Conservative MP, Paul Maynard, and Labour Shadow Justice Minister, Andy Slaughter, speak about young adults, the German model, and maturity, in a House of Commons debate on Transparency and Consistency of Sentencing, at which Dominic Grieve and Ken Clarke were present.
Paul Maynard (Conservative, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys):
Despite the fall in child custody, one in 10 prisoners are still in the 18 to 20 age group. Admittedly, this has spiked because of the riots, quite correctly in my view. However, the independent panel that looked into the riots identified the lack of support for young people moving from the youth justice system to the adult justice system as a contributory factor to the occurrence of the riots, which is worth bearing in mind. The Barrow Cadbury Trust found that almost half of those in the 18 to 20 age group were in local authority residential care and 40% had suffered some sort of domestic violence. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has stated in a Centre for Social Justice report that
“increasing penalties for offenders will do little to stop the next generation of prisoners and unlock the cycle of deprivation which so many young people are trapped in, unless it is accompanied by an attempt to tackle the underlying drivers of crime.”
That is why I am concerned that any model that focuses simply on imprisonment and increasing the number of prisoners will not solve the wider problem we face.
We all age physically at different speeds, but we also age emotionally at different speeds. The human brain is not mature until the mid-20s—I suspect that for certain Members it might be much older, but I do not dare to speculate. It is worth looking at the model used in Germany, where those in the 18 to 21 age group are assessed for maturity. If the individual has a communication delay or learning disabilities, for example, there is the option that they will be disposed of through the youth justice process. That has been shown to work well in solving individual problems.
It is also important that our political rhetoric in the Chamber, on both sides, is mature when we discuss criminal justice. The Prison Reform Trust—I declare an interest as a trustee—recently published a report examining the reasons for the decline in child imprisonment. It found that politicians had played no role in that at all. Indeed, the best it could say about us was that we did not impede the process. I welcome the fact that the Government and others are now rejecting the easy, knee-jerk options. The Mayor’s strategy on youth crime, for example, was notably mature and robust in how it sought to tackle the issue. Similarly, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has made great strides in the right direction, although I am sure that we would want to see some of them move more quickly. I commend the Sentencing Council for the judicious work it has done so far, and I congratulate the Opposition, empty though their Benches are, on having done the right thing in setting it up.
In response to Paul Maynard, Andy Slaughter, labour shadow justice minster, said:
The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, who is now in his place, made a clear case, and one that should be heard in this House, for the reduction in prison numbers… I agreed absolutely when he talked about the need for effective community punishments and the previous Government’s record on reducing youth custody by 30%. He raised the subject of young adults and 18 to 24-year-olds in prison, which I know the Prison Reform Trust is currently looking at. It is a neglected area. However it is to be dealt with, whether it is through NOMS or whether it is through the Youth Justice Board, it is an area to which we urgently need to turn our attention.