Bridget Phillipson, Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South, has used a parliamentary question to ask the government to think again over proposals to introduce secure colleges to England and Wales.
As part of plans to reform the youth justice system and reduce reoffending rates, the government intends to build secure colleges for the education of young criminals. The first of these colleges will open in Leicestershire in 2017 and will house 320 young offenders aged between 12 and 17 years old.
Concerns have been raised by organisations such as The Other Place and the Chair of the Youth Justice Board about placing the youngest offenders and girls in these colleges. They have pointed out that it is inappropriate to place these groups in secure colleges populated predominantly with older boys - 95% of young offenders are boys and 89% of young offenders are aged between 15 and 17.
Bridget echoed these concerns in the House of Commons this week when she asked Andrew Selous, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, to act on the advice of the char of the Youth Justice Board and find alternative provision for girls and the youngest offenders.
In his reply, the Minister stated that girls and young people under the age of 15 will not be placed in the secure college when it starts, and that the decision as to whether they would in the future would be the subject of a vote in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
Speaking after Justice Questions, Bridget said:
“We all want to see reoffending rates among young people fall, but I have serious concerns over the government’s plans for secure colleges.
"Education is crucial to rehabilitation, but building a single new institution will do little to reduce reoffending rates.
"Although the Minister stated that no girls or people under the age of 15 will be housed in the secure college in Leicestershire when it opens, I am worried about that this still remains a possibility in the future.
"Girls and the youngest offenders, who form a very small proportion of the total number of young offenders, should not be placed in the same lessons or take part in the same recreational activities as older groups. They require education, mentoring and support tailored to their age and gender group."