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Tuesday, 07 November 2017

Minister calls for special unit for children convicted of sex offences

Written by Hayden Smith

A specialist unit could be created for children and teenagers convicted of sex offences, a Government minister has suggested.

Phillip Lee (pictured) said he had been encouraging the Ministry of Justice to examine whether the measure may be needed to hold those responsible for "dark and very troubling" crimes.

He told MPs: "There has been a small uptick in sexual crimes in young people. We had an 11-year-old convicted of rape last year.

"This is quite concerning. I think we are at the very early stages but I have encouraged the department to start thinking ahead in terms of do we need a special unit for children like this.

"It's very small numbers but the crimes are quite dark and very troubling. That is also in the mix in terms of how we see the structure of the future youth custody estate."

Last year a court heard how a boy who was 11 when he raped a nine-year-old boy may have been affected by online material.

The youngster, who was 13 when he was sentenced to four years' detention, was found to have made computer searches for "gay rape", "gay porn" and "gay rape porn".

Although the numbers held in youth custody have fallen sharply in recent years, those held over sex crimes are making up an increasing share of the overall population.

In the year to March 2016 there were 92 under-18s in detention for sexual crimes on average.

This figure was up by five compared with the previous 12 months, and equates to a tenth (10%) of the total locked up over the period - double the proportion of 5% recorded in the year ending March 2011.

In the adult estate sex offenders make up large proportions of the population in a number of establishments.

One is HMP Whatton in Nottinghamshire, a Category C training jail where the population is made up exclusively of sex offenders and specialist programmes are provided for inmates.

Youngsters convicted or accused of crimes are held in secure children's homes, secure training centres or young offender institutions (YOIs).

The overall number of 10 to 17-year-olds in custody in England and Wales has reduced substantially in the last decade. It stood at 893 in August, compared with nearly 3,000 in the same month of 2007.

Dr Lee told the Commons justice committee: "The management of the area that I'm responsible for, the under 18-year-olds, is extremely difficult.

"Governments of all political colours have done some good work in terms of reducing the numbers of people that we're holding. But we have been left with a very, very challenging cohort of individuals. I think the department recognises that."

Last year ministers unveiled plans to hold young offenders in "secure schools" rather than youth jails.

The proposals were drawn up in response to a review which called for "fundamental change" to the system.

It found children in public sector YOIs were only receiving 17 hours of education a week on average, compared with an expected level of 30 hours.

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