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Howard League calls for sentencing guidelines for young adults – a new report

Sentencing Young Adults: making the case for sentencing principles for young adults, The Howard League for Penal Reform, September 2018

The Howard League for Penal Reform have published a report which concludes that formal sentencing principles for 18 – 25 year olds, similar to the Sentencing Council guidelines that are in place for children, would assist the courts and improve sentencing outcomes.


Young adults (aged 18 to 25)  are a distinct group of offenders with age specific needs.  They are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and in its current state the sentencing process does not do enough to ensure the most effective outcomes possible and prevent re-offending.   The sentencing process does not sufficiently factor in the lessons from neuroscience, psychology and criminology concerning the development of young adults.  Sentencing principles for young adults should explore the relationship between immaturity and blameworthiness, capacity to change, the impact of race and histories of care, and how the principle that the best interests of a child is a primary consideration might be extended to apply to young adults.

Young adults have high rates of self-injury and suicide in custody and also of re-offending.  Participation work undertaken by the Howard League illustrates how disconnected many feel from the sentencing process.   The government and the Lord Chief Justice have acknowledged evidence put before them and accepted the need for a distinct approach to be taken to sentencing young adults.

The report sets out key aspects of the guideline for children and suggests how those principles might be adapted for young adults.  Further to the publication of the report, the Howard League have appointed an advisory board to assist them in developing draft sentencing principles for young adults.


A wealth of research across the fields of science and law all points towards the clear conclusion that adolescents are not fully mature at 18 and therefore need to be treated differently to adults within the criminal justice system.  Recent court of Appeal judgments such as R v Clarke acknowledge that 18 is not a cliff edge for the purposes of sentencing, however, formal sentencing principles for young adults in the form of a guideline would be welcomed.