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Howard League blog · 7 Mar 2017

Children first

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.


  • Trevor says:

    Locking children up should always be the last resort and other means should be used to help children reject unlawful activities in favor of lawful and beneficial ones.
    As for the sad fact that a disproportionate number of children from black and ethnic minority backgrounds are often caught up in the system,
    more must be done to engage with young children from the black and ethnic communities, and encourage them to use their time and energy doing things which will truly benefit them and society and help to reduce the amount of young people that end up in the criminal penal system.
    No amount of time or money should be spared in the cause of helping to keep as many young (and often very vulnerable) people on the straight path and away from the crooked path which leads to crime and prison.
    I want to end by thanking Frances Crook for using her own time to speak up on behalf of people who often go unheard in society.
    I am truly heartened by ms crook’s empathy.
    Thank you Frances and long may you continue giving your time and voice on behalf of those who go unheard and unseen.

  • This Guideline: Domestic and international laws dictate that a custodial sentence should always be a measure
    of last resort for children and young people and statute provides that a custodial sentence
    may only be imposed when the offence is so serious that no other sanction is appropriate (see
    section six for more information on custodial sentences).
    Must be observed.

    They say that about drug law offences. But it is not true then imprisonment is nearly always the first resort.

    Can this be trusted?

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