The treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system Contents


Our inquiry considered a range of questions about the treatment of young adults—18 to 24 year olds—in the criminal justice system, taking into account recent research into the subject and the work of others, including the report by Lord Harris of Haringey into self-inflicted deaths in custody of 18-24 year olds. Our principal conclusions and recommendations are presented in Chapter 4 of this Report. They take the form of a blueprint for a strategic approach to the treatment of young adults, under the ownership of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) but with the involvement of a range of criminal justice agencies.

In Chapter 1 of the Report we consider evidence on the needs and characteristics of young adults in the criminal justice system, including propensity to criminal behaviour arising from factors such as their social background, and research into young people’s psychological and neurological maturation and issues such as brain development, learning disability and acquired and traumatic brain injury. Our conclusion from this evidence is that “there is a strong case for a distinct approach to the treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system” and that “[d]ealing effectively with young adults while the brain is still developing is crucial for them in making successful transitions to a crime-free adulthood” (paragraph 24).

In Chapter 2 we look at the current approaches of the Ministry of Justice, the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and other criminal justice agencies towards young adults, examining questions of governance, policy and practice. On the issue of governance, we conclude that existing arrangements are “unsatisfactory” and that “the various age definitions applied by the [MoJ] are … confusing and do not inspire [a] coherent approach …” (paragraph 32).

In respect of their policies and guidance, it is our view that the MoJ and NOMS do not give sufficient weight to the implications of brain maturation for young adult men and women aged 21 to 25 (paragraph 44). We welcome the MoJ’s commitment to develop a screening tool for assessing psycho-social maturity for use in prisons and also potentially community settings, although we consider that the omission of certain factors such as mental disorders from the screening process may be a missed opportunity (paragraph 53). Similarly, we welcome the inclusion of the considerations of maturity in the Crown Prosecution Service Code and Sentencing Council guidelines, while noting that it is not clear what impact this has had in practice (paragraph 77). On the question of probation services following the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms we welcome robust measures put in place by the Youth Justice Board, the National Probation Service and NOMS to handle the transition from the youth justice system to adult services (paragraph 84).

In Chapter 3 of our Report we consider the merits of various options proposed to us in evidence to improve the way young adults are treated in the CJS, such as extending the youth justice system to include young adults, improving screening tools and assessments, preventing and countering violence and self-inflicted harm, ensuring developmentally appropriate interventions designed to encourage desistance from crime, and introducing reforms to practices in courts, prisons and the community with the same objectives. Our discussion of these options informs the blueprint for a strategic approach which we present in Chapter 4 of our Report.

Concluding that there is overwhelming evidence that the CJS does not adequately address the distinct needs of young adults, despite assurances given by the Government, our blueprint has the following main components:

24 October 2016