Irish Penal Reform Trust

UK: Report into the distinct needs of young adult women in custody

26th February 2016

Following on from their 2013 ‘Young Adults in Custody’ report, which took a broad view of the issues relating to young adults in prison, the Transition to Adulthood Alliance (T2A) have just released a new report examining the evidence on how best the prison system can meet the discrete needs of young adult women (aged 18-24) in prison. Of deep concern, however, is the report’s finding that prisons are failing to meet the distinct needs of the young adult women population, across a wide range of areas including mental health, education and resettlement.

Research undertaken as part of the report showed that all women over 18 and in prison are treated the same and mixed together, despite the evidence suggesting that young adult women should be treated differently to older women due to their distinct set of needs and characteristics.

It was highlighted that the proportion of 18-24’s in UK prisons has actually declined in recent years, but the young adults who remain “are some of the most vulnerable, troubled young adults and have complex needs”. Young adult women are likely to find it particularly difficult to cope with the strains of prison life, and are more likely than older women to self-harm, be the victim of more recent traumas and to report an alcohol problem on arrival at prison. Many will have been expelled from school at some point. Their ongoing neurological and hormonal development also make them more susceptible to peer pressure and put them at increased risk of exploitation by other prisoners, both older and younger.

Crucially though, the findings suggest a strong case for community-based alternatives to prison could be made for the large majority of young adult women in UK prisons. For example, it was found that most young adult women in prison are either on remand or serving short sentences of less than six months, with the vast majority convicted of less serious non-violent crimes. Furthermore, about a quarter of young adult women in prison are the mothers of young children. 

Read the report in full here

Read More:

IPRT: Turnaround Youth – Young Adult’s in the Criminal Justice System

IPRT Position Paper 10: Women in the Criminal Justice System 

IPRT: “Picking Up the Pieces”: The Rights and Needs of Children Affected by Imprisonment


Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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