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Young offenders UK

Young offenders UK

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Young offenders sentenced in the UK has been at an all-time low over the last ten years. But why are young offenders categorised differently from adults? What is different about prisons for young offenders? How long can young offenders be sentenced for? How many young offenders are in the UK system? Let's find out!

Young Offenders: A Brief History

Young offenders have not always had a different treatment than adults. Before the Victorian era, young offenders would be tried and convicted the same as adults, with some reports showing that children as young as 12 were hanged for their crimes. So how did this change throughout the Victorian era to the present day? Below is a brief timeline of key changes to youth justice legislation in the UK.

1847The Juvenile Offenders Act was passed. This made the distinction between children and adult offenders. Offenders under 14 were tried in a magistrate court for lesser offences.
1854The Reformatory Schools Act was passed. These schools were set up for people under 16 who had committed crimes in order to better integrate them into society. The conditions here were often very harsh but were aimed at rehabilitation.
The Youthful Offenders Act was passed. This allowed children under 16 to serve time in a Reformatory school rather than going to prison.
1908The Children Act was passed. This officially distinguished between children and adults by creating a separate juvenile court for young offenders.
1933The Children and Young Persons Act was passed. This meant that courts had to consider a child's welfare when sentencing. Furthermore, the age of criminal responsibility was raised to 8 years old and under 18s could not receive the death penalty.
1964The first Secure Unit opened with the intent of housing and educating young people between 10-18 years old who have left public schools.
1991The Criminal Justice Act was revised. Juvenile Courts were replaced with Youth Courts and include offenders aged 17 and under. Curfew orders were introduced for 16+ year olds.
1998The first Secure Training Centre was opened, with young offenders serving part of their sentence at the STC and then completing community service for the rest.
The Crime and Disorder Act emphasised that the purpose of youth justice was rehabilitation and the prevention of reoffending. From this point on, various revisions and additions have been made to the youth justice system to improve the education of young offenders with this key goal in mind.

Young Offenders Adel Reformatory Chapel StudySmarterFig. 1 - The Adel Reformatory Chapel, established in 1882 to house and educate young offenders in the 19th century

Number of Young Offenders in UK

So now we have a brief understanding of how the youth justice system has developed into Modern Britain, what are the facts about young offenders in the UK at present?

The number of young offenders sentenced in the UK from 2020 to 2021 was 15,800. This was a 17% decrease from the previous year and an 82% decrease over the last 10 years. The proportion of children arrested was at its lowest ever. The number of first-time entrants into a young offenders' institution was down from 45,000 in 2011 to around 7,000 in 2021. The entry rate into young offenders' institutions has been consistently declining since the statistics began being recorded.1

Reoffending is unfortunately still common. The 2018 to 2019 statistics show that almost 70% of young offenders reoffend within the first twelve months of their release, compared to 48% from adult prisons. This is why there is an emphasis on education and rehabilitation in Young Offenders' Institutes.

Young Offender

Someone who commits a crime between the ages of 14-17 and therefore is not yet an adult.


The act of committing another crime after the first. This does not have to be the same as the original crime.

Young Offenders' Institutes

A form of prison that houses young offenders.

Sentencing Young Offenders UK

Young offenders are sentenced differently to adults. The court must take into regard both the aim of the justice system and also the general welfare of the child. Unless a serious crime such as murder has been committed, they will be tried at a youth court.

Youth Court

A court specifically designed for sentencing young offenders. These were previously known as 'juvenile courts'.

Young Offenders Portland Young Offenders Institute StudySmarterFig. 2 - Portland Young Offenders Institute in Dorset

Each case is looked at on an individual basis, as social and economic circumstances are more likely to affect children under 18. Certain examples of these are age, family circumstances, maturity, the seriousness of the offence, previous offences, and admitting to the offence.

There is a range of sentences that young offenders can receive. These are:

  • Discharges: This means that the offender is released without any charges. However, the offender still receives a criminal record.
  • Fines: These are given with accommodation for the offender's financial situation. The fines are paid for by the offender's family if they are under 16.
  • Referral Orders: Requires the offender to attend a youth offender panel, with commitments to make up for their actions. The panel decides on the offender's course of action to make up for their crimes, this can include reparations for the victim or repairing any damage they might have caused.
  • Youth rehabilitation orders: This community sentence order can last up to three years. Rehabilitation orders can include mandatory curfews, electronic tag monitoring, mental health treatment, and unpaid work.
  • Custodial sentences: These can be spent in children's homes, Secure Training Centres, or young offenders' institutions. These are the most serious outcomes of a Youth Court and involve training and rehabilitating the offender to avoid reoffending. These sentences involve incarceration and can last anywhere from a few months to life depending on the severity of the crime.


The process of using education to undo the factors that made the young person commit a crime in the first place.


An agreed window of time when the young offender cannot leave their home.

Young Offenders and Young Offender Institutions

Young Offender Institutions in the United Kingdom are used for serious offences committed by children. The other institute used to provide care are Secure Training Centres, and children's homes, of which there are thousands across the UK.

