The government has stalled on a controversial proposal to move young offenders into adult prisons once they reach the age of 18, following concerns from campaigners and peers.
The proposal, contained in the Offender Management Bill that had its second reading in the House of Lords yesterday, would mean juvenile criminals will no longer be held in young offender institutions after their 18th birthday but transferred to adult prisons instead.
Children’s charity Rainer, backed by penal reformers, said this week it would withdraw its support for the bill if government did not drop the proposal, arguing that it could put vulnerable young prisoners at risk.
In the House of Lords yesterday, Home Office minister Baroness Scotland said she would seek to table an amendment to remove the proposal “for the time being” while the government’s current review of provision for 18-21 year olds in prison was completed.
Lord Avebury accused the government of “stealthily” introducing the proposal, claiming that Brixton, Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs prisons, all in London, had been told to take prisoners on remand under the age 21 from May 1, and “treat them the same as over-21s” except in cell-sharing arrangements.
He said: “If these young people are to be helped to live normal lives, they need specialist care during their sentence and after release. Sticking them in adult prisons where they will experience an acute lack of purposeful activity and accredited training in offending behaviour programmes, as well as insufficient exercise and association, ineffective personal officer schemes, poor mental health provision and patchy resettlement help, is a disaster.”
Lord Adebowale, chief executive of charity Turning Point, said: “Current failures in the treatment of young offenders in the criminal justice system will not be solved by simply decanting those offenders into adult prisons. I am aware that the government are fully aware of that point, and they should await the conclusions of the review of young adult offenders before the current provision is removed, so that we know what it says.”