Initial T2A response to Harris Review on deaths of young adults in custody

The Harris Review: Report of the Independent Review into Self-inflicted Deaths in Custody of 18-24 year olds – published today


T2A welcomes the publication of Lord Harris’ Review of Deaths of Young Adults in Custody. We are greatly encouraged by the Review’s strong recognition for the distinct needs of young adults and its call for a radical new approach to the way that young adults are managed throughout the criminal justice process.


The Review states:

“Having considered the range of evidence we have been given, and in particular having considered the 87 cases [of young adult self inflicted deaths] in detail, the Review agrees that all young adults in custody are potentially vulnerable, and all need to be given particular care….”

“…The Review concludes that, given the overwhelming evidence, it is wrong to assume that maturity will necessarily have been reached by the age of 18. The Criminal Justice System needs to recognise that young adults who are 18-24 years are still developing, and their behaviour and ability to cope with custody will depend on the level of maturity they have attained…”

“…There must be a legal recognition of the concept of ‘maturity’. As well as chronological age, maturity should be a primary consideration in making decisions relating to diversion, sentencing and, where a custodial sentence must be given, how and where a young adult (18-24) should be accommodated. The work to achieve this should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, who should report on progress within 1 year of the publication of this review” (Harris Review p 106).

Over the last decade, T2A has established a irrefutable evidence base for the need to take account of a young adult’s developmental maturity and particular vulnerabilities, rather than simply their chronological age, and T2A is pleased that this position is fully endorsed by the Review.

T2A shares the Review’s fundamental concern that prisons in this country are not fit for purpose for providing meaningful rehabilitation to young adults that would ensure they leave custody to lead purposeful, crime-free lives. Instead, young adults leaving prison are the most likely group to reoffend, while far too many young adults (101 since 2007) have taken their own lives, unable to survive in the violent, under-staffed, unsafe and demeaning conditions that exist in many parts of the prison estate. This was expressed in T2A’s evidence to the Review, and also in many other T2A research reports (see in particular ‘Young Adults in Custody: The Way Forward’ 2013).

The Review wholeheartedly endorses T2A’s fundamental premise in its statement:

“The Review has been convinced by the overwhelmingly strong message we have been given that “‘maturity’ is a better guide to a young person’s transition to adulthood than their chronological age” (T2A submission, page 3). Given the current understanding of maturity and human development, and brain development in particular, we feel it no longer makes sense to expect that young adults, especially when they are distinctly vulnerable, should be sentenced as an adult solely on the basis of their age. It is worth looking at other jurisdictions to see how this complicated period is dealt with. T2A have pointed out that in Germany “the courts choose either juvenile or adult law for young adults on the basis of maturity of the individual and their distinct needs” (T2A submission, page 5). We consider that these and other practices should be examined, and that it is imperative that the concept of maturity receives statutory recognition.”

T2A is very concerned by the Review’s assessment of staffing in young adult prisons, which is found to be wholly inadequate, in terms of numbers of staff, quality of staff and training levels to meet the specific needs of 18-25 year olds. T2A agrees with the Review that: “there needs to be a radical shift in the philosophy of detention” and endorses the call that “MoJ must publish a new statement setting out that the purpose of prison”.

T2A is particularly pleased to see the Review’s specific focus given to the additional needs of the many BAME young adults, and the growing proportion of those who are care leavers. We are encouraged by proposals for a new role of a “Custody and Rehabilitation Officer (CARO)” a member of prison staff who would specifically support the rehabilitation needs of a young adult in prison through the provision of a consistent, supportive relationship closely resembles the emerging evidence of best practice in T2A’s two prison-based T2A Pathway projects ( The Review notes that:

“A new specialist role must be created to work specifically with all young adults in custody. The Custody and Rehabilitation Officer (CARO) will be required to take responsibility for the overall well-being of the young adult and must have a caseload of no more than fifteen or twenty prisoners, so that as a central part of the role it is possible to build and sustain a close and effective relationship with each individual prisoner. This role will be specialist and skilled, understanding developmental and maturity issues that impact on young adults, and will require competencies at least equivalent to a professional youth worker or qualified Social Worker.”

T2A also fully endorses the Review’s call for a dedicated unit in NOMS responsible for the oversight of young adults in custody, led by a senior official who is accountable for the outcomes of the young adult estate.

Focusing resources on young adults will be hugely beneficial financially and socially. As the review notes:

“Investing in this age group offers an excellent opportunity to help young adults develop the skills that will rehabilitate them effectively to reintegrate into society as mature and capable adults…Delaying action until the resource position is easier is not an option. Unless progress is made on the proposals that we have made, young people will continue to die unnecessarily in our prisons and we will continue to waste countless millions of pounds in failing to rehabilitate those who could be rehabilitated, in locking up those for whom a non-prison option would be more appropriate, and in failing to intervene early enough to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.”

We also welcome the nuanced view the Review takes to answering the question of whether dedicated young adult establishments are preferable to mixing young adults across the adult estate. The Review’s position is broadly similar to T2A’s:

“We are inclined to agree with the HM Chief Inspector’s conclusions that “there are no simple answers to whether young adults are safer when integrated or in dedicated establishments and evidence often appears contradictory” (paragraph 41). This is a complex issue, and as such it needs a varied and nuanced solution, such that the relative maturity of the individual should be taken into account more than their chronological age. We consider that better assessment of maturity and ability to cope with the challenges of a mixed environment is needed. A new assessment tool might involve more strategic use of data already gathered through instruments such as OASys. In addition, we feel that there is a strong argument that some particularly immature or vulnerable 18 year olds need to be retained for longer in the youth estate.”

T2A is pleased that the Review’s remit extends to before and after prison. The recommendation that “When a court is considering passing any form of custodial sentence upon a young adult (18 to 24) then a full written pre-sentence report must be commissioned” is strongly endorsed, and fits directly with T2A’s 2013 guidance for probation pre-sentence report writers ‘Taking Account of Maturity’.


The Harris Review is one of the most extensive analyses of the particular needs of the young adults, and it should be widely utilised as a tremendous resource for those working with this age group, not just in criminal justice, but social care, health, education, employment and a wide range of other sectors. T2A will work to ensure the recommendations and evidence presented by the Harris Review are adopted and implemented. A further analysis by T2A with a longer response will follow soon.