With the way children and young people have their rights upheld coming into sharper focus in recent times with the potential incorporation of UNCRC, the Scottish Sentencing Council has, after consultation, finalised new guidelines on the sentencing of young people. The sentencing young people guidelines have been sent to the High Court for approval this month. With some participants of the Youth Just Us project having experienced secure care, a Y.O.I or prison before the age of 25, the overall reflection when this was discussed at length in Monday night’s session was “it’s about time”!

Young people spoke of how when they were at their most vulnerable and not sure where to turn, imprisonment created new barriers such as mental health problems, inability to find work and the feeling of a hopeless future. Overcoming these barriers takes time and a good support network. Sadly not every care or justice experienced young person are afforded these supports and after having their futures swept from under them they are left even more excluded, isolated and can face years or months not only facing trauma but can miss out on some of the most important developmental years of their life.

These new guidelines should make it clearer at which point courts should consider such matters and why. It also critically gives more clarity on how the impact on victims are considered too. It asks that rehabilitation is a primary consideration when sentencing a young person. And importantly it gives clearer guidance on how the assessment of a young person’s maturity bears on culpability.

The guidelines highlight the need for a young person circumstance to be considered. There are many common factors surrounding young people who offend such as high levels of adverse childhood experiences, experiences of trauma including bereavement, substance misuse and poverty. I think it’s high time the courts take these things into consideration when sentencing young people and hopefully this is the beginning of a greater understanding of the difficult life circumstances that bring young people into contact with the justice system in the first place.