Young adults in the criminal justice system Contents


The previous Committee’s report

1.Our predecessor Committee published a report on the treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system in October 2016 following a year-long inquiry. It concluded that:

2.The Committee produced the conclusions to its report in the form of a draft strategic approach which it wished to see the Government adopt. It did so because of the failure of consecutive Governments to act and in recognition of the weight and wealth of evidence provided to its inquiry, as well as the overwhelming enthusiasm within the sector for change.3

3.The report was one of a succession which have highlighted longstanding failures of the state in achieving positive outcomes for young adults, in prison in particular, although those serving community sentences also have high reoffending rates.4 Others included Lord Harris of Haringey’s July 2015 report on his inquiry on self-inflicted deaths in custody of 18 to 24-year olds, which made 108 recommendations for reform, and Baroness Young’s December 2014 review of outcomes for young black and Muslim men.5

The then Government’s response

4.The then Government’s response to our predecessor Committee’s report, was published in January 2017 when the Rt Hon Liz Truss MP was Secretary of State for Justice.6

Box 1: Key commitments and observations from the Government response

The Government made the following commitments and observations:

  • Stated that developing a criminal justice system response to maturity is key to improving results for young adults, rather than determining responses based on chronological age
  • Committed to early intervention to prevent young adults from entering the system
  • Noted that broader changes proposed in the Prison Safety and Reform White Paper, published in November 2016, would benefit young adults in prison, including:
    • creating dedicated officers for all prisoners;
    • making governors responsible for education and established the ‘Unlocked’ leadership development programme to seek the best graduates for officer and governor roles; and;
    • improving data on numbers of prisoners in suitable accommodation on release.
  • Noted that maturity is already taken account of in guidance that supports decision making and commissioning, including in:
    • NOMS’ evidence-based guidance for commissioners;
    • The Code for Crown Prosecutors in 2012;
    • Sentencing guidelines where age and lack of maturity is listed as a mitigating factor, and;
    • Pre-sentence reports for 18 to 25-year olds.
  • Committed to further research including
    • a review by the National Probation Service of what works best for 18 to 25-year olds in the community;
    • gathering information on the effectiveness of DYOI sentences and holding young adults in mixed settings; and;
    • a review of accredited programmes to determine how well they specifically target barriers for young adults.
  • Stated that existing data, such as the October 2016 Characteristics and needs of young adults in prison custody (published since the Committee’s report) and routine statistical publications (including proven re-offending, safer custody and the annual equalities report) provide sufficient evidence of the needs of 18–20 year olds and 21–25 year olds.
  • Committed to continue to develop a screening tool for psycho-social maturity, to enable prisons and probation to understand their populations and commission accordingly and to producing a resource pack to improve provision.
  • Stated that it had continue to make progress to improve the movement between the youth and adult justice systems, including implementing a transitions protocol agreed in 2012.

Source: Ministry of Justice, Government response to the Justice Committee’s Seventh Report of Session 2016–17: The treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system, 20 January 2017

Summary of subsequent developments

5.Since our predecessor Committee published its report there have been several important developments which provide context to our assessment of the Government’s progress in implementing the report’s recommendations. Stabilising prisons necessarily continues to be a high priority for the Ministry and HMPPS due to the ongoing decline in safety, living conditions, and in access to purposeful activity in many parts of the estate.7 The Ministry has recently met its target for the recruitment of 2,500 more prison officers who once fully deployed, and provided they are retained, are expected to build better working relationships with prisoners through the implementation of the Offender Management in Custody model. We consider this in chapter three.

6.The previous Government recognised in its November 2016 White Paper, Prison Safety and Reform, that outcomes for young adult men in prison were poor. It both agreed with our predecessor Committee that there was “a fresh imperative to re-assess our treatment of this group” and committed to “consider carefully” the recommendations in the report “within [their] wider efforts to provide a greater focus to young adults’ safety, their experience of rehabilitative activities and their education.” Several general measures which would benefit young adults were identified in their response to the Committee’s report. We discuss these in chapter three. The structural reforms stemming from the White Paper are examined in chapter two.

7.Progress in implementing prison and probation reforms which may have benefitted young adults has undoubtedly been hindered by the turnover in Secretaries of State for Justice. For example, we were promised in the Government response in January 2017 the publication of a review of the plans set out in the White Paper, accompanied by an action plan but, two Justice Secretaries later, following changes of Secretaries of State in June 2017 and January 2018, this has not materialised.8 Reviews of Transforming Rehabilitation reforms to probation services are also ongoing and on these we have recently carried out a separate inquiry. On the other hand, in recognition of the importance of a cross-government approach to those involved in the criminal justice system, one of the first steps of the present Secretary of State was to establish a Reducing Reoffending Taskforce, comprising senior Ministers and backed by the Prime Minister.9 Launching this, in March 2018, he said “re-offending is not solely a justice problem for my department, but it is a wider issue about social justice and ensuring that offenders, many of whom have complex backgrounds, are not dismissed as part of society.”10

