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Young adult offenders inquiry launched

21 July 2015

The Justice Committee is holding an inquiry into the treatment of young adult offenders in the criminal justice system.


The number of young adults in custody is falling, partly as a consequence of there being fewer younger offenders both entering the criminal justice system and being sentenced to custody. Those that remain in the custodial estate have become more challenging to manage in several respects. Following some poor prison inspection reports the previous Government consulted on how best to manage young adults in prison and deferred taking decisions on this until after the publication of Lord Harris of Haringey's independent review examining the circumstances in which a number of young adults had died in custody.

The lessons learned from this Review are broad-ranging. Lord Harris made recommendations to encourage the diversion of more young people from custody as well as to improve the custody system for those young people who remain in it, and concluded that action on these should be an urgent priority.

The Committee considers that it is timely to hold an inquiry to:

  • assess the implications of the findings of the Harris Review and selected recommendations for current policy and practice
  • examine the evidence on what might constitute more effective or appropriate treatment of young adults throughout the criminal justice process
  • review the impact of guidance to sentencers and prosecutors which advises that they consider the maturity of the offender in their decisions.

The Committee's remit does not extend to the police; for the purposes of this inquiry the criminal justice system is taken to include the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts, the sentencing framework, youth offending teams, probation services and prisons.

Written submissions

The Committee welcomes submissions by 30 September 2015 addressing this subject, with particular reference to the following points:

  • The nature and effectiveness of the Ministry of Justice's strategy and governance structures for dealing with young adult offenders.
  • The suitability of current provision for young adult offenders i) in the community and ii) in custody, including the extent to which there is distinct provision currently, and addressing the following questions:
    • What is the evidence on how outcomes across a range of measures for young adult offenders compare with other offenders?
    • Taking into account the findings of the Harris Review, what measures should be prioritised in addressing levels of suicide, self-harm, and violence amongst young adult offenders currently held in custody?
    • What impact have the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms had on the transition between youth offending teams and probation services?
  • The Harris Review advocated a distinct approach to young adult offenders. Is this desirable? If so, what would this entail i) in the community and ii) in custody? If not, why not? Please also address the following questions:
    • Should sentence to detention in a young offender institution for 18-20 year old offenders be abolished? If so, what should replace it?
    • The Harris Review concluded that all young adults in prison are vulnerable and that the experience of being in prison is particularly damaging to them as they are developing. Do you agree?
    • The Harris Review recommended that more young adults should be diverted from custody and from the criminal justice system. Is it appropriate to seek to divert more young adults from custody and the criminal justice system, and if so, how would this best be achieved?
  • What legislative or other barriers are there to more appropriate practices for young adult offenders and how could these be overcome?
  • What impact, if any, has the introduction of maturity as a mitigating factor in sentencing decisions had on sentencing practice for young adults? Do sentencers have sufficient information to make assessments of maturity?
  • What impact, if any, has the inclusion of the concept of maturity in guidance for assessing culpability (in the Code of Conduct for the Crown Prosecution Service) had on prosecution decisions? Do prosecutors have sufficient information to make such assessments?
  • How could a criminal justice system which would treat young adults on the basis of maturity rather than age operate in practice?

The evidence submitted to the Harris Review is available publicly and should not be resubmitted to this inquiry.

The deadline for written submissions to be made is Wednesday 30 September 2015.

Please note that the Committee may not investigate or intervene in individual cases. Submissions may make reference to individual cases for illustrative purposes, provided they are not the subject of legal proceedings currently before UK courts.

Further information

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