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Earl Russell: My Lords, I am much obliged to the Minister. However, if she will forgive me, I do not believe that that is quite what the report says about bullying. It does not reproach the staff for not working; it says that there were insufficient staff to carry out the work. The propositions are very distinct.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I believe that there was room in the report for making the sort of comments I have just made about the dedication of staff where they are tackling such problems and where bullying strategies are in place, working well and showing positive results. I also made reference to the fact that the report says that prison staff do not segregate bullies. I have actually visited a young offender institution--the one at Feltham--which I know the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has also visited. There, they do segregate the bully and care for the victims.

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Segregation of the bully and support for the victim are central pillars of the current anti-bullying policy. Prison Service research into the issue has shown that in a great many prisons holding young people facilities are available and are used to isolate the bullies and challenge their behaviour. That sends out the right message to the bully and ensures that the message is being heard.

However, we cannot afford to be complacent. The Prison Service business plan for 1995-96 makes a commitment that all establishments will implement a firm anti-bullying strategy within the financial year. A new unit based at Prison Service headquarters has been set up to look at ways of controlling violent behaviour which includes bullying. The unit liaises with prisons to provide guidance and practical help in meeting that obligation. I repeat: the Prison Service is absolutely determined to challenge the bully and to ensure that prison is a safe place in which young people can serve out their sentence and concentrate on building their futures.

The Prison Service recognises that young offenders, especially those on remand, may be vulnerable to suicide or self-harm. The causes of suicide and self-harm are complex and there are no simple solutions. The population received into custody is particularly vulnerable and, as we know, suicide has increased among young males in the community at large over the past 10 years. The statistics and examples highlighted in reports--such as the Howard League report--focus exclusively upon the negative and instances of failure. Sadly, the enormous amount of staff dedication to working with young offenders and the success stories go largely unreported.

The current strategy of providing care for the suicidal was introduced in April 1994. Its principles are based on sound research and it has received both interest and acclaim from other organisations faced with similar problems. The strategy emphasises the responsibility of all staff in identifying and providing support for those who are judged to be at risk. It is designed to achieve a shift from viewing suicide as a purely medical problem. Each establishment has a multi-disciplinary team whose job is to oversee and monitor local implementation. Prisoners may be cared for within the residential unit or within the health care centre. Support may be provided by staff, fellow prisoners trained as listeners, or by visiting Samaritans. Many establishments are able to provide a "care suite" where people can be housed and kept under observation during periods of crisis. The strategy is also underpinned by an intensive staff training programme.

For the future we will continue to seek improvements in the procedures already in place to ensure that young people are appropriately provided for by the criminal justice system. In particular the introduction of the secure training order for the hard core of 12 to 14 year-old criminals will provide a new alternative. I emphasise that I am referring to the hard core of persistent 12 to 14 year-old criminals. Such offenders will be sent to new secure training centres which will provide positive regimes offering high standards of care, education and training.

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This is a timed debate and it will not be possible for me to address all the individual points which have been made, but I wish to highlight just a few. I refer first to the context and perspective of the debate. It is important to record that 11 per cent. of male offenders aged 14 and under 18 and 2.8 per cent. of female offenders sentenced for indictable offences were sentenced to custody. That means that 89 per cent. of males were not sentenced to custody and 97.2 per cent of females were not sentenced to custody. The debate has centred around a perception that too many of our young people are going into custody. Almost all of them are not sent into custody. The number of males aged 14 to 17 sentenced to custody has fallen from 12,500 in 1984 to 4,200 in 1994. That is totally at odds with what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, said. The juvenile 15 to 17 year-old sentenced population at the end of October was 1,073.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, referred to the important matter of welfare. The Children and Young Persons Act of 1933 sets out the need to take account of the welfare of children. The Home Office and the Department of Health are working closely together to see that that is honoured. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, also asked about the official policy on regimes in young offender institutions. One of the Prison Service's goals is to provide positive regimes which help prisoners to tackle their offending behaviour and allow them as full and responsible a life as possible. The Prison Service therefore requires young prisoners to participate in a rigorous, demanding and constructive regime which is focused on education and constructive activity designed to help them to lead law-abiding lives after release.

The noble Lord also referred to high intensity training centres. I suppose that in common parlance they are referred to as "boot camps". The noble Lord asked how they would affect new offenders. They will not have any impact upon the young people we are talking about tonight. The new high intensity training regime is being implemented for persistent offenders in the 18 to 21 year-old age group. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked about the increase in remands. There is no single explanation. There are a number of factors, of course, including demographic changes, but decisions about the use of remands to prison custody in individual cases are a matter for the courts. The noble Lord also mentioned secure accommodation in Wales. The new 18-place secure unit in Wales will be subject to inspection by the social services inspectorate, like all secure units. I can give that assurance.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also mentioned both the institutions in Wales at Swansea and Cardiff. Managers at both institutions are acutely aware of the need to provide a service for the young people held in custody. While this is not always easy within the context of busy local prisons, as the noble Lord knows, there are clear action plans in place and no lack of urgency to implement them. The juveniles are to be moved to newly refurbished accommodation next year and there will also be new reception and induction programmes and new education facilities. I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, is also interested in that matter.

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The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked what we were doing about suicide and self-harm. He was joined by many noble Lords in the course of the debate. A new strategy for caring for suicidal prisoners was introduced in April 1994. Initiatives include listener schemes in which selected inmates are trained to support those going through a crisis; intensive training for staff; and the designation of a suicide awareness team in each establishment. Every death in custody is a serious matter and is investigated thoroughly, and indeed should be. However, I believe that I am right in saying to the noble Lord that legal aid is not available for inquests in such circumstances. Nor, I believe, is it available for any inquests in England.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, in a thoughtful speech, referred to the changing culture and nature of the times now compared with some years ago. I should like to add some of the factors that I personally believe are a feature of the debate we are having about young people. I believe that there is less family cohesiveness. There are too many young people with no structure in their lives. Too many young people have no proper framework within which to grow up and develop. I believe also that there is too much unspent energy, or that where energy is spent it is spent in the wrong way. There are too many young people for whom no ground rules operate other than the rules of the street. There is no anchor in their lives. Fearlessness is another factor. Young people are absolutely unafraid. They are not afraid of their parents, teachers, policemen, probation officers or social workers. I do not mean oppressive fearlessness, but there is almost a minor form of anarchy. We all have a responsibility to address these problems, starting with the first and greatest influence on any child--the parent and the home.

It is against that background that those who deal with young people who offend have to work with them. I believe that great efforts are made within institutions and within the Home Office and the probation service to meet the challenge of returning young people to a more law-abiding way of life.

The report is very subjective about the prison at Doncaster and certainly lacks a great deal of objectivity. I refute absolutely the assertion that Doncaster is not able to provide a safe and caring regime for young people. It has made solid progress since it opened. The particular needs of juveniles are recognised. They are housed in two identified units with extra resources. The management is well aware of the propensity among young people to bully, to threaten and to commit acts of violence against each other. Those issues are treated seriously and a clear anti-bullying policy is in place with robust procedures for dealing with bullying behaviour. A probation officer has been appointed. A full-time anti-bullying co-ordinator has also been appointed. A working party--Safety in Doncaster--is addressing broader issues concerning development of more controlled regimes and perceptions of safety in the prison environment. The level of proven assaults continues to decrease.

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Doncaster further demonstrates a particular concern for caring for the suicidal through the use of a designated full-time suicide prevention co-ordinator. A meeting is held every morning of the week at which a team of people consider those at risk, reviewing all prisoners identified as being at risk. The model used is wholly consistent with public sector prison service strategy and builds effectively upon it.

The reference by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, to the phrase "going shopping" in relation to 16 and 17 year-olds in Glamorgan is, I believe, an insult to the young people of Glamorgan. It is a fact that a small minority of young people is responsible for crime. For example, 0.3 per cent. of males born in 1973 who had made six or more court appearances before the age of 17 accounted for 21 per cent. of all appearances in court of their age group.

I am defeated by time. I welcome the debate because it has provided an opportunity to focus on the complex issues involved in providing for young people who become involved with the criminal justice system. As we have seen, there are many concerns to take into account in attempting to strike the right balance in the provision of appropriate care for each of the agencies responsible for young people in custody. They are well aware of the burden of that responsibility. I can assure your Lordships that the needs of young prisoners are at the forefront of the minds of all those charged with the responsibility, and that goes for those of us who work in a ministerial capacity at the Home Office.

9.25 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton: My Lords, it has been a most constructive debate. I thank and congratulate all noble Lords who have taken part, in particular the noble Baroness who replied in such a temperate way which I found attractive and reassuring.

I say only one thing about the debate: it has had a geographical spread as well as another kind of spread. The geographical spread started with the noble and learned Lord and continued with the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. I believe that the only part of our country not represented today is Northern Ireland.

It has been a worthwhile debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


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