Young Offenders Institutions are similar to HM Prisons. There are differences, as there are fewer staff, and the offenders are required to undertake education and community service. There is a high level of violence within Young Offenders Institutes; between 2018 and 2019, there were 269 assaults per month.3 There is also a high level of self-harm reported within institutes.

Community Service

Unpaid work undertaken by offenders intended to give back to their community. Activities include litter picking, working for charities, or cleaning graffiti.

Young Offenders and Education

Education is vital for young offenders in order to rehabilitate them and allow them to return to society better than when they left. A 2017 study showed that young people in custody have a higher proportion of educational difficulties. According to the Educational Psychology Team at OneEducation:

[In custody], around 40% of young people have not been to school since they were 14 and 90% were not attending before they reached 16 years old.2

Young Offender Institutions and Secure Children’s Homes provide young offenders with education. They are required to have a minimum of twenty-five hours of education a week and are taught by in-house staff.

Rehabilitation for Young Offenders UK

Rehabilitation is vital for young offenders, as they still have an opportunity to turn around their lives and provide good to society. Youths who commit crimes often suffer from mental health issues and issues relating to their family lives. If rehabilitation is undertaken correctly, safely, and for the benefit of the child, then it can help them boost their lives, recover from mental difficulties, and prevent them from reoffending.

Young Offenders Mental Health portrait StudySmarterFig. 3 - Two of the key factors affecting young offenders are issues with mental health and family life

There are teams internally within the institutes, as well as externally. Examples of these teams that help with rehabilitation are:

    • The police.
    • Probation officers.
    • Health, housing, and children’s services.
    • Schools and education authorities.
    • Charities and the local community.

These teams help with education, both in subjects that you would learn at school, and also relating to their offence. Young offenders get help in understanding the harm they had caused and lessons to prevent them from doing so in the future.

Did you know? Young offenders will be given employment opportunities and mental health support from trained professionals in order to complete their rehabilitation process in an attempt to prevent them reoffending.

The main priority with rehabilitation is the child's health and wellbeing, as there is a duty of care attached due to their age. Although not consistently successful, as there are many repeat offenders, these teams work tirelessly to improve the offender's life, wellbeing and future.

Young offenders UK - Key takeaways

  • Young people started to be treated differently to adults during the Victorian Era, with juvenile courts being set up for the first time in 1908.
  • There were 15,800 young offenders sentenced between 2020 and 2021. This number is down from previous years.
  • Repeat offenders are also at an all-time low.
  • Young Offenders are sentenced differently than adults, and the punishments given moreso reflect their life circumstances.
  • If young offenders commit severe crimes and are found guilty, they go to either Young Offenders Institutions, Secure Training Centres, or Secure Children's Homes.
  • Here they are provided education, with an emphasis on their rehabilitation to help them return to the outside world safely, and prevent reoffending.


  1. Youth Justice Board/Ministry of Justice, 'Youth Justice Statistics 2020/21', (January 2022).
  2. The Educational Psychology Team, 'Young Offenders and Education', OneEducation, (September 2017).
  3. Politics.co.uk, 'Young Offenders Institute', (2021).
  4. Fig. 1 - 'Adel Reformatory Chapel' (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adel_Reformatory_Chapel_SW_03062022.jpg) by Chemical Engineer (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Chemical_Engineer) licensed under CC BY SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  5. Fig. 2 - 'Portland Young Offenders' Institute' (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portland_Young_Offenders%27_Institute_-_geograph.org.uk_-_2829043.jpg) by Tom Jolliffe (https://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/12147) licensed under CC BY SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)
  6. Fig. 3 - 'Mental health portrait' (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mental_Health_Portrait.jpg) by Rigos101 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Rigos101&action=edit&redlink=1) licensed under CC BY SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Young offenders UK

They are treated differently because they are still minors and therefore require a higher duty of care than adult offenders do.

Young Offenders are punished in a variety of ways. These include fines, referral orders, youth rehabilitation orders and custodial sentences. 

From the age of 10, you can be tried as a young offender. 

Young Offenders Institutions, Secure Training Centres, or Secure Children's Homes.

There are 5 young offenders institutions in the UK.

Final Young offenders UK Quiz

Young offenders UK Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


When was the Juvenile Offenders Act passed?

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The _____ Act, passed in 1908, created Juvenile courts, sentencing young offenders separately from adult offenders for the first time? 

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Which Act ordered Juvenile Courts to consider a young offender's welfare when sentencing them?

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The 1933 Children and Young Persons Act.

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How many young offenders were sentenced in the UK between 2020-21?

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In the last ten years, there has been _____ in the number of young offenders sentenced in the UK.

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A decrease.

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What percentage of young offenders were likely to reoffend within the first 12 months after their sentence in 2018-19?

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'Reoffending' only includes cases when the same crime is committed again. T/F?

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Today, young offenders are classed as individuals between the ages of _____.

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If a young offender receives a discharge from a youth court, they will not receive a criminal record. T/F?

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Youth courts today are focused on the _______ of young offenders.

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