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  • C. Foster

Youth Sentencing Guidelines: Acknowledging Trauma

Updated: Apr 2, 2022

As of 26 January 2022, the Sentencing Young People Guidelines have been incorporated within Scotland. These mark a change in the factors to be considered when sentencing an individual under the age of 25. These new guidelines allow the courts to tackle the difficult task of determining an appropriate sentence while giving consideration to a young person's maturity.

What does this mean for young people?

The guidelines set out a “non-exhaustive” list of factors to be assessed when determining the maturity of the young person before the court. These include:

  • information and reports about addiction, physical health as well as mental health;

  • speech, language, and communication needs;

  • trauma;

  • adverse childhood experiences;

  • the living environment, including whether the young person is currently in law or has been in the past;

There is also a focus on rehabilitation, as opposed to solely punishing the individual, and these aims require to be balanced alongside protecting the public and deterring the offending behaviour.

The guidelines will help the public better understand the reasoning for sentences given as well as aid the individuals involved in understanding what will be considered when they are being sentenced. The guidelines also aim to provide more consistency in sentencing by giving courts a clear point of reference in factors they can and ought to consider when sentencing a young person.

Why are the new guidelines important?

Trauma and adverse childhood experiences can have a massive impact on a person's life and, in criminal courts, the link is evident. The Scottish Government published an information sheet which highlights the prevalence of trauma and adverse childhood experiences in individuals who later find themselves in the criminal justice system. As noted, the court has the difficult role of balancing multiple factors; however, through encouraging rehabilitation, it is hoped the risk of reoffending is lowered, allowing individuals to break the cycle of criminality so many find themselves trapped in. Indeed, the Scottish Government noted, on the subject of reoffending, that there was an increased rate of reconviction for individuals who served a shorter prison sentence of three months or less. It noted that these individuals “do not have the opportunity to engage in rehabilitative work whilst in custody”.

The focus on rehabilitation should not be seen as a detriment to the victims of crime. Certainly, there will be resistance to such a change and there will always be public outcry for harsher punishment (though it is well documented harsher punishments are not an effective deterrent). However, just as it is in the public’s interest to enforce the law and justice, it is equally in the public’s interest to prevent an individual from remaining trapped in a cycle of reoffending.

C. Foster is a DPLP Student, at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom.

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