 were 16%, whereas previously it was 30%-about 300 children. We think that just highlights that this is a really difficult dilemma.
I am a former youth justice worker myself. It is very difficult when you work with a young person who flatly refuses to comply with what have been sensible conditions of their sentence and conditions that were made as an alternative to sending that young person to custody. In other words, if the court had a laissezfaire attitude towards compliance, we would be in a very different place. What do you do ultimately with someone who persistently breaches, not just in a minor way but persistently fails to attend appointments and persistently fails to follow a particular programme that is part of the sentence of the court? It is important that there is always provision for breach.
We come back to our central proposition, which is the central proposition we have about custody generally. Custody should be used as a last resort. We are not in any sense opposed to custody. So, also, in relation to compliance, we could not see a situation in which some young people would not be breached and would be placed in custody as a consequence of noncompliance. We want to make sure that people have gone that extra mile to exhaust all the potential within the community.
Q402 Chair: One of the dilemmas that was illustrated by something you said in your previous answer is one that we faced when comparing our system with that in Scandinavian countries. In our system, for good civil liberties reasons, we don’t like to blur the distinction between the judicial system and the welfare system, yet some of the most successful interventions practised in other countries rather ignore that distinction and give to offenders, and even potential offenders, whatever kind of support and sometimes discipline and restraint that is required-or they believe is required-to stop them from committing crimes and getting into a life of crime, without anything like so much regard as to how guilty they are and of what, as our system does. Have you considered that as a general issue in the Youth Justice Board?
John Drew: We consider that all the time. It is the fundamental debate in youth justice and has been so for the last four decades. I started practising in this field in the ’70s when, using the provisions of the 1969 Children and Young Persons Act, a lot of children were placed in care as a consequence of the offence condition. I have to say it didn’t work. A very large number of children were incarcerated on what became effectively indeterminate sentences and where they themselves were given at most, at times, very vague ideas about what their behaviour would need to be in order to come out of a custodial setting, and at the same time there was no relationship between the offence and the sentence.
For my part, I believe in England and Wales that we have got it about right in terms of the balance of considerations of justice and welfare and that there are a small number of children who are encountered in the youth court or, on occasion, the Crown court, and the judiciary are immediately aware that their needs really ought to be met through family proceedings rather than criminal proceedings. I do believe, just as a personal opinion, that we need to have some route-it is shared by most members of the judiciary-whereby they can cross-refer into family proceedings.
Q403 Chair: From the criminal proceedings to the family court.
John Drew: Absolutely. But I am not talking about a large proportion, and it would be incredible to the public if we were suggesting that. On balance, within all the traditions of English common law and English jurisprudence, I think we have got the balance around welfare and justice about right in our system.
Q404 Mr Buckland: Everything is linked here, but I want to look in particular at alternatives to custody and youth rehabilitation orders. In the last year for which figures are available-2010-2011-just over 18,000 orders were made. We know that there are 18 different requirements that are available, including intensive fostering. Of those over 18,000 orders, only 20 included intensive fostering requirements. We know the history of intensive fostering; there have been some interesting pilots, although the comparisons that have been done, although encouraging, are perhaps from a very small controlled sample and are not necessarily indicative. There are some after-settlement issues as well with IFs. But we have had evidence from Action for Children that advocates that, if there was a longer-term financial commitment made to IF and some leadership from the YJB, then this is a system that would be worth pursuing-and certainly worth pursuing for judges, who very often aren’t presented with such alternatives by presentence report authors because of the lack of availability.
John Drew: If I say a few things, I am sure Frances will want to say something as well. We don’t believe that IF should be funded nationally, in exception to almost every other disposal before the courts. We have the pilot scheme and we have kept it going because there remain important lessons to be had from that, and we are continuing to monitor the young people going through. As you said, the issue in the past has been volume, so obviously the volume is growing and, therefore, we think it is warranted to continue to keep the schemes, two of which Action for Children run for us and run well. But we do think, in the end, that IF needs to be funded locally and needs to be made available to courts as a local alternative to custody. Our solution to that is to support the proposition of the devolution of custody budgets, which gives the resources to local authorities and their partners-perhaps working together in a consortium in terms of critical mass. They can then think through, "Are we investing these resources best where we should, and, in particular on something like intensive fostering, do we want to grow a home-grown intensive fostering scheme covering Manchester or covering wherever the area is, as one of the options we will give to courts?" We do believe that that must be a decision, in the end, made locally rather than nationally. That is our particular take on that.
Frances Done: Could I just comment very briefly to say that, generally speaking, while we have a really important role at YJB to innovate, lead and provide good practice information and so on, we think that long term the solutions lie locally and they must be sustainable locally, as John said?
A really good example of the way this might go-in fact I am fairly confident it will in time-is that we have been developing with metropolitan areas regional resettlement consortia, around the northwest, southwest, southeast and so on. They are beginning to really start to take off. For example, the one in the northwest has focused on young people on a DTO at Hindley and has concentrated on giving them an enhanced offer, following them right through from the minute they get into custody, outside accommodation, training and so on.
The reason I am making that point is that I was at an event in Manchester town hall last week, at which they were celebrating success so far, which was four authorities working together. They had 10 authorities there; they are now going to extend to the 10 authorities of Greater Manchester, working across the 18-year-old age transfer as well. The point about that is that that consortium has the capacity, in the longer term, not just to concentrate on resettlement but also to concentrate on these intensive alternatives to custody, which have to be done at a much higher level than one authority. If you take the potential for devolving the custody budget in that sort of area, then you really have a model that could work long term. You get central commissioning of the secure estate, which is always going to be necessary in a country as small as England and Wales, but local ownership and buyin of what happens to each individual child. The solutions for many of the things that we want to improve all lie in that local collaboration.
Q405 Mr Buckland: Are you going to genuinely achieve that localism without including the secure estate? I take your point about the fact that it is a national resource, but, unless you have a proper like-for-like comparison on the unit costs, isn’t it going to be difficult for local groups to manage their budgets and work out what is the best approach?
