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Young adults in the criminal justice system – a Justice Committee report

Young adults in the Criminal Justice System, House of Commons Justice Committee, June 2018

This report calls on the Ministry of Justice to take decisive action to reform the way young adults are dealt with in the criminal justice system (CJS).    It advocates revisiting urgently previous recommendations for a new framework for the disclosure of criminal records for children and young adults. It states that by 2030 the committee expect ‘prison and probation services to have developed approaches which properly assess and address young adults’ needs, recognise their strengths, and support them to develop non-criminal identities, resulting in better outcomes both for them and society at large’ (paragraph 72).


In 2016 the predecessor Committee published a report on the treatment of young adults in the CJS which concluded that:

  • 18 – 25 year olds are a cohort with particular needs requiring a distinct approach.  This approach is not currently recognised by the CJS.
  •  Most interventions focus on managing risk rather than enabling positively young people’s progression to maturity as the brain fully develops up to the mid-20s.

The Government accepted that developing a CJS response to maturity rather than chronological age was key for obtaining good outcomes for young people.  However, the recommendations in original report were not implemented to the disappointment of the current Committee and several other interested parties.

The current report concludes that the Ministry of Justice  has adopted a narrow approach to reform due to cuts to its wider budget and the need for practicality. In the absence of evidence that it has had any positive impact on outcomes for young adults in the 18 months since the Government responded to the original Report, the Committee are not persuaded of the efficacy of this approach: ‘the waste of young adults’ talents and energies is one of the great social challenges of our time. The lack of decisive action is also failing society at large as citizens continue to experience crimes which should be preventable and which would gain from these young adults’ contributions should they be given the right opportunities’ (page 33, paragraph 15).


A growing body of evidence, from scientific research about brain development to recent Court of Appeal judgments about the importance of considering maturity when sentencing young people, all point towards the fact that young adults need to be treated differently within the CJS.  This report adds strength to that position and a useful resource to practitioners with clients in this age group.