Young adult male offenders

A summary of evidence relating to what works well with young adult men and how services can improve outcomes.

For sentencing purposes, those sentenced to ’detention at a Young Offenders Institution’ are defined as aged 18-20 years of age. However, young men continue to mature into their mid-twenties. There are some important things to consider that could improve outcomes for people in this wider age group of 18-25.

What do we know?

Young people continue to mature both psychologically and socially up until their mid-twenties. We now know that the parts of the brain responsible for impulse control, regulation and interpreting emotions, continue to develop well into adulthood. In particular, young people continue to develop in their ability to:

  • temper themselves
  • take into account wider perspectives and think about the future when making decisions
  • know who they are and what they want to be, as well as their ability to resist peer influence

Together, these factors are called ‘psychosocial maturity’. Psychosocial immaturity is prevalent in young men in custody or under probation supervision. This affects how they engage with and respond to prison regimes, probation licenses and supervision.

Screening for maturity is an important part of making sure that services are available and offered to individuals who need them.

What we know works well with young men

  • structured programmes to enhance thinking skills and regulate emotions - these include, cognitive skills and anger management interventions
  • re-entry schemes that provide extra support and structure for the transition from prison to community
  • interventions designed to strengthen family bonds
  • stress management interventions such as relaxation or mindfulness training
  • education
  • employment training and help in finding employment
  • activities that encourage people to take responsibility and build a positive identity. These include taking on peