HC Deb 12 May 1982 vol 23 cc884-7
Dr. Summerskill

I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 9, leave out lines 11 and 12.

The amendment would ensure that all male offenders sentenced to youth custody are detained in youth custody centres, and not in prisons, for the whole of their sentences. It is inappropriate for offenders as young as 15 or 16 to be in adult prisons. Youth custody centres should be providing work, educational and recreational activities and rehabilitation and training for young people and not simply incarceration.

Therefore, if there is to be a new youth custody sentence, it should be accompanied by a new, improved regime, and not just by the existing borstal regime. One assumes that if there is a new sentence with a new name the young people will be submitted to a different and better regime. In Committee, the Minister said that there would be about 30 youth custody centres for young men and boys, but there would be parts of the country without one. Perhaps the Minister could say whether there are any more planned or whether he feels that 30 is the required number? I am not sure how he arrived at that figure. Does he feel that it will be sufficient to accommodate young people for many years? The improved facilities and regime which they offer should prepare them for life outside. We hope they will prevent them re-offending in a more effective way than the present borstals or their presence in grossly overcrowded adult prisons, which are certainly not the environment for 15 or 16-year-old boys.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that a sentence of youth custody literally means a sentence in a youth custody centre.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill). Clearly the Government are making provision in the Bill for the new youth custody centres and for what they regard as the new and more positive and constructive regime that will exist in those centres. In those circumstances it seems to me only reasonable and appropriate that the Government should guarantee a place to every juvenile who is sentenced to a youth custody centre.

We regard that as important when one considers that the alternative to that guarantee is for the juvenile to be incarcerated in a local adult prison. Conditions in local adult prisons are the most appalling in the whole of the penal system. They have the highest level of overcrowding, with two or three prisoners to each cell. The sanitation is the most inadequate and outdated, and if young boys are to be held, for however long a period, in adult prisons instead of youth custody centres they will not get the specialised facilities that would otherwise be at their disposal. They will not get the training, the education or the vocational guidance that would be appropriate and that one would expect them to receive in a youth training centre.

For those reasons, I believe it to be incumbent upon the Government—introducing a new sentence and new youth custody centres as they are—to come to the House and say "We have this new sentence and these new centres. We are introducing this new positive regime for young male offenders and we can guarantee that every young offender will have a training place." I should regard it as being highly inappropriate for young boys to be held in adult prisons. I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept my hon. Friend's amendment.

Mr. Mayhew

This amendment seeks to delete a provision that the Government would prefer not to have had to put in the Bill. It provides that places in a youth custody centre, with a proper training regime, can be guaranteed only for those with sentences of over four and up to 18 months. It would have been much more satisfactory if we had not had to restrict the guarantee in that way, but it would have been unrealistic not to do so. it will be the Government's objective to extend the sentencing range to which the guarantee applies.

Young offenders serving sentences of four months or more are at present in diverse accommodation, ranging from detention centres, borstals and separate young prisoners' centres to young offenders' wings or sections of adult prisons.

It would have been possible to call all of those places youth custody centres simply as a matter of nomenclature, but that would have been misleading. The Government therefore decided that an establishment should be designated as a youth custody centre for the purpose of a youth custody sentence only if it provided a constructive training regime. Not all of those places can provide such a regime and they cannot all be brought up to standard quickly. It is important not to disguise that fact. It will simply not be possible to hold all the young offenders in youth custody centres as defined in the Bill. The courts must be made aware of that so that they know in broad terms to what types of establishment the young people whom they sentence will go.

That is why clause 10 takes an admittedly somewhat complex form. The provisions that the amendment seeks to delete are, in a sense, a sad but necessary acknowledgement of the long-standing shortcomings in the accommodation available for young offenders. Clause 12(1)(c) provides power to delete those provisions. As I have said, the Government will pursue that objective and nothing will please us more than to be able to use that power as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) asked whether any more centres were planned, why we chose to provide 30 and whether that number would be sufficient. The 30 are so placed as to provide a reasonable geographical spread throughout England and Wales. More are planned in that we plan to bring up to standard the institutions and establishments used to house offenders in this age group but which at present cannot provide a training regime of the sort guaranteed to those serving sentences of between four months and 18 months. We cannot yet say whether the number will be sufficient, as for a long time the courts have been unable to impose determinate sentences of between four months and 18 months on young offenders. As the hon. Lady knows, section 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 prevents the courts from imposing determinate sentences of between six months and three years. Instead, they have had to give the indeterminate sentence of borstal training. That restriction will be repealed by the Bill, but we shall have to wait and see the numbers involved before we can say whether 30 will be enough.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I understand, with regret, that due to the lack of resources the hon. and learned Gentleman is not able to guarantee a training place for every young offender, but is it not more important to guarantee training for those receiving sentences of more than 18 months, as they will be separated from their families, their friends, their environment, their jobs and so on for a longer period and run a greater risk of becoming institutionalised? Does the Minister agree that a constructive, positive, training regime may therefore be more important for them than for those with sentences of four or five months?

Mr. Mayhew

A choice must be made between the two categories. I believe that it is most important that the younger end of the market, if I may so put it, should be protected from the admittedly adverse influence of adult prisons. It is undesirable for any offender under the age of 21 to be placed in such an establishment, but, if a choice must be made, I believe that it is preferable to exclude the younger end of the market and those serving shorter sentences. It should not be imagined, however, that those serving longer sentences will be excluded from training. It is our purpose, and it will be open to us, to provide training to one degree or another in the other establishments. However, the guarantee will exist for those serving a shorter period of custody, which will mean younger people.

1.15 am
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

It is undesirable that the Government cannot give a training guarantee to all young people. To what timetable is the Minister working and when can he give us that guarantee?

Mr. Mayhew

Hope springs eternal and we travel in hope. We believe that if we are permitted to pursue our present economic policies there will be a much better chance of the resources being available to accelerate those matters. That is something that all reasonable people will share as an objective.

Amendment negatived.

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