HC Deb 21 October 1982 vol 29 cc516-21


Lords amendment: No. 10, in page 6, line 19, at end insert—

"(2A) If a court passes a sentence of youth custody on an offender because it considers that his detention in a detention centre would be unsuitable because of his mental condition, it shall certify in the warrant of commitment that it passed the sentence of youth custody for that reason."
Mr. Mayhew

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 17.

4.15 pm
Mr. Mayhew

The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that where a young offender is sentenced to youth custody because his mental condition precludes a detention centre order, and that fact is recorded on the warrant of commitment, he may be held in a youth custody centre or remand centre but not in a prison. There are two limited exceptions. Power to hold in a prison for temporary purposes is retained and the amendments do not apply to people whose sentences are below 21 days. That is because they go to allocation units in local prisons after sentence. There will not be time to assess and transfer some of them to youth custody centres at all, and, by definition, others could go there for only a matter of days, sometimes travelling great distances to do so.

Taken together, therefore, the amendments will exclude as many of those young people from prisons as is possible in practice. I should add that we undertake that those serving less than 21 days who do have to remain in prisons will be properly assessed by the medical officers concerned and placed in the establishments' hospitals where necessary.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I welcome the amendment, which provides that offenders who are given a short youth custody sentence because they are considered mentally unfit for detention centres should not in future be placed in adult prisons to serve their sentences.

The Minister, on behalf of the Government, initially opposed a similar amendment which was proposed by members of the parliamentary all-party penal affairs group. The Government now deserve credit for bowing to the weight of all-party opinion that was expressed in the House and in another place by agreeing to amend the Bill along the lines of the amendment then proposed.

Under the original form of the Bill, it would have been possible for young, mentally ill people, whose mental state demands that they should receive the best possible nursing care and treatment, to be dumped instead in adult local prisons. The local prisons are institutions which are currently the most overcrowded, which have the most appalling conditions and where the resources and facilities for dealing with young people—particularly young people who have a mental illness or disorder—are wholly lacking. They are the penal dustbins of the whole penal estate.

The amendments will prevent such young people being put in inappropriate locations and will therefore remove a serious imperfection.

Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)

I support the speech of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk). He paid tribute to the Government for what has been a remarkable week. Early this week we had a dramatic and radical Bill on mental health. That was a significant step, which should be applauded, and which Ministers and the Government have taken the initiative in promoting.

We are now debating the Lords amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill. In his usual courteous way, the hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the Government and I join him in his fulsome tribute to Ministers who have spent a great deal of time on the variety of views that have poured in upon them from various organisations, some wanting this and some that. To compromise and to find a solution, as they have done, is commendable, and I say that not only as a Member of the House but as vice-chairman of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders and chairman of the Stoneham housing association.

I welcome any steps that are now being taken to help those who are suffering from mental disorders or youngsters who are in danger of spending a considerable time in adult penal institutions. I welcome any law that provides a stricter criterion for imposing a custodial sentence on a young offender. As the hon. Member for Ormskirk said, the amendment received overwhelming support from the all-party group and from the other place.

It is valid to point out several factors involved in dealing with those young people who have mental problems. Many of those who spend much of their time in such work are disturbed by the ineffectiveness of custodial sentences on many young people. Each year. that ineffectiveness is dramatically illustrated by the reconviction figures published by the prison department. For example, over the past six years the reconviction rate for young adults leaving prison has risen from 64 per cent. to 69 per cent.; for those leaving borstals from 63 per cent. to 68 per cent.; and, most strikingly of all, for those leaving detention centres from 54 per cent. to 63 per cent.—an increase of nearly 10 per cent. in just over six years. Those are the overall reconviction rates for offenders under the age of 21.

The figures for juveniles under the age of 17 are even more alarming. Indeed, 72 per cent. of juveniles leaving detention centres and 78 per cent. of those leaving borstals are reconvicted within two years. In December 1979., the former Minister of State, Home Office, now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, spoke in Derby and gave the main reason why penal establishments for young offenders had such high failure rates. He said: our aim must be to leach the young offender to live freely in the community without indulging in unacceptable behaviour. And it is obvious, from common sense, from experience and from research, that teaching anyone to come to terms with the community in which he lives must for the most part better be done in that community than in an artificial institutional setting providing supports which will be removed as soon as the youngster returns to his own home.

Sad to say, many of those in secure accommodation in prisons are there mainly because of mental disorders. We should provide constructive alternatives for non-violent offenders. The amendment will open up a new vista and remove—as the hon. Member for Ormskirk said—from the dustbins of our penal institutions those who should not be there and who could be better cared for and looked after elsewhere. Many constructive options are available to the courts, including community service orders, intermediate treatment, probation and supervision order, attendance centres, and so on. To those of us involved, they all appear to have a much better chance of helping young offenders than custodial measures.