Frances Done: I think at Greater Manchester level or west midlands level there isn’t any doubt that you can operate these sorts of intensive, alternative costs at that level. Almost any individual YOT-possibly Birmingham could-could not sustain that because there is a limited number of young people who can benefit from that particular intervention. It is a very specialist intervention, which, as you probably know, has to follow exactly the methods that are laid down, otherwise it does not have the efficacy. That is where you have to have collaboration. You have to have a shared understanding of the fact that it is important-a shared commitment to the scheme so that it can carry on. It is good to innovate and you have to start from the centre to do the innovation, but, if we keep having this three-year funding and then there are questions over the funding and then there are another three, that isn’t a way to run the youth justice system. In the long term, we have to demonstrate that things work; then local areas need to have a range of structures around them and certainty of the nature of devolved funding to be able to carry on themselves.
Q406 Mr Buckland: Are you confident that the devolved funding system will in fact deliver the right resources for the sort of approaches that you want to see?
Frances Done: It is still early days on devolving funding. Government obviously have not decided that the Ministry of Justice will do that. What we regard as our role, and have done since 2009, is to put the idea out there. It could be called justice reinvestment or devolution of funding or whatever, incentivising certain behaviours, because it is payment by results really. Our job is to give the really senior people in the system-the chief executives, the directors of finance and the lead members for children, those people in the local government system-confidence that this has some merit. In the end, it will be a decision for Government as to whether it happens.
John Drew: We will, from 1 April, have 20% of custody funding that is linked to remand devolved. That is a big first test, if you will. So far as this is a matter of mechanisms and systems, then I am completely confident that we have in place the mechanisms and systems to work, and I am completely confident as well that we have the engagement of the right people in local authorities to make it work. But, as Frances says, then, ultimately, I am sure the Government will look at what happens on remand devolution before they reach a final decision on what remains.
Q407 Mr Buckland: Finally, dealing with the issue of housing resettlement, the Committee visited YOI Hindley some weeks ago, and an issue that was raised with the Committee was that there was concern about the change in legislation, encouraging local authorities to find alternatives for a remand into youth detention, which comes into force in April 2013, which was thought, potentially, to make things more difficult in terms of obtaining suitable housing. What will you as a Youth Justice Board be doing to try to ensure that the sort of problems that have been alerted to us don’t occur and don’t cause a problem?
John Drew: Where we have encountered problems, and we have encountered other similar problems in relation to access to benefit and what have you, we have taken that to the relevant central Government Department and there has always been a commitment, across Whitehall, for this cohort of young people to find solutions to more general rules that may immediately appear to place them at a disadvantage. The underlying sell for the whole youth justice system is what its knockon effects are with adults. In a situation where we have a good message in terms of numbers of young people coming into the system, numbers in custody and what have you, and where we can show the consequences of them finding their way into the adult criminal justice system so that in the last five years there has been a reduction in the number of 18 to 20-year-olds in prison, a reduction in the number of indictable offences committed by 18 to 20-year-olds and the growth in adult criminal justice is fuelled by a different age band, it has not been difficult to talk across Whitehall about the need to think through the untended consequences of changes. That is what we are doing with that particular issue.
Q408 Chair: 65% or over of young offenders have speech, communication and language needs, which has often been part of their failure to get into mainstream society and also it affects their interchange with the criminal justice system itself, where they don’t understand what they are being told or don’t give coherent answers to questions. Are you satisfied with a situation in which relatively few youth offending teams have speech therapy facilities available, and what is your view of the issue?
Frances Done: You had evidence from Professor Bryan earlier in a session, so you don’t need convincing that this is a big issue. We are confident that over the last five years there has been an increasing understanding of how important this is, which is helpful because it wasn’t that widely understood before. There are a very limited number of YOTs that have specialist speech therapists. There is an even smaller number of YOIs, although there are some really good examples where that has happened and it has made a big difference. We have not been in a position to fund a specialist post in each YOT or in the YOIs, which we would love to do if somebody came up with the money. What we have done, though, and it has been very helpful-it has been very well received by those involved in this area of work-is to work with the Communication Trust over the last few years, funding them to put on joint training seminars all the way around the country, which have been incredibly popular. We have had to do more of them because they have been so popular. First of all, there has been training of about 800 YOT staff in awareness. They are not speech therapists, obviously, because that is a very specialist function, but they have become very aware of the potential problems young people have and some ways of dealing with them and addressing them, so they are starting to deal with young people in a different way.
Also, and very importantly, we have extended all that awareness training to groups such as the police and magistrates, right across the country. That has been incredibly helpful, because, as you know, youth court magistrates are very often not aware that the language they are using is probably completely incomprehensible to some children and gauging children’s reaction wrongly as a result of that lack of comprehension. We could say we have achieved a great deal in that, but there is a long way to go. YOTs have a real appetite, and so do YOIs, for doing a lot more on this and helping children more directly. They are doing as best they can, but certainly more resources for this would be hugely valuable because it is a really key element of the children whom we are dealing with.
Q409 Jeremy Corbyn: That is a very interesting answer on that one. Are you confident that every young offender institution seriously examines every young person who comes in for problems of speech and communication, dyslexia, Asperger’s or any other syndromes that have previously simply not been identified either by health or education services, and are you confident that they are all doing something to help these young people to improve their communication skills before they leave?
Frances Done: I don’t think we can, but, John, do you want to explain what we are doing about the new assessment system because that is our tool to make it move on?
John Drew: It is not a perfect answer to your question, but it is a part answer.
Jeremy Corbyn: That is why I am asking it.
John Drew: I will come on to a better bit after that. The bit that we didn’t talk about perhaps in relation to speech and language therapy generally is that we have designed a new assessment tool for youth justice. At the moment, everyone going through the youth justice system undergoes an assessment called ASSET-sometimes quite often, quite regularly. There are various problems with the system, but principally it is 10 years old and therefore is not up to date with the sort of emerging understanding of the children with whom we work. We have now had, for the last year and a half, a new assessment system that has speech and language deficits, and some of the other issues that you raised with children’s mental health, much more at the heart than it did previously. We are in the final stage of seeking approval from Government to roll this out, hoping for a decision in January. It is immensely important, both in relation to speech and language deficits, but also in other areas.
Q410 Jeremy Corbyn: Would it be helpful if there was a specific requirement on YOIs to do a full assessment, including dyslexia, Asperger’s and everything else, because I have no figurative evidence, but, anecdotally, for young people who go into YOIs, quite often it is the first time anybody has assessed their communication difficulties, and communication is key to rehabilitation, isn’t it?
