Skip Content

Children and young people

Children and young people in conflict with the law need love and support, not locking up. There are better ways to ensure that the troubled child of today does not become the adult prisoner of tomorrow. Justice for children and young people is at the heart of the Howard League’s work.


Despite the significant reductions in the number of children in prison, England and Wales still has the highest level of child imprisonment in Western Europe. The Howard League is concerned that too many children under the age of 18 are still being brought into conflict with the criminal justice system, with negative implications for their future lives at the expense of their communities and the taxpayer.

As the primary gatekeepers to the youth justice system, the police determine who enters. The Howard League has been campaigning for improvements in the policing of children in England and Wales. As a result of this campaign there has been real change – the number of child arrests has reduced by 55 per cent since 2010.

The Howard League produces publications on youth justice, provides expert briefings and submissions to parliament and responds to consultations.

We work closely with voluntary organisations across the world. The Howard League was one of the first non-governmental organisations to be granted special consultative status with the United Nations and have consultative status with the Council of Europe. We have many years’ experience of monitoring the application of international treaties ratified by the UK government. We regularly attend international conferences and conduct visits in order to promote best practice in the penal system.

The Howard League is a core member of the NGO panel on the UN global study on children deprived of liberty. We are also working with international partners to enhance and promote children’s rights behind bars. This work has led to the development of a European guide on monitoring places of child detention.

The Howard League provides support to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, which conducted an inquiry into girls in the criminal justice system. Two briefing papers were published as a result of this inquiry: Keeping girls out of the penal system and From courts to custody.

Young adults

Young adults are classified as being 18-21 in prisons and 18-24 to by many campaigners. These young people often fall between the child and the adult social care and justice systems. They are often left with little or no support, both in prison and in the community. Young adults are the group of prisoners most likely to reoffend on release, yet there is no particular regime, training or education for 18 to 21 year olds whilst in prison. The result is that many spend most of the day locked up in their cells doing nothing. As a whole, young adults are overlooked in every aspect of their sentence and resettlement.

The Howard League also provides briefings and submissions on the specific needs of young adults in the criminal justice system and was a founding member of T2A (Transition to Adulthood Alliance).

Our legal support

The Howard League legal team provide free, independent and confidential advice, assistance and representation on a wide range of issues to young people under 21 who are in prisons or secure children’s homes and centres.

  • Join the Howard League

    We are the world's oldest prison charity, bringing people together to advocate for change.

    Join us and make your voice heard
  • Support our work

    We safeguard our independence and do not accept any funding from government.

    Make a donation