HC Deb 09 June 1997 vol 295 cc786-7
12. Mr. Bob Russell

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the future of the young offenders institution at Colchester military corrective training centre. [926]

Mr. George Howarth

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government are committed to finding out what works in the prison system. In line with that, we have decided that the Colchester experiment will run to the end of the year, when it is due to be concluded. In the light of that experience, we will decide on its long-term future.

Mr. Russell

Does the Minister agree that both the Prison Service and the military authorities were opposed to the establishment of the boot camp in Colchester? Although both military and prison staff should be congratulated, does he accept that the prime reason for the military establishment being foisted on Colchester in the run-up to the general election had more to do with a very expensive face-saving exercise by the former Home Secretary? Will the experiment run until the end of the calendar year or the financial year? Will he make it the sooner of the two? How does the cost of the Colchester institution compare with that of a normal institution?

Mr. Howarth

Irrespective of how the establishment came about, the point is that, if the Government were to try to reverse the decision, all the money that has already been spent on it would be wasted, so it obviously makes sense to allow the establishment to complete its first year. By first year I mean the full first year of its operation. On comparable costs, the establishment is marginally more expensive than, for example, a young offenders institution. Any establishment with such a highly structured regime will be more expensive. The cheapest way of keeping prisoners is to lock them up and do nothing with them. That is not what we intend. We shall certainly look at the results of the experiment to see whether there are any wider applications.

Mr. Whittingdale

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the high rate of reoffending among young offenders suggests that the present system is not working and that anything that can bring it down is likely to be good value for money? Is he aware of the considerable success in remotivating and rehabilitating service offenders at the military corrective training centre and that, contrary to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell), the staff at the MCTC are convinced that they can remotivate and rehabilitate civilian offenders by employing the same methods?

Mr. Howarth

I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point that we should look at the results and see how the two systems compare. That is precisely the point that I made. There are no easy options in dealing with young offenders. One of the things to which the Government are absolutely committed is breaking the link between young people and crime and all the things that lead to young people becoming involved in crime. We will find out what works, and what works is precisely what we will implement to deal with the problem.