John Drew: It is, and I was coming to your main question. We would be fools-we are many things, but hopefully we are not that-to sit here and say, "Yes, we’re completely satisfied with the response." Frances and I, and everyone at the YJB, know of cases clearly where children have had needs that are not recognised and problems have arisen as a consequence of that. We believe the assessment issue will help, and that is in advance of going into custody. There is more that can be done in custody. The Minister will talk more about his own ambitions for custody for the future, and there is no doubt that we can do better in almost any of the things that we do in custody at the moment in producing a system that looks more at the child in the round, and particularly addresses issues such as education deficits, mental health needs and so on.
We have lots of wishes in respect of that, but the first step that we are taking is the assessment step, because we think that will be the engine for driving an improved response when young people are in custody. We are also in the process of revising the training that we give to custody officers. We will at some stage in the future, undoubtedly, be commissioning the estate, and in the new commissioning plans for the estate we will place some of these issues in a greater primacy than they have been in the past.
Chair: Ms Done, Mr Drew, thank you very much indeed. Mr Drew, it will probably be the last time we have you before us in this capacity because your term is coming to an end and your successor has been named. So we thank you for your work in this area and wish you well. Thank you both very much.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Jeremy Wright MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Minister for Prisons and Rehabilitation, Ministry of Justice, gave evidence.
Q411 Chair: Mr Wright, welcome back to the Committee. We have a hattrick of Ministers in the justice and home affairs field who have served as members of this Committee. We have Helen Grant, James Brokenshire and yourself.
Jeremy Wright: Trained well.
Q412 Chair: That is what we like to think. Your predecessor took a very close interest in the youth justice part of his brief and was very keen to achieve reforms. When you were given the job and you took it over, do you think you were given a different brief and told to make significant changes in the way youth justice is handled?
Jeremy Wright: There certainly will be changes made, but I don’t think there will be a change in the emphasis we put on youth justice and the importance of getting it right. The most important responsibility that I have, as my predecessor had, was to ensure that we would maintain a safe, decent, secure estate across adults and young people, but we recognise we have a particular responsibility to young people. You have heard a little bit about those responsibilities already and I take them very seriously. We have to ensure that we meet our welfare responsibilities as well as the responsibilities we have to impose appropriate punishment. In the case of the youth estate, that balance is particularly difficult very often, so I don’t take that responsibility any less seriously than my predecessor or, I suspect, any of my predecessors in this role.
Q413 Chair: Have you formed a view yet as to what requires your most urgent attention-which bits of the system are creaking and require you to give them attention and which bits you are content to leave for the time being?
Jeremy Wright: If you look at the major measurements of success in this field, which are how many people are coming into the system for the first time, that clearly is going in the right direction. How many people are being sentenced to custody? Again, that figure is coming down. But the third of those measurements is the reoffending rate, and that remains stubbornly high. When you are dealing with a reoffending rate of 70% or thereabouts, that clearly isn’t acceptable. So, in answer to your question, it is the reoffending rate that requires our attention in terms of our standard measurements of outcomes.
But, also, the Secretary of State and I are very keen to ensure that, when you are dealing with a group of school age young people, as very often we are, we don’t overlook the educational needs of those young people, and, although we do have those young people very often for very short periods of time-a figure has been mentioned of the average period in custody of something like 78 days-there is still work that can be done, in particular in addressing significant educational deficits. There are very significant educational deficits; the Committee will be aware of those.
If you look at the figures as they stand, something like 80% of those who are in youth custody of one form or another were excluded from school; something like half of young women and about a quarter of young men have last been to school when they were about 14. There are very significant educational deficits. If we don’t resolve those educational deficits, it is much more likely that those young people will not go on to secure employment and then, by virtue of the effect that employment has on reoffending rates, their likelihood of reoffending goes up. So that is a very significant area of attention that we need to focus on.
Q414 Chair: You will have heard the exchange I had with the Youth Justice Board Chairman and Chief Executive about the difference between the approach in this country and that in Scandinavian countries, for example, because they feel a greater sense of freedom to blur the distinction between the criminal justice approach and the welfare approach. I am not pretending this is an easy line to cross, because, when we were looking at Scandinavian countries, we sensed a difficulty particularly for young people who protested their innocence of an offence; but it does lead to the situation you have just described, where you have people given a certain amount of relatively intensive attention for a short time on a custodial sentence and not much else once they are out of the system. Have you given much thought to whether the line should be blurred or whether you should find another way of addressing this weakness?
Jeremy Wright: I don’t disagree in general terms with the answer that you received from the Chairman and Chief Executive of the YJB. It is crucial that we recognise our welfare responsibilities alongside our punitive responsibilities, but I also think that the crucial question here, when you are dealing with relatively short periods of custody in particular, is what the linkages are between what goes on in custody and what goes on thereafter. That is where the real effort needs to be made, rather than to try and pretend that the criminal justice system can do everything, which clearly it can’t. Rather than do that, what we have to do is make sure that, when young people leave custody, they go on to a process of resettlement that is effective, not just in finding them housing but also in making sure that they continue in education, wherever that is possible. We need to make sure that what is going on is that young people are being spoken to while they are still in custody for whatever period that is, about plans for them to go on into education thereafter, bearing in mind, as I say, that these are very challenging situations very often, where young people have not been in fulltime or mainstream education for a very long period of time.
It isn’t simply a question of finding them a school place or a college place, because they won’t turn up for those school or college places in all likelihood. There has to be slightly more intensive attention paid to them, but that attention is predominantly going to be what happens when they leave custody, because, while they are in custody, we have a good deal more control. All that I am saying is that there are opportunities while they are in custody to start that process and to try and work quite intensively, in very many cases, on literacy and numeracy needs, which can be very acute.
Q415 Chair: Would it not have been better still-I entirely agree with what you have just said about those who end up in custody-if some of these young people had received that kind of attention before they committed the crime that got them into custody and that they had somehow been picked up by a system that gave them what was seen to be valuable once they are in custody, but gives it to them without them ever committing a crime that gets them there?
