The government intends to start work this year to establish special premises within prisons for 15-to-17 year-old-boys remanded or sentenced to custody, and to improve the care and regimes delivered within the prison service.
Junior home office minister George Howarth also told MPs yesterday that an assessment was under way of the needs of young women offenders under the age of 18. He was replying to Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East, who asked when the practice of holding 15 and 16-year-olds in adult prisons was expected to end.
Dr Lewis said that when Labour was in opposition its shadow home affairs team, led by Tony Blair, repeatedly castigated as inadequate the Conservative programme for providing no fewer than 170 secure local authority places. Now, under repeated questioning from James Clappison, Conservative MP for Hertsmere, the government had admitted it has provided only six extra places since it came into office.
But Mr Clappison reminded the minister that Tony Blair had said that places in local authority secure accomodation could be provided 'without delay'.
He added: 'The Labour government have provided only six places. Are not the government welshing on what they said in opposition, when they undertook to deal with the matter by providing more places in local authority secure accomodation? Now they are saying that the 15 and 16-year-olds should be held in part of the prison estate. Are they not reneging on commitments given by the prime minister in opposition?'
Mr Howard said that was 'outrageous'. The previous government did nothing about the growing problem of how to deal with juveniles.