Can care and custody be compatible?

Extract from a speech yesterday by the Home Secretary's Senior Policy Adviser to the National Children's Bureau
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IT IS timely to be asking the question "Can care and custody be compatible?"

There is certainly plenty of evidence that, too often, custody has resulted in a lack of care and failed to change young offenders' behaviour or attend to their development needs. But there have often been gross failures in non-custodial residential care.

Locking young people up does not in itself produce unsatisfactory regimes. There are Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) and local authority secure facilities where good work has gone on. What needs to be considered are the policies and structures that are likely to produce more constructive regimes than exist now.

The courts need to have powers to deal with the most serious and persistent young offenders, include the option of remanding and sentencing them to a secure placement.

But the time spent by a young person in such placements should not be an end in itself. It protects the public, but the fundamental aim of detaining a young offender, as with a community sentence, should be to prevent offending in the long term, and the Government has made this aim specific in the Crime and Disorder Bill.

The Bill will provide courts with appropriate remand and sentencing powers to deal with the most serious and persistent young offenders. We should not delude ourselves; there are a significant number of young offenders who need to be detained. The number of offenders aged 15-17 sentenced by the courts to YOIs went up by a third between 1996 and 1997. This was the result of a large number of individual decisions that no other sentence was appropriate.

The Government made clear in its White Paper "No More Excuses" its belief that the present arrangements for providing and managing secure accommodation for juveniles are inefficient, incoherent and in need of reform.

Despite the efforts of staff in many establishments there is little positive to say about the present arrangements for youth custody as a whole. Regime standards are inconsistent. Costs vary considerably. Resources are inconsistently spread. Young offenders convicted of serious offences may find themselves accommodated in a local authority secure unit at a cost of pounds 2,500 a week each. Those sentenced to detection and training for lesser offences are not eligible for this service and are accommodated in Prison Service establishments at a cost of pounds 400 a week. The Home Secretary's Task Force on Youth Justice, of which I am chair, has argued for these inconsistencies to be addressed.

The Government may well ask the Youth Justice Board to work with it in considering alternatives to the current range of provision of secure accommodation, and in particular whether there is a role for accommodation that offers a level of security somewhere between that of current secure provision and a non-secure children's home. This suggestion has been made by the Task Force whose members believe that there may be mileage in re-examining the security aspects of detention to see whether some current levels of security are appropriate.

The Government will make clear fairly soon how it intends to move forward in the light of the Comprehensive Spending Review. In the meantime, however, there are already some substantial legislative developments in hand which will mean considerable changes in the way that young offenders are detained in future. These should ensure that there is far more emphasis on tackling the problem of offending behaviour, bearing in mind the young person's developmental needs and improving the through-care planning of their detention and release into the community.

I hope you will have noticed that I have managed so far without once using the terms "custody" or "custodial". The Task Force members have seen these terms as indicative of a non-developmental approach to young offenders, with overtones of warehousing. That is why we recommend to ministers the alternative terminology of detention and training which we hope will more usefully capture the spirit of what is intended in the future. We are detaining in order to train. That should be our approach.

Comments