Jeremy Wright: Yes, that is undoubtedly true, and, without wishing to pass the buck, I am often told that the MOJ is a downstream Department, by which it is often meant that it is too late by the time it gets to us. I don’t think that is entirely true, and you heard from the Chief Executive of the YJB the fair point that we are dealing quite often through youth offending teams with quite a young age group, where early intervention does have an effect and is worth while. But there is no doubt that Government have to work together to achieve the sorts of outcomes that you have just outlined and that I entirely agree are desirable.
When you look at cross-Government activity there is quite a bit of it about, whether it is the troubled families programme, which has been referred to, which is quite an intelligent way of making sure that different Government Departments, all of whom have an interest in particular families within our society, work together to deliver the outcomes we all want to see, or whether it is programmes for ending gangs of youth violence, which again is a matter of making sure that we identify a group of people who present issues for a range of Government Departments and making sure that all of those Government Departments pool their knowledge, expertise and in many cases cash too, to ensure they get the outcome. There is a good deal of work being done, but, as ever, there is always room for improvement.
Q416 Jeremy Corbyn: Can I move on to rehabilitation issues? On the present system, if a young person has been convicted and sentenced to up to 30 months’ imprisonment, after five years they can have their conviction spent or written off. During the disturbances in 2011, young people were routinely given three-year and more sentences for relatively minor aspects of theft in the circumstances of the riots. Do you think it is time to look again at this and look at the life chances of former young offenders, who often many years later are denied opportunities to work in education or to develop any kind of career because of some misdemeanour as a young person? Indeed, in the police and crime commissioner elections, a number of candidates were prevented from standing because of convictions they had had as young people that they had even forgotten about.
Jeremy Wright: Yes. We do have to have another look at this, and the examples in particular of police and crime commissioner candidates who were excluded for very minor offending a very long time ago do point out the problem. It is worth saying two things. First of all, in relation to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, changes have been made to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act regime, and that applies, of course, in particular to young offenders, where the periods of rehabilitation before convictions become spent is shorter. In almost every case, what LASPO does is reduce the length of time that it takes for a conviction to become spent. For example, for those sentences between 30 months and four years, which is the bracket that you have just been talking about, under the previous rules that conviction would never be spent. Now it will be spent after four years. That is still a significant period, I accept, but none the less a significant reduction. Of course, when you are dealing with more serious offences, resulting in longer sentences, there is a public interest in ensuring that agencies, employers and others still know about that before decisions are taken.
It is also worth noting that, in relation to particular types of offending and particular types of conviction, the opportunity for an employer, for example, to know about them will be for a longer period, some of them never spent, because, for example, there are child protection implications; and I think that is sensible. But, in terms of the general point that you make, it is right that we look again at bringing down the period during which a conviction still has an effect on someone’s future employability and the opportunity to do certain things. It is already coming down through LASPO; there may be a case for looking at it again.
Q417 Jeremy Corbyn: Thanks for that. At the moment, as I understand it, there is no consideration of having spent convictions where it is over four years’ detention. As I pointed out, in view of the situation of the riots, there were some very tough sentences handed out, which means that some of those young people will have very complicated, if not impossible, career opportunities in the future. Are you prepared to consider having spent convictions for longer sentences but maybe over a longer period, say, after five years or 10 years for a long sentence, that sort of thing, so that we do end up with a situation where misdemeanours committed by young people can be completely written off?
Jeremy Wright: As I say, it is certainly reasonable to look again at the situation of people who have committed an offence as a young person and how long that particular conviction would remain on their record thereafter. Certainly, we will look at that again. But it is also worth saying that, when it comes to employment, we would expect-and there are codes of practice in place to achieve this-that employers take a fair-minded view about this so that, even though a conviction may still remain unspent, we do not expect employers simply to say, "That’s it. If you have a conviction on your record, we won’t even look at you." We expect them to take a rather more broadminded attitude than that. But it is true that, inevitably, someone who has an offence of that nature on their record will be at a significant disadvantage in the labour market. There would be little point in denying that. I do think that there is a public interest in ensuring that for particularly serious offending-we are talking about a bracket of offenders who have committed a particularly serious offence or they wouldn’t have received the sort of sentence that we are talking about-that information remains available, particularly of course for those purposes where there are, for example, child protection issues. So I can’t promise, I am afraid, to dial back in its entirety the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act regime; as I have said, we did look at it again under LASPO and made some significant changes. We will look again, as I say, in particular at the impact of very early and in many cases very minor convictions-when someone is young-on the rest of their lives. That is an area that merits particular attention.
Q418 Jeremy Corbyn: Thanks for that. This is the last point from me. I am pleased with what you said about employers and your encouragement to them on this, and that is a good point. Would you put the same pressure on universities and colleges, because there seems to be-again, I don’t have figures-anecdotal evidence that young people with convictions have great difficulty getting into university or college because they are deemed to be a risk, and obviously that reduces any career opportunities for the future, even though they might be totally rehabilitated?
Jeremy Wright: Principles apply equally. What we would expect is that people take a fairminded view. Whatever information they are presented with as a university admissions department, one would expect them to look carefully at all of that information and balance it up. What I am saying is that, whereas it may not be possible to exclude that information from a university’s admission department, just as it may not be possible to exclude it from an employer, I would expect-and the Government would expect-people to take a holistic view of an applicant both for a university place and for a job, to make a sensible decision and not simply to exclude someone on that basis.
Q419 Nick de Bois: Minister, you will have heard our previous witnesses where we just touched on the Youth Justice Pathfinder roles. In a speech that you made recently, you noted that there had been successes and lessons. My obvious question to you is what lessons have you learned from Birmingham’s withdrawal from the Pathfinder programme?
Jeremy Wright: It is important to recognise that, if you run pilot programmes of any kind, it is partly to learn what works and partly to learn what doesn’t work. The fact that someone has withdrawn from a pilot programme is regrettable, and obviously it would be better if we had two years’ worth of information about what happened in Birmingham than one year’s worth; none the less, there are things that we can learn, and we can learn, as I say, as much about what didn’t work there as what did. The great thing about these particular pilot programmes is that we gave a good deal of scope to each of the areas taking up the opportunity to decide what they wanted to do and the way in which they wanted to do it. They all took a different approach. The way in which west Yorkshire have gone about this is different from the way in which Birmingham went about it, and so that gives us the opportunity to look at the results that both achieved, look at the progress they both made and say, "This seemed to work but this didn’t work quite so well." That is an opportunity we are still going to have from the results we have from Birmingham.
