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Child and adolescent brain development and its impact on propensity to criminal behaviour

The treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system: Seventh Report of Session 2016-17: House of Commons Justice Committee

This report about young adults in the criminal justice system is a helpful reminder to the judiciary, lawyers and other youth justice professionals that adolescent brain development and children’s immaturity has a direct impact on criminal behaviour and has implications for how they should be treated in the criminal justice system.

Details

This report focuses prodominately on ‘young adults’ as opposed to children. It suggests that there should be a distinct approach to the treatment of ‘young adults’ in the criminal justice system because their brain is still developing. It identifies that ‘young adults’ are still developing neurologically up to the age of 25 and have a high prevalence of neuro-disabilities and mental disorders.

  • “In typical brain maturation, temperance—the ability to evaluate the consequences of actions and to limit impulsiveness and risk-taking—is a significant factor in moderating behaviour and the fact that its development continues into a person’s 20s can influence anti-social decision-making among young adults.” [paragraph 9]
  • “Young adults offend the most but have the most potential to stop offending. They are resource intensive as they are challenging to manage. A strong case could be made for recognising that expenditure to make the system more developmentally responsive would pay dividends in reduced costs to the system in reducing incidents of violence and to society in reducing offending and the creation of further victims.”[paragraph 139]
  • “Both age and maturity should be taken into significantly greater account within the criminal justice system. The rationale of the system for young adults should presume that up to the age of 25 young adults are typically still maturing. A developmental approach should be taken that recognises that how they perceive, process and respond to situations is a function of their developmental stage and other factors affecting their maturity, and secondarily their culture and life experience.” [paragraph 141]

 

Read the full report – The treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system: Seventh Report of Session 2016-17: House of Commons Justice Committee.

 

Commentary

This report focuses primarily on young adults between 18-25 and identifies that a clear distinction should be made for this group within the criminal justice system.

The evidence set out in the report about immaturity and brain development is relevant to all children. The report highlights that these factors are often inextricably linked to their offending behaviour and the fact that children and young adults have the greatest potential to stop offending. The report is a helpful reminder of the significant weight that should be placed on these factors when considering how to deal with both children and young adults in the criminal justice system.

 

By Ashley Fields (YJLC Legal Researcher)