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by Margaret Taylor
15 September 2021
Sentencing Council recommends trauma-informed approach to justice for young adults

Sentencing Council recommends trauma-informed approach to justice for young adults

Guideline will require rehabilitation and tailored sentencing for offenders under the age of 25

The Scottish Sentencing Council (SSC) has recommended that judges take adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) into account when sentencing young people in a bid to break the link between trauma and reoffending.

In a consultation published last year SSC chair Lady Dorrian, who is also Lord Justice Clerk, said the organisation was keen to explore whether rehabilitation would be preferable to custody for offenders under the age of 25.

“While we recognise this may be controversial, we understand that cognitive maturity does not develop fully until one’s mid-twenties and are persuaded that there is a case for sentencing young adults under the age of 25 on a different basis to older people,” she wrote in the introduction to the consultation.

Today, the SSC has published a new guideline that says courts will be required to “have regard to rehabilitation as a primary consideration in sentencing young people in recognition of their greater capacity for change”.

“The weight of the evidence on brain development, together with how this can be affected by factors such as trauma or adverse childhood experiences, has persuaded us that a more individualistic approach to the sentencing of those under 25 is necessary and appropriate in order to support rehabilitation and help to reduce reoffending,” Lady Dorrian said.

“Courts will consider these factors while also taking account of the harm caused to the victim, before arriving at an appropriate sentence.”

While the guideline says that rehabilitation should be the primary consideration, the SSC noted that “other purposes of sentencing, such as punishment and protection of the public, are also relevant”.

The proposal will go before the High Court for approval this month.

It comes after the Scottish Government underscored the importance of trauma awareness in its recent programme for government.

In that, it said its National Trauma Training Programme, which launched five years ago with the aim of educating “the whole Scottish workforce” about the impact of trauma, would be extended by a further two years to 2023.

“An understanding of trauma will also inform the development of our forthcoming mental health quality standards, which we will publish during this parliament,” it said.

It added: “Working with [council umbrella organisation] COSLA, we have also initiated a leadership pledge of support for trauma informed practice, raising the standard of support across public and third sector organisations.

“Together, these will ensure that services and workforces recognise where people are affected by trauma and adverse childhood experiences, respond in ways that prevent further harm, and support people's recovery and life chances.”

Read the most recent article written by Margaret Taylor - Raising awareness: taking a trauma-informed approach to justice

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