The other thing to say is that we have asked these areas, of course, to reduce the use of custody beds, and that is a crucial objective to these pilots. I think I am right that Birmingham have made progress in the right direction, just not enough to meet the targets that have been set. Certainly, the work that they will have done in exploring ways in which this can be best achieved will, I am sure, be of value to them in the future. Even if they have not met these particular objectives under the rubric of this pilot programme, I am quite sure that there will have been lessons learned for Birmingham that they will want to employ in the future. There will be lessons that we can learn from that, and I suspect there will be lessons they can learn too.
Q420 Nick de Bois: Do you think, on that point, that you will become prescriptive-once you have run the pilots-about what to do in the future, or will it be a question of sharing best practice, because there may be regional differences?
Jeremy Wright: There may well be, and I hope it will be more the latter than the former. Instinctively, I am not in favour of being prescriptive, but I am very much in favour of supplying information as to what works well and what doesn’t. These sorts of opportunities will give us the chance to do that, but, as I say, we can draw almost as much-perhaps that is not quite fair. We can draw something at least from what didn’t work as well as from what did in identifying those areas of best practice. We need to be better than we are, and the YJB are working well on this in making sure that we disseminate good practice across the youth justice estate, whether that is in terms of custody or community work. We can always do better in disseminating good practice, but I would always incline towards making that information available for people to draw on and come to their own conclusions than I would to be prescriptive. One of the reasons, as you say, is because of those local variations.
Q421 Nick de Bois: Turning to the idea of transferring budgets to local authorities, for my own clarity, can you confirm that you intend to transfer the full custody budget to local authorities over the coming years? I am not pinning you to a date, but-
Jeremy Wright: We will see, is the answer. We are certainly committed to transferring remand budgets, and, as you have heard, that is about 20% of the overall spending. We will do that. We are currently reviewing the consultation responses on exactly how the money should be divided up, but I am conscious of two things. First of all, I want to see how well the devolution of remand budgets works before we take decisions on what to do across the wider piece, but, secondly, the costs of youth custody are extremely high. They vary depending on the type of custody that you are talking about, but, at the top end, secure children’s homes cost us something like £212,000 per place per year. That is a very high figure. What we need to do is look at ways in which we can bring that cost down before we decide how to fix devolved custody budgets, because, otherwise, you build in the very high cost, which, if we can reduce, we wouldn’t wish to do.
I need to do, as I say, two things: first of all, look at the unit cost of youth custody and attempt to bring that down; and, secondly, look at the lessons we can learn from the devolution of remand budgets before we take decisions on the wider custody budget agenda.
Q422 Nick de Bois: Again, on my understanding then, assuming you get that cost down-which I wish you well with-will you effectively then be planning to give, shall we say, local authorities more say in the commissioning of custodial places?
Jeremy Wright: Instinctively, I am in favour of that. The logic, of course, for devolving the remand budgets is to say that, rather than have a situation where, for a local authority to decide that someone has to spend time in custody or to find themselves in that position, they have very little to lose because the YJB and the MOJ picks up the bill, instead they will be responsible for the money that is used to pay for those custody periods, and that creates the right kind of incentive to look around for alternatives. We are helping them, of course, in this regard, because, if you look again at the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, what that Act does is to say that, if someone who is being considered by a court for bail or remand has very little prospect of ending up with a custodial sentence, then they should not be remanded into custody. We are assisting in that way, but it is a good principle that local authorities should have more responsibility for the money as well as for the decision making that results in the spending of that money. That is the logic, but, as I say, we need to do those two things first before we can roll this out.
Q423 Nick de Bois: That is clear. I would just like to touch on education, if I may. I have one question on that in respect of rehab and resettlement. With regard to the statement that, "We’ll have a much greater focus on education in a secure environment", could you summarise for me what that means in practice? Of course, we did touch on it with the Chairman’s question earlier, but have you thoughts on how you will ensure that the provision on the inside is better joined up with that on the outside? I am talking about the academic and the vocational. You can train a bricklayer in prison, but, if he can’t get a job when he leaves outside the gate, that is the challenge, isn’t it?
Jeremy Wright: Yes, very much so. It is worth saying again that it is not my impression, and in terms of continuity we have a great percentage of the young people that we are talking about here who have been in fulltime school and education right up to the point at which they find themselves in custody. Continuity has been broken already. So, when someone comes into custody, very often what we are talking about is trying to reengage them in a process of educational training and we need to make sure that certain, very obvious needs are met in an intensive way.
If you look at literacy and numeracy, which are at proportionately much lower levels for this group of young people than across the age group, the first thing you have to do is try to address those. Without literacy and numeracy, there is not much else that you can do, so that is a priority. What is also a priority, as you suggest, is to make sure that, after what may be a fairly short period of custody, there is continuity at that point into further education, training or potentially into employment. That involves not just the criminal justice system or Youth Justice Board, but it also involves a variety of other agencies and Government Departments. Resettlement has to mean more than finding someone a place to live; it also has to mean finding them a place in education, training and, potentially, in employment.
All of these things have to be done together. That is why the consortium approach is the right way to go, and you have heard a little about the success that that is delivering. But, for that period when someone is in custody, it is about taking what is quite literally a captive audience and making sure that we do what we can to address the very real needs that they very often have, and that will be focused around literacy, numeracy and other related skills.
Q424 Nick de Bois: One of your measures must be, as we have witnessed as a Committee, that if there is still too much empty time-time not being used by people in custody-that implies that we have the opportunity to do more for education. Is that the sort of information you are aware of?
Jeremy Wright: Yes. The current expectation is that someone in youth custody would be doing something like 25 hours of education and training, and other related activities, in the course of a week, so there already is an expectation there. Whether we will be able to increase that, or whether we will simply want to refocus that time on making sure that those key skills are learned, I don’t know yet, but we are very clear that this is an area that needs attention, to make sure, as I say, both that we get right what is done in custody and the links after custody to ensure that whatever progress is made is not simply lost as soon as someone walks out of the prison gate.
