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20 Jan 2021

Howard League responds to thematic inspection report on outcomes for young adults in prison

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ thematic report on outcomes for young adults in prison, published today (Wednesday 20 January).

In his report, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, finds that the Prison Service has failed for more than a decade to deal effectively with those aged under 25 and warns that outcomes will remain poor unless it urgently addresses its “haphazard” approach to the more than 15,000 young adults in its care.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “When a young adult is in trouble with the law, it is in everyone’s interest to address the root causes of their behaviour and guide them away from crime.

“Prison will never achieve this, and it is inappropriate to suggest that it presents an opportunity for people; it should always be a last resort. Sending a young person to prison damages them and holds them back, and this important report, drawing on more than a decade of mistreatment in overcrowded jails across the country, lists many of the reasons why.

“Solving the problem begins with recognising the overwhelming evidence that young adults should be treated as a distinct group from older adults. Supporting judges and magistrates to make better-informed sentencing decisions would ease pressure on the prisons, make communities safer and improve outcomes for young people who need support.”

There is a consensus that young adults should be treated as a distinct group from older adults in the criminal justice system 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 2019, the Howard League launched a document setting out sentencing principles that ought to be applied to young adults.

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 problems faced by young adults in prison during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic were laid bare in a Howard League briefing last year.

Young Adults in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic revealed that young adults were being held in prolonged solitary confinement, with no face-to-face visits or education and most support services having withdrawn.

The briefing added that young adults were experiencing mental health problems as a direct result of the restrictions.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. Sentencing principles for young adults can be downloaded from the Howard League website.
  3. Young Adults in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic can be downloaded from the Howard League website.
  4. Outcomes for young adults in custody will be published on Wednesday 20 January on the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955

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