Irish Penal Reform Trust

UK: Sentencing Young Adults

20th September 2018

Sentencing Young Adults: Making the case for sentencing principles for young adults presents research by the Howard League for Penal Reform on the need for the development of formal sentencing principles for young adults aged 18 to 25.

The report, which draws on Howard League participation work with young adults, sets out how principled guidelines would help judges and magistrates to understand young adults better, and provide a legal framework to achieve better sentencing decisions. It recommends that the principles should consider the relationship between immaturity and blameworthiness, capacity to change, and the impact of race and histories of care.

The report states that there is a growing consensus that young adults aged 18 to 25 should be treated as a distinct group from older adults, largely because they are still maturing. The sentencing process, as it stands, does not sufficiently factor in the lessons from neuroscience, psychology and criminology concerning the development of young adults.

At present, sentencing practice in respect of young adults barely differs from the process for older adults in England & Wales. The only way in which current sentencing practice facilitates a different approach for young adults is by including “age and/or lack of maturity” as a mitigating factor in sentencing. At present, there is no guidance to require judges to apply the vast body of knowledge and evidence about young adults to the sentencing process. 

Building on the work of the Sentencing Council’s overarching principles for sentencing children, the research advocates for the development of distinct formal sentencing principles for young adults.

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