Q425 Nick de Bois: If I could just make an observation, which doesn’t necessarily need a response, on a private visit when I went to Feltham, I met with a wide range of offenders afterwards. I was genuinely pleased that there was criticism about lack of education and there was a thirst for education set against, unfortunately, a sense that, "Well, we’ll be back here soon." I just make that observation as one that is a bit of a mixture of encouragement and less encouraging.
Jeremy Wright: I agree. Those who have a degree of selfawareness will understand that lack of education means likely lack of employment and higher likely reoffending. So it is in all of our interests, including theirs, that we deal with those problems of lack of education so that we can deal with likelihood of employment and likelihood of reoffending.
Q426 Chair: There are a number of very specific points relating to vulnerable children. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act gave looked-after child status to young people remanded. Why have you left it limited to remanded children? Is the logic not that they should all be in that category?
Jeremy Wright: Yes. This requires some further thought, certainly, but what I would say is that, first of all, it is important to recognise that LASPO makes significant progress, because we were in a situation where some young people were given looked-after child status and some were not. That is no longer going to be the case. That is progress.
In relation to those who are serving custodial sentences, it is important that we have clarity as to who takes responsibility for them so that, if you are dealing with someone on remand that is by its nature a temporary period, which could conceivably not result in a custodial sentence, it could result in return to the community. What we were wishing to avoid in all cases was anyone losing looked-after child status, having come into a short period of remand, and then finding a gap when they leave that remand period again.
So far as a custodial sentence is concerned, there needs to be clarity as to who takes responsibility, as I have said. For the duration of a custodial sentence, it is helpful that everybody understands that the secure institution in which that young person is takes responsibility for their welfare. Were we to have looked-after status for the duration of that sentence, there would at least be the potential for confusion as to whether it is the local authority that takes responsibility for their welfare or whether it is the institution. I don’t want to see that confusion.
Where the work needs to be done is on what happens on release from custody, because on release from custody it may very well be that someone should be moving into looked-after status, and we want to make sure that any assessment necessary to make that possible takes place while someone is in custody. That is already starting to happen for those who start off being looked after and go into custody for a period of sentence-not remand-and then come out again. But it may be that that is the area that needs the most attention. While I understand the apparent illogicality, there are issues we have to work through over making sure there is no conflict in who takes responsibility during a period of custody, but, thereafter, that is the crucial moment to ensure that someone who needs looked-after status gets it.
Q427 Chair: My layman’s reaction to that is that, surely, there is a way in which some degree of oversight can be retained during the sentence period but in which the disciplinary responsibilities of the institution are not removed by that, but you have the continuity; the child is still a looked-after child, before, during and after. There might be a way that could reconcile the two objectives.
Jeremy Wright: As I say, in relation to continuity, I am more reassured about the position that we have, because, as I understand it, what happens is that someone who is looked after before entering custody then goes into custody, and during the period of custody the obligation on the local authority is to ensure that they are properly assessed to determine whether that looked-after status should continue thereafter.
Q428 Chair: It has to take place while they are in custody.
Jeremy Wright: It has to take place while they are in custody. We talked about blurred distinctions earlier on. It would be concerning if we attempted to blur the distinction between what a local authority was responsible for doing and what the institution was responsible for doing while someone was serving a sentence of custody. I want there to be no doubt at all that the institution in which someone is serving a period of custody has full responsibility for the welfare of that child. They can’t outsource it to anybody else; they have that responsibility, and I expect them to discharge it. I am keen to make sure there is no conflict during that period, but, having said that, it requires some further thought and we will give it that further thought.
Q429 Chair: Will social workers continue to be funded in YOIs beyond 2014?
Jeremy Wright: The commitment is certainly there to ensure that until March 2014 they do get that funding, and we fund, off the top of my head, 22 individual social workers. Their role is important in making sure that we have the necessary linkages made between local authorities and the custodial setting, but we will have to consider whether that funding could or should continue as and when we get nearer to that point; but certainly there is a commitment to continue doing so until March 2014.
Q430 Chair: Can I turn to section 104 of the Coroners and Justice Act, which would allow vulnerable defendants access to intermediaries? One example I have read is of a defendant who said, "Because I was told to say ‘No comment’ at the police station, I thought I couldn’t say anything at court". People with that degree of disconnection from the system would be helped by intermediaries. That needs bringing into force. Are you going to bring it into force?
Jeremy Wright: What I would say in response to that example, as perhaps you would expect me to say as a former lawyer, is that it is most unlikely that that young person was not represented by a lawyer. Any lawyer who allowed their client to believe that saying "No comment" in interview meant that you couldn’t say anything in court frankly needs to be taken a closer look at. There is not a situation here where young people are presented with no opportunities for good advice. There is also, of course, provision for judges to say, in particularly deserving cases, that defendants should have more assistance than they are currently offered. I have my doubts about this particular section and whether in fact it adds a great deal to the situation we have at the moment, but we will continue to review it and make a judgment as to whether or not we think there is an ongoing need.
Q431 Mr Buckland: Just developing that, you make a good point there, Minister, about legal advice, but, where a young defendant is giving evidence, he or she is, of course, not able to talk to their lawyers unless it is in exceptional circumstances, and, particularly in crossexamination, issues have arisen about whether or not young defendants understand what they are being asked. On that basis would it be worth while just looking at the prospect of perhaps having an intermediary for a limited part of a trial, to assist a defendant in understanding the giving of evidence?
Jeremy Wright: Certainly, as I have said, we will keep this under review. That is the sensible thing for us to do. I would say though-and, particularly, Mr Buckland, since you asked the question, you will understand this better than most-that the judiciary have a role here too in ensuring that those who are vulnerable giving evidence, whether as witnesses or as defendants, understand the process and that the questioning is fair. I am sure that you, sitting as a recorder, were you to think that a young defendant being crossexamined by the prosecution was being crossexamined in a way that that young person was put at a disadvantage and could not be expected properly to understand what he was being asked, would intervene, and we would expect the judiciary to do that. There are other protections within the system that we also have to factor in when considering this particular change.
