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30 Jan 2019

Howard League proposes five principles that ought to be applied when sentencing young adults

 OPERATIONAL NOTE

Date: Wednesday 30 January 2019
Time: 6pm
Address: Doughty Street Chambers, 54 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LS

A new document, setting out five sentencing principles that ought to be applied to young adults, will be launched by the Howard League for Penal Reform on Wednesday 30 January.

The proposed principles for young adults, typically aged 18 to 25, have been devised in line with developments in case law, science and social studies. If applied, they would assist the courts and improve sentencing outcomes.

The Howard League brought together an advisory group of experts to help draft the principles, drawing on the charity’s legal and participation work and the growing knowledge base about the needs and characteristics of young people.

The Howard League is a founding member of the Transition 2 Adulthood (T2A) Alliance, a broad coalition of leading charities working to evidence and promote the need for a distinct and effective approach to young adults in the transition to adulthood, throughout the criminal justice process.

The five sentencing principles:

1. Young adults, typically aged 18 to 25, should be treated as a distinct category for the purposes of sentencing.

2. Custody should be a last resort for young adults.

3. Where a custodial sentence is imposed, the term should take into account the impact of prolonged custody on the young adult’s well-being and life chances.

4. The period of any custodial term should be less than that imposed on an older adult.

5. When considering mitigating factors, attention should be paid to how they particularly affect young adults.

More than 140,000 young adults aged 18 to 24 were sentenced to a community penalty or imprisonment in criminal courts in 2017. Imprisonment of young adults can have tragic consequences – between 2006 and 2016, 164 young adults aged 18 to 24 died in custody, of whom 136 lost their lives through suicide.

There is now a consensus that young adults aged 18 to 25 should be treated as a distinct group from older adults, largely because they are still maturing.

Particularly compelling is the neurological and psychological evidence that development of the frontal lobes – the area of the brain that helps to regulate decision-making and the control of impulses that underpin criminal behaviour – does not cease until the age of about 25.

In terms of brain physiology, susceptibility to peer pressure appears to continue until at least the mid-twenties, and the brain continues to mature in this period. Such evidence has led to calls from senior paediatricians to redefine ‘adolescence’ as the period between ages 10 and 24, and to reframe laws, social policies and service systems accordingly.

There is also evidence that one of the prevailing characteristics of this age range is the differing rates of development within the group – maturation occurs at different rates between individuals. Determining factors are not well understood, but there is growing recognition that social contexts have a strong influence, including those likely to also be influencing offending behaviour.

Dr Laura Janes, Legal Director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The Howard League’s legal and participation work with young adults shows that sentencing can have an enormous impact on their development and life chances.

“In spite of overwhelming evidence that young adults should be treated as a distinct group from older adults, the sentencing process, as it stands, does not sufficiently factor in the lessons from neuroscience, psychology and criminology.

“If applied, the sentencing principles proposed by the Howard League would enable judges and magistrates to make better-informed decisions, and prevent more young people from being swept into deeper currents of crime and despair.”

The launch event is to be held at Doughty Street Chambers in London. Taking part in a panel discussion will be: Edward Fitzgerald QC, Joint Head, Doughty Street Chambers; Ntale Eastmond, Young Adult Advisor on Criminal Justice; The Honourable Mrs Justice McGowan, Sentencing Council; Dr Laura Janes, Legal Director, Howard League for Penal Reform; Quincy Whitaker, Doughty Street Chambers; and Professor Nathan Hughes, Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield.

Notes to editors

  1. The Transition to Adulthood (T2A) Alliance is a broad coalition of 16 leading criminal justice, health and youth charities working to evidence and promote the need for a distinct and effective approach to young adults in the transition to adulthood, throughout the criminal justice process. Views of the T2A Alliance are not necessarily the views of every member of the alliance.
  2. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world and a member of the T2A Alliance. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison. 
  3. Sentencing principles for young adults can be read online at: https://howardleague.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Sentencing-principles-for-young-adults.pdf

The Howard League brought together an advisory group of experts to help devise the sentencing principles for young adults. Members of the board included:

  • Andrew Ashworth QC (Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford);
  • Dr Tim Bateman (University of Bedfordshire);
  • Dr Louise Bowers (Forensic psychologist);
  • Jo Cecil (Barrister, Garden Court Chambers);
  • Dr Alexandra Cox (University of Essex);
  • Dr Enys Delmage (Royal College of Psychiatrists);
  • Janet Denman (Magistrate);
  • Claire Dissington (Solicitor, Edward Fail, Bradshaw & Waterson);
  • Cindy Doyle MacRae (In a personal capacity, but with significant experience in probation and youth justice);
  • Edward Fitzgerald QC (Doughty Street Chambers);
  • Francis Fitzgibbon QC (23 Essex Street);
  • Dr Andrew Forrester (Royal College of Psychiatrists);
  • Professor Nathan Hughes (University of Sheffield);
  • Dr Shona Minson (University of Oxford);
  • Dr Suzella Palmer (University of Bedfordshire);
  • Professor Huw Williams (University of Exeter).

Contact

Andrew Neilson
Director of Campaigns
The Howard League for Penal Reform
Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7868
Mobile: +44 (0)7918 681094
Email: robert.preece@howardleague.org

ISDN line available on 020 7923 4196 – uses a G722 system

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