Minister depressed after visit to secure juvenile unit

Home office minister Hilary Benn admitted that visiting a secure
juvenile establishment was the most depressing moment of his life,
writes Clare Jerrom.

Benn, who has responsibility for prisons and probation, told
Nacro’s annual conference that the visit motivated him to say that
more has to be done to improve conitions in these settings.

“What we have done in the past is not acceptable, and what we
must do in the future must be better” said Benn, who has taken
ministerial responsibility for children and young people in the
three weeks following John Denham’s resignation.

The number of juveniles in custody has started to decline, Benn
said welcoming the shift. Putting people into custody is not an
article of government policy, he insisted, but protecting the
public is, he said.

The biggest gap, he added, is what support is available for
people in the community after prison, and it is important to get
that right.

But there is now a greater interest at government level in
prevention, he continued. “If we can intervene with support at an
earlier stage before problems become too difficult to manage, I
think it is a challenge worth rising to,” Benn said, adding that
the forthcoming green paper on children at risk will look at

It is also important to look at whether the structures are
currently right at a local level for children at risk, he said. “I
think the honest truth is that we haven’t quite got the structures
right,” he said.

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