Q432 Mr Buckland: Can I move on then, Minister, to the question of restorative justice? You know that I have a longstanding interest in this issue. I welcome the commitment that you made, clearly, to put it on a statutory footing or more of a statutory footing, because, to be fair, there is reference to it in the 2003 Act. You made a speech only a few weeks ago to talk about it running parallel with the formal processes rather than to replace them. I understand that an amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill in the House of Lords would amend the 2000 Sentencing Act to allow deferral of sentence or to amend the deferral provisions to allow for restorative justice.
Just on a quick point there, playing devil’s advocate for a moment, are you concerned at all that there is a danger, in effect, dangling a carrot of restorative justice to a young offender and, in effect, creating an artificial scenario where this young offender is thinking more about the sentence and mitigation rather than the genuine process of restorative justice?
Jeremy Wright: Yes, that is a concern, and that is why I have made it very clear that this must be something that is happening in parallel with the sentencing process rather than as part of it. It seems to me that sentencing should continue on the basis of the information available to the sentencer. I have no objection, incidentally, to how information about how a restorative process has gone also being available to the sentencer, but in relation to the offender-whether that is a young offender or an adult offender-that is potentially a doubleedged sword. If someone engages and does it properly, and the information that comes to court, particularly from the victim, is that they got a lot out of that experience, then that may well count in the offender’s favour. But, if someone says that they are prepared to engage and then sits with their arms folded and doesn’t do it properly, that information might also find its way to the sentencer.
To that extent I have no objection about the transfer of information, but it is very important that everybody understands at least what restorative justice is. We are thinking here particularly about conferencing, where a victim and an offender have the opportunity to speak in a moderated setting. In terms of that type of restorative process, it is very important that we are clear that this is something running alongside the sentencing process and is not part of it. You do not get a discount for participating in restorative justice; it is something that you may choose to do, but it is something that, in my judgment, is predominantly of benefit to victims.
It is very clear to me. I have to say I started as something of an agnostic about restorative justice. I didn’t know a great deal about it. The more I have seen, the more impressed I have become that this is a genuine advantage to victims in giving them the opportunity to confront an offender-to say what they want to say. This is predominantly where we have figures in relation to adults rather than to young offenders, but none the less the benefits will transfer, but if you have victims who are bound to have significant reservations-a great deal of trepidation about this experience-leaving with 85% satisfaction rates is a really remarkable statistic. Add to that-
Q433 Chair: It has a benefit to the offender as well.
Jeremy Wright: I was going to go on to say that we do have a 14% benefit in terms of reoffending in so far as we can measure it. So there is clearly a benefit both ways. Whenever I consider this, I think back to the time that I spent as a criminal barrister, which, Mr Buckland, you will immediately recognise, where you spent a great deal of time at my junior level representing young burglars, very often young offenders who would have convinced themselves that burglary was a victimless crime, that the insurance company replaces the television and the laptop, and nobody is really any the worse off. The opportunity for a 16 or 17-year-old burglar to sit in front of the person whose house they have burgled and have explained to them what the psychological impact of that burglary really was brings this home much more successfully than very many other things we could do and is likely to have, therefore, a reoffending benefit greater, I suspect, for young offenders than for adults, because it is probable that the young offender simply hasn’t thought about that. There are real advantages here for young offenders, in particular, and we want to make sure that that is feasible.
As you rightly say, what the Crime and Courts Bill will do, if it passes, is to ensure that this can happen presentence as well as at other stages. There was always going to be a danger that, if you extend provision to the presentence stage, it would be perceived just, as you say, as a carrot for the offender: say sorry, be nice to the victim and get a couple of months knocked off. That is why we have to be clear and robust in the language that we use. But it would have been wrong, in fear of that consequence, to exclude that period of the process, because at the end of the day it seems to me that what is most important is that, when the victim is ready for this process, they can take advantage of it. If a victim were to turn round and say, "Now I would like to sit down with the person who burgled my house", and that happens to be at the point in the process between conviction and sentence, I don’t want to be in a situation where we have to say no. That is what has driven the decision, but it is important, in parallel with that decision, to be clear about what the restorative justice is there to do and what it is not there to do.
Q434 Mr Buckland: That is a very helpful response, Minister. What I wanted to elaborate is that, very often, victims will not be in a position, prior to sentence, and will want to come back to it later. As long as there is that flexibility and that it is victim-led-
Jeremy Wright: Very much so. Of course, the law permits that post-sentence now, so no legislative change was needed to do that. What is needed is to ensure that we have the capacity to meet any increased demand, which was your next question.
Q435 Mr Buckland: That is the big question here. It is how we are going to pay for this-how we are going to fund this.
Jeremy Wright: It is worth noting, certainly so far as young offenders are concerned, that the YJB has already spent something like £600,000 on delivering that sort of increase in capacity. That is about training to make sure that we have restorative justice facilitators. What is very clear is that, if you are going to do restorative justice at all, you need to do it well. If you don’t do it well, it can be worse than useless. What is crucial is that those who are acting as facilitators have the necessary training and that they know what they are doing. We need to make sure that we have enough trained facilitators in place, as well as raising awareness among victims of what they can take advantage of.
The Restorative Justice Council is looking at this at the moment. We have already produced a framework document designed to show how we can raise awareness and also how we can build that capacity. We are learning from what is happening elsewhere. I know the Committee has been to Belfast to look at what is happening there. That is a very good comparator for us. Alice Chapman, who was integral in setting up the restorative justice processes in Northern Ireland, is reviewing what the RJC is doing here. There are clear linkages and lessons we can learn, but I am keen to make sure that we don’t find a situation where we succeed beyond our wildest dreams in raising awareness of RJ but then don’t succeed in providing the capacity to meet that increased demand.
Q436 Mr Buckland: There is a danger. We have some excellent pilots, in Thames Valley, for example, and we have existing youth offending teams, such as the one in Swindon, that use conferencing regularly. On that point, there was a report published by the Criminal Justice Joint Inspection Team in September that expressed disappointment that, in the Revised National Standards for Youth Justice, the clear expectation about the use of restorative processes was taken out of the national standards. That could be interpreted as perhaps the wrong signal to be sending to youth offending teams at this time, and I was wondering what comment you had about the decision to remove that particular standard.
Jeremy Wright: I would say that the other clear signals that we are sending are entirely in the other direction; that we are producing quite a lot more of those who are trained to do restorative justice. The YJB is doing all that it sensibly can to encourage, particularly through the method of the referral order, opportunities for restorative practices to be used with young offenders. The clearest signals that I can send and that they can send are being sent. We think restorative justice is a good thing; it can have significant benefits not just for victims but also for offenders. That is particularly likely to be true for young offenders.