There is a further, very powerful argument for reducing the use of custody. The sheer cost of imprisonment is colossal. It never does any harm to remind ourselves that it now costs £177 per week to keep one person in prison, £180 per week for a borstal place and £156 for a place in a detention centre. For a residential home with secure accommodation it can cost up to £400 per week. In comparison a probation order with conditions costs about £350 per year and a community service order costs about £400 per year. The annual cost to the Home Office of a place in a hostel run by the Stonham housing association—of which I am fortunate enough to be chairman—is about £1,200 per year. Such comparisons must surely impress the Home Office, the Home Secretary and, in particular, the Departments in which those involved are sadly having to scratch around for savings in their budgets. Alternatives make not only penological, but humanitarian sense. In addition, they must surely make economic sense.

I shall refer later to any criticisms that I might have of the Bill. Indeed, if I have any criticism it refers not to what the Bill does, but, perhaps sadly, to what it is unable to do at the moment. We must ensure that a decisive switch away from custody and towards alternative measures is adequately funded. For example, probation orders must be supported by adequate resources, especially for hostels.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon > (York)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for hon. Members to make long, prepared speeches supporting an amendment from the other place that is approved of by the Government and that is not disputed by any other hon. Member? If so, our debates on the Bill will continue until 9 o'clock tomorrow morning. There are 240 amendments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have not yet heard anything that is out of order from the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), but perhaps I should take this opportunity to remind him and the House that it is not in order to debate the Bill. Contributions must relate directly to the Lords amendments.

Mr. Irving

I said earlier that I would want to say more about the Bill generally. I am sorry if I have upset the hon. Gentleman, but there is nothing to stop him going home if he does not want to listen. However, I should be sorry to find him missing, because I seldom have an opportunity to look at him.

My points relate not only to the mentally sick but to those suffering from temporary disorders. Most of the young people involved have committed offences against property, involving sums that are generally much less than £100. That fact must be related to the cost of custody. Probation officers have immense problems. Many of those young people who suffer from such disorders could be looked after properly in hostels provided by some housing associations. There must be options available to the court. Hostels and day centres play an important part but they are scarce and, in some areas, non-existent. The amendment rightly seeks to accommodate the growing numbers of those involved, but there are still far too few facilities available. It is particularly important to develop hostels and other forms of supportive accommodation so that we can meet the growing problem of homelessness among young people.

NACRO has estimated that homeless young offenders are twice as likely to re-offend as those with a home, and, because it disrupts youngsters' ties with the community, custody itself helps to promote the very homelessness that so often leads back into crime. This makes the Home Office's decision—perhaps a slight word of discord here—to impose a standstill this year on finance for new schemes run by voluntary organisations tragically shortsighted. The Home Office has found it difficult to take advantage of the opportunity to expand the number of hostel places for offenders presented by the availability of extra Housing Corporation finance. The standstill could well mean that 500 new hostel places which would have been made available this year—about half of them to be managed by the Stonham housing association—will not, or may not, be established.

4.30 pm

Parliament has not yet seen the public expenditure Estimates for the next financial year, and it is possible that there may be a small amount of money available, but it will not be easy to undo the demoralisation caused to local committees whose hard work and planning has been wrecked by this year's standstill. If we are talking about alternatives for youngsters with mental disorders and mental health difficulties, we are talking about voluntary organisations such as Stonham that can only be managed and run without astronomical costs to the community because they are supported and run by volunteers. In this one organisation alone, we are dependent upon 3,500 voluntary workers to keep our 180 local management committees going. In financial terms, this must be an immense saving to the State.

Far worse, however, is the likely effect in the blighted lives of the homeless people who will unnecessarily end up in custody because of the lack of suitable alternatives.

The cost to the Home Office of financing these extra hostel places would have been small in comparison with the massive resources that, it is proposed, will be devoted to the establishment of increased prison facilities. It would need a transfer of only a tiny fraction of the money devoted to the prison building programme, which will provide 5,000 new prison places by 1990 at a capital cost of £40,000 to £50,000 each, to provide more humane, effective and economical alternatives for many of those now totally and unnecessarily committed to custodial sentences.

It is successive Governments' neglect of the penal system that has led us to the very sad and sorry position in which we now find ourselves, and Labour Governments must fully share the blame. Nor am I impressed by the behaviour sometimes of our own colleagues—Members of Parliament—who profess enlightenment in speeches in the House but betray their fine words by their actions in their constituencies when they return and find that they are being placed, so to speak, in the dock by the community because they are seeking to establish either a hostel or a home. That is so particularly in mental health matters.

Let hon. Members who have not done so try to establish a small home with half a dozen psychiatric or ex-psychiatric places for youngsters in a residential community. They will find a problem. We have done it; we do it; but everyone must be prepared to stand up and be counted. Again, this is where we owe such great gratitude, not only to the probation and after-care service, but to the social services and to those dedicated people in the community who, often with not even a word of thanks, are ready to be among those who will stand up and be counted. I am glad to say that there are a number of good colleagues on both sides of the House who are prepared to take exactly that line.

I am grateful for this opportunity to address a few brief words to the amendment. I support the amendment although I consider, generally speaking, that the Bill still does too little. Nevertheless, it is a step forward and the amendment will contribute to it.

Question put and agreed to.

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