Young adult offenders should be tried on the basis of their maturity, poll finds
~Transition to Adulthood Alliance calls for a reform of the sentencing system ~
- More people think that sentencing should be based on the emotional and psychological maturity of the offender than on their age
- Cross party support – 81% of MPs – for maturity being taken into account by the courts
- Majority of people think young adults mature later than the current age recognised by the sentencing system (18)
- Older generations think maturity comes later in life than younger generations
- There is more support amongst coalition MPs for sentencing young adults on a case by case basis or as a distinct group than there is for treating them as older adults
- Coalition MPs are more progressive on sentencing than Labour
A ComRes poll conducted on behalf of the Transition to Adulthood (T2A) Alliance has found that both the public (69%) and parliamentarians (81%) believe emotional and psychological maturity should be taken into account when sentencing young adults. Currently an individual is sentenced on the basis of their age, with under-18s subject to the youth system and over-18s subject to the law as it applies to adults.
The poll supports the T2A Alliance’s argument that, as people mature at different rates and many young adults in trouble with the law exhibit developmental levels characteristic of far younger people, courts should treat 18-24 year olds on a case by case basis according to their maturity. This currently happens in Germany, where young adult offenders can be dealt with either in the adult or juvenile system depending on psychological and emotional assessments of their maturity.
Politically, the poll should embolden coalition figures who have been leading criminal justice reforms in the direction the T2A Alliance recommends. A large majority of coalition MPs (74%) think that maturity should be taken into account when sentencing a young person. Coalition MPs are also more likely to think that young adults should be sentenced either on a case by case basis or as a distinct group, rather than treated the same as older adults. Labour differs on this issue, with a slim majority (54%) in favour of always treating young adults the same as those 25 years of age or older.
Rob Allen, Chair of the T2A Alliance said: “This poll reveals that our criminal justice system is behind the times. Both the public and parliamentarians support our calls for a common sense approach which doesn’t assume everyone reaches full maturity on their 18th birthday.
“The fact that support services targeted at youths in the criminal justice system disappear overnight when a young person hits 18 is very damaging and it is no wonder that so many of them fall back into crime. 18-24 year olds are responsible for the majority of convictions in this country. Other countries, like Germany, have long demonstrated a more constructive approach to this age group and it is reflected in their lower crime rates.
“The government is already making some of the right noises about bridging the gap between youth and adult services but now they need to follow through and drastically improve transition measures. This poll shows such reforms would win strong public support. They would also bring down crime rates and make financial savings in the long term. There really isn’t any time to waste.”
About the Transition to Adulthood (T2A) Alliance:
The Transition to Adulthood (T2A) Alliance is a broad coalition of organisations and individuals working to improve the opportunities and life chances of young people in their transition to adulthood, who are at risk of committing crime and falling into the criminal justice system. The Alliance is convened by the Barrow Cadbury Trust.
About the poll:
- 69% of people think a person’s emotional and psychological maturity should be taken into account when they are accused of breaking the law, with only 57% thinking age should be taken into account. Four in ten (41%) think age is not important compared to less than a third (28%) who believe emotional and psychological maturity is not important.
- Half the public (50%) think a person reaches full intellectual maturity after the age of 22, compared to 32% who think 18-21 marks the age a person reaches full intellectual maturity.
- 57% of the public think a person reaches full emotional maturity after the age of 22 – at least four years after the current age recognised by the system – compared to 27% who think 18-21 marks the age a person reaches full emotional maturity.
- 18-24 year olds are more likely (30%) to think a person reaches full emotional maturity at age 18-21 whereas 55-64 year olds are more likely (36%) to place the age higher, at 25-30.
- More than 8 in 10 (81%) MPs think maturity should be taken into account by the courts.
- 44% of Tories and 82% of Liberal Democrat MPs think that the decision to sentence young adults either in the adult or juvenile system should be taken on a case by case basis or based on treating them as a separate age group. Only 40% of Labour MPs think the same.
- Centre for Crime and Justice Studies
- Criminal Justice Alliance
- The Howard League for Penal Reform
- The Prince’s Trust
- The Prison Reform Trust
- Revolving Doors Agency
- The Young Foundation
- Young People in Focus
- Young Minds
ComRes surveyed 150 MPs on the ComRes parliamentary panel between 13th January and 7th February 2011 by self-completion postal questionnaire and online. Data were weighted to reflect the exact composition of the House of Commons in terms of party representation and regional constituency distribution.
ComRes interviewed 2,051 GB adults online between 4th and 6th February 2011. Data were weighted to be representative demographically of all GB adults.