The opportunity, in the slightly broader context of restorative justice, to use the youth referral order to bring in the wider community and make sure that everybody who can be sensibly involved in decisions about what should happen to a young offender is engaged with that process, is what the referral order and referral panels are there to do, and inculcating more restorative justice practice into what they do is very sensible. We will always look at ways in which we can encourage more of that, and part of that is making sure we have the capacity there to ensure people can do it if they want to.
Q437 Mr Buckland: Your clear message to YOTs and other agencies is that the Government are committed to expanding and increasing the use of RJ.
Jeremy Wright: Yes.
Q438 Jeremy Corbyn: Taking young people into custody is a huge responsibility for the state: to care for them, to rehabilitate them, hopefully, so that they don’t reoffend at the end of it. We took evidence from INQUEST, which has published a very interesting report jointly with the Prison Reform Trust, which indicates that, since 1990, 33 young people under the age of 18 have died in custody, and in 2010–11 there were 7,191 incidents of restraint involving children. It seems to me that the use of restraint and the refusal to publish the terms of the restraint that are used, even after a freedom of information request by INQUEST, suggests that all is not well, and the numbers that have died is clearly absolutely unacceptable. Any death is unacceptable in custody. Are you prepared to hold an independent inquiry into this?
Jeremy Wright: The first thing to say is that all deaths in custody are not related to restraint. It is important to make that point, but I take the burden of what you say very seriously. Any deaths in custody are not only tragic but raise some very serious questions as to the responsibility that the state should and does take for the welfare of young people. In relation to deaths in custody, it is right and important that a number of investigations take place in relation to each death: police investigations, coroners’ inquests, investigations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and, where it is appropriate to do so, we will look more broadly at any lessons that there are to be learned.
That is why we have an independent advisory panel on deaths in custody. I chair the interministerial board on deaths in custody and this is something that we discussed. It is important that the advisory panel has a look at this report. It is a serious piece of work and it deserves proper scrutiny. They should have a look at it to decide whether or not there is further work that can sensibly be done and whether there are lessons that we can draw from the work that they have done. I wouldn’t say no at this stage, but I want to make sure that we have looked into this work properly and that the independent advisory panel, which we have to do exactly this job, has an opportunity to do it first before we make a final decision.
Q439 Jeremy Corbyn: Quite specifically, you presumably have read the "Fatally Flawed" report by INQUEST and the Prison Reform Trust, which was very carefully put together. Are you prepared to make the manual public that is used on restraint?
Jeremy Wright: On restraint, I would say that it is certainly the case that we need to be clear on what is permissible and what is not, and the reasons for what we do in terms of restraint. There is a new system of restraint currently being put in place. This is something called, if I remember rightly, the Management and Minimisation of Physical Restraint- MMPR. That is a system that is different from the system that has persisted up to this point in two important respects: first, the nature of the physical intervention that is permitted, and, secondly, different in that it talks about more than just the exercise of physical restraint, and this is quite important. We have to talk more and make sure we train more people who work within young offender institutions and other secure environments on how to avoid a situation where physical restraint is needed in the first place, and, almost as importantly, what happens after the incident of physical restraint, because both of those periods of time are very important. The training that we will deliver through this new system will be much enhanced to the training that has been in place before for those reasons.
Coming back to the specific issue of physical restraint and what is allowed and what is not, the new system will still permit the use of pain-inducing techniques but only when there is an imminent danger of serious physical harm to the individual young person or to another young person. It will not be permitted as part of punishment, and so we are limiting quite significantly where physical restraint is appropriate. But, just as importantly, what we are doing is we are saying that the period leading up to that incident of physical restraint and the period that follows it also need to be the subject of training. It is going to take time for all those who work within these environments to be trained in those things, so we start in Rainsbrook in February of next year. It will take about two years for all of the staff in all of the institutions to be trained properly in this, but, after that period, they will all be operating on a new system, which will be much more positive.
Q440 Chair: Ought we not to know what the rules are to which they are working?
Jeremy Wright: I will have to look at what level of disclosure there is. There will obviously be operational reasons why we don’t disclose in detail exactly how people are trained and what they are trained to do, but I will have a look at what further information can properly be disclosed within those operational constraints.
Q441 Jeremy Corbyn: Do you think there ought to be a wholly independent examination of each death in custody? I will give you an example of why I raise that. Adam Rickwood took his own life, and, at a second inquest, the jury said that the use of restraint was a contributory factor towards his distress that caused him to take his own life. That was found by a jury in an open court at a coroner’s inquest. Do you think it would be better and it would be a good pressure on the entire system if there was a wholly independent examination immediately after any death in custody so that the whole service felt under examination from outside rather than an internalised examination, which is not necessarily as robust?
Jeremy Wright: There certainly is a very extensive internal investigation into every death in custody, but it is not the only investigation. There will also, in all likelihood, be a police investigation; that is external. There will be an inquest, as you say; that is external. If we are talking about someone who is under 18, there is also going to be, in all likelihood, an investigation by the local safeguarding panel, and that is external. There are three external agencies, in all likelihood, who will conduct their own investigations into a death in custody.
So, yes, I agree there needs to be more than just the internal investigation, important and robust though that must itself be, but it would be wrong to think that there aren’t already significant external investigations that take place into each and every case, and that is right. We want to make sure that every case is properly investigated, that we get to understand what has happened and that we learn whatever lessons we possibly can for future reference. In terms of those broader lessons, as I have said, the Independent Advisory Panel will look not just at the instance that we have discussed but also at the report that the PRT and INQUEST have done, and look at whether or not something more wideranging would be appropriate.
Q442 Jeremy Corbyn: In response to Sir Alan’s question, will you come back to us on the question of publication of this information on use of restraint?
Jeremy Wright: Yes. I need to look at it. As I have said, I can see immediately that there will be issues operationally over how much information it is sensible to disclose, but I am perfectly happy to go away and write to the Chairman and to the Committee about what I find and what we have concluded.
Chair: Thank you for that and thank you, Mr Wright, for your help this morning.