Howard League blog · 7 Mar 2017
The sentencing council published its revised guidance on sentencing children today. For the first time, the guidance refers to children as children. The previous edition referred to children as “youths”. This is a huge and welcome step forward and something we raised in our consultation response and discussed with their staff repeatedly.
Language matters and the new guidance brings to life the principle a child in trouble with the law is a child first and foremost. We are all more than the worst thing we have done. But in the case of children, there is a real risk that by failing to recognise them as children, we will push them deeper into lives of crime. The guidance says “sentencing should be individualistic and focused on the child or young person, as opposed to offence focused.”
The guidance also recognises the harm that can be caused by locking children up and requires sentencers to take into account the troubled backgrounds of children in the criminal justice system. Sending a child to prison can remove their chances of getting long term support from community children’s services, as well as ruin prospects for future employment. The guidance underlines the need for the courts to consider this when sentencing children.
I am also pleased that the guidance recognizes the disproportionate number of children from black and ethnic minority backgrounds caught up in the system and urges the courts to take the particular issues these children face into account when sentencing. This was absent from the original draft of the guidance and something we argued for strongly. Our work with children and young people shows that they feel that the colour of your skin does make a difference to the sentence you get. It is therefore encouraging that the guidance now explicitly deals with the particular issues BAME children face.
The guidance is there; but the courts have to use it to achieve much needed change to our system.