8.There have been other relevant developments. The Lammy Review renewed focus on the disproportionate numbers of BAME people in the justice system with the challenge to “explain or reform” disparities.11 Tackling this is part of the Prime Minister’s stated aim to address social and racial injustice. The Ministry has responded by establishing a Race and Ethnicity Board—one of the priorities for which is the youth justice system (for the under 18s) where disparities were of greatest concern to Mr Lammy—and by embedding the principle of “explain or change”. We discuss this in chapter three. The Ministry has also embarked on a project to develop a long-term strategy for its future operating environment: Justice 2030.12

9.We welcome the Government’s commitment to social justice and the establishment of the Reducing Reoffending Taskforce in recognition of the importance of a cross-government approach to those involved in the criminal justice system. We also commend the commitment to address racial inequality, which David Lammy found to be particularly acute in parts of the criminal justice system.

Reasons for our follow-up report

10.On publication of the Government’s response to our predecessor’s report in January 2017, our Chair Bob Neill said:

This is a disappointing response which adds little to what we already knew. It is largely a recital of the Government’s existing plans and policies and pays inadequate attention to the powerful evidence which we received of the many failings of the current system and the need for a bolder and more focused approach to this particularly challenging but also vulnerable category of offenders. I shall be recommending to my committee colleagues that we pursue this matter much further with Ministers.13

11.The previous Committee had intended to adopt this approach when the election was called.14 We, as the new Committee, were supportive and we asked for a Minister to give evidence to enable us to review progress on this agenda since the publication of the report. On 7 November 2017, we took evidence from Dr Phillip Lee, then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Youth Justice, Victims, Female Offenders and Offender Health, accompanied by Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of HMPPS and Claire Toogood of the Youth Custody Service. While Mr Spurr explained that HMPPS had tried to turn a lot of what our predecessors’ report said into effective practice,15 we found the responses we received to our questions to be thin on examples of impact. For example, when we asked about progress in implementing a screening tool for maturity and in evaluating interventions tailored to young adults which had been in development at the time of our predecessor’s report, there had been seemingly little progress or evidence of outcomes.16 This did not persuade us that sufficient progress had been made in the year since our predecessor’s report.

12.We are grateful to the Ministry and HMPPS for subsequently setting out their activities more fully in response to our request to answer detailed follow-up questions. Notwithstanding this, we continue to regard progress as inadequate so we decided to publish a further Report examining both the oral evidence and the letter.17 We also wrote to the Sentencing Council and Crown Prosecution Service to ask them for updates on our recommendations about their work.

13.There was widespread support for our predecessor’s recommendations from criminal justice, health and youth organisations. Barrow Cadbury Trust—which has amassed significant evidence on the treatment of young adults over the last 10 years—wholeheartedly welcomed the “landmark and visionary” report, stating that it “ … includes a bold blueprint for a distinct approach to young adults throughout the criminal justice system”. It stated that the Transition to Adult Alliance (a coalition of 16 criminal justice, health and youth charities, led by Barrow Cadbury) welcomed our predecessor Committee’s conclusion that “all 18–25-year olds should be recognised as a distinct group” and agreed that there should be a “cross-governmental responsibility to enable young adults, particularly those who have faced challenge and difficulty to thrive”.18

1 Those parts of the brain influencing maturity that are the last to develop are responsible for controlling how individuals weigh long-term gains and costs against short-term rewards. As the system to regulate ‘reward seeking’ is still evolving this affects how young adults judge situations and decide to act, including consequential thinking, future-oriented decisions, empathy, remorse, and planning. (Justice Committee, The treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system, Seventh Report of Session 2016–17, HC 169, para 8)

2 Some prisons hold young men up to the age of 25, and others up to the age of 30. HMPPS’ guidance Achieving better outcomes for young adult men is targeted at those commissioning prison and probation for young men aged 18 to 20, despite that age distinction not being used for probation services. This publication acknowledges that the application of the guidance could make a different to young men over 20, particularly those aged up to 25.

3 HC 169, para 140

4 Ibid, paras 6; 11

8 The Rt Hon David Lidington MP was Justice Secretary from June 2017 to January 2018, replacing the Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP. Since January 2018, the role has been fulfilled by Rt Hon David Gauke MP.

9 Rt Hon David Gauke letter to Chair, Evidence session follow-up, March 2018

10 Rt Hon David Gauke MP, Prison Reform Speech, Royal Society for the Arts, 6 March 2018

11 I.e. If governments cannot provide an evidence-based explanation for apparent disparities, then reforms should be introduced to address them.

13 Justice Committee press notice, Chair comments on government response to young adults report, 20 January 2017

14 Justice Committee, Fifteenth Report of Session 2016–17, Justice Committee: unfinished business from the 2015 Parliament, HC1143, para 26

15 Q7

16 See for example, Qq7; 63–67

17 Letter Dr Lee to Justice Committee, 27 February 2018, Justice Committee Oral evidence: Young adults in the criminal justice system and youth custodial estate, HC 419, Tuesday 7 November 2017

Published: 20 June 2018