Bishop of Portsmouth speaks about needs of young people in the criminal justice system

On 29th October 2015 the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Harris of Haringey “that this House takes note of the case for taking action to address the problems of young people before they enter the criminal justice system in order to reduce the prison population, improve conditions within prison, and focus on the rehabilitation of prisoners, as set out in The Harris Review: Changing Prisons, Saving Lives.” The Bishop of Portsmouth, Rt Rev Christopher Foster, spoke in the debate.

14.04.09 Portsmouth maiden speech 2

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I welcome the very thorough and wide-ranging review conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. The Bishop to Prisons, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, regrets that he cannot be in his place today and contribute to this very welcome debate. The Harris inquiry took every opportunity to talk to young people and to the families who have tragically lost their children while they were in the care of the state in prisons and young offender institutions.

That terrible toll has of course been the subject of more than one inquiry. Fatally Flawed was a joint report by INQUEST and the Prison Reform Trust into deaths between 2003 and 2010. In 2014, the Youth Justice Board issued its report, Deaths of Children in Custody. In late 2013, the National Offender Management Service launched a consultation on integrating 18 to 21 year-olds into mainstream prisons. The main reasons were, first, that concentrating this relatively volatile age group into dedicated establishments increased the tensions and risks and, secondly, that integration would enable young adults to be placed in resettlement prisons relatively near to their home area and to receive better resettlement services. As far as I am aware, there has not yet been an outcome from this proposal, and the findings of the Harris review about the specific needs of the 18 to 24 age group must place some question marks against it.

The Harris review emphasises that young people continue to develop physically and neurologically into their mid-20s in ways that affect not only their behaviour but their ability to cope with custody and separation from their families. They have particular care and support needs, therefore, and the review proposes a new role of custody and rehabilitation officer: a person properly trained to work with young people, with awareness of mental health and risk issues, replacing the personal officer scheme, which is not working effectively in most establishments. The key may not be that that entire proposal should be embraced but that there should be staff trained sufficiently to manage this age group. The needs of care-leavers tend to be especially acute.

The Harris review rightly emphasises the impact of lack of purposeful activity in this age group. It draws attention to the persistent evidence of inspection reports that purposeful activity and time out of the cell are seriously inadequate. At the simplest level, the impact of a lack of time in the fresh air—just 30 minutes a day in many adult prisons—is significant for the health and well-being of younger people. The review notes a similar shortfall in rehabilitation and resettlement work. It also observes:

“NOMS management have no proper means of assessing whether sufficient care is being given to vulnerable young adults or, indeed, whether minimum standards are being met”.

Those convicted of crimes need to have as much access to rehabilitative work as possible, not least so as to prevent crime, and the impact and suffering caused to victims of crime.

Finally and importantly, I add a warm tribute to the hard and effective work of custodial prison staff. Many young people are given support at crucial moments by staff who have learnt to spot signs of anxiety or low mood. Many lives are saved by a timely word or action. The review mentions the valuable role of prison chaplains. They play an important part, not only in offering the resources of faith but as part of the team in the assessment, care in custody and teamwork processes which are used actively to support those at risk of suicide or self-harm.

The Harris review confirms the growing sense that, just as childhood continues to the age of 18, so the process of physical, neurological and psychological maturity to adulthood goes on from there into the 20s, and that the penal custody system should take account of that.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Faulks) (Con): [Extract]…I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the work of the Prison Service. I am grateful for the observations of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth in that regard. In challenging conditions, the men and women who work in and for prisons do a fantastic job, keeping society safe from those who would pose a danger and rehabilitating inmates so that they can once again contribute to society.



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