Further reforms are needed to the way young adults are treated in the criminal justice system, according to a new report.
The House of Commons Justice Committee recommends a distinct approach for those aged 18-25, with the aim of reducing the number of re-offenders.
While a third fewer young adults are in prison now compared with 2011, the prison inspectorate notes that those who remain are made up of some of the most vulnerable young people.
Recommendations include developing a new framework and a probation service board for prisons.
Are These Findings New?
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The report is a follow up to one published in October 2016, which also recommended reforms on the treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system.
The 2016 report wanted to see screening for maturity in prisons as well as specialist staff and an emphasis on young people’s development.
The Government’s response to our report in the last Parliament was disappointing because it failed to acknowledge the strength of evidence for more significant change. Having looked at this issue again, it is clear the current approach taken by ministers is not yet working and we are not convinced that it will.
Bob Neill MP, Chair of the Justice Committee
The current justice committee believes that the Government’s response to the 2016 report was inadequate and that young people are not receiving the special attention they should be. It reemphasises the need for the reforms proposed in October 2016.
Should Young Adults Be Considered a Distinctive Group?
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The criminal justice system treats children and adults differently, just like the different rights adults and children have.
There are distinctive rights regarding children and the law, as outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and these also relate to justice. Article 40, for example, states that children who have broken the law should be treated with dignity and in a way which takes into account the child’s age.
But where do young people fit into this? The 2016 report emphasised that young people are a distinct group from both adults over 25 and children under 18, using arguments surrounding the development rates of young people’s brains.
The rational part of a teenager’s brain is not generally considered to be fully developed until the age of 25. Recent research suggests that, whilst adults process information with their prefrontal cortex (the more rational part of the brain), teenagers process information with the emotional parts of their brain.
What Difference Will this Make?
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The report argues that, if a distinctive and constructive approach is developed for young people in prisons, rates of reoffending will drop.
Bob Neill MP, the chair of the Justice Committee, said: “The public continues to experience crimes which should be preventable and society can gain from these young adults’ contributions if they are given the right opportunities.”
Whilst young adults are one of the most likely groups to re-offend, the services which could potentially support them are currently taken away when they turn 18. As the committee argues, if young people were suitably supported in the criminal justice system perhaps a smaller number of them would re-offend.