Gove pledges action on youth custody safety

By Neil Puffett

| 18 March 2016

Action will be taken to tackle gang problems and improve safety in youth jails, Justice Secretary Michael Gove has told MPs.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove said additional investment is being considered to tackle safety issues in youth jails. Picture: Parliament TV

Appearing before the justice select committee, Gove said he has been working with Charlie Taylor, who is currently conducting a review of the youth justice system, and Michael Spurr, the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, to address issues in the youth secure estate.

"[We are] making sure we have the additional investment, specifically in the youth estate in order to deal with some of these problems," Gove said.

There have been concerns about safety in the youth secure estate and issues with gangs for some time. Last January, it emerged that the Youth Justice Board (YJB) was considering placing police officers in Feltham Young Offenders Institution (YOI) in an effort to tackle high levels of gang violence.

Responding to a question from Conservative MP Victoria Prentis, who said she was "horrified" to find out how many hours a day children were spending in their cells in order to keep them safe from other young people, Gove said things need to change.

"I wouldn't want to second guess the operational decisions of individual governors, but across the youth estate we have got to make sure that young people are engaged in purposeful activity," Gove said.

"And of course, by definition, those young people who are going to find themselves in custody will often be those who are guilty of violent or gang-related offences.

"But we should not flinch from the need to ensure that those people are undertaking purposeful activity by praying in aid security excuses.

Gove told MPs that it is "counterproductive" to keep young people in their cells for too long.

"Yes, there will always be people who need segregation," he said.

"There will always be people who need particular interventions, but you have got to get young people out, and active, and learning, and physically active as well, because otherwise you are keeping the lid screwed too tightly on a pressure cooker."

Gove also agreed to a request from the committee's chair Conservative MP Robert Neill to  extend the remit of Charlie Taylor’s ongoing review into the youth justice system to cover young adults up to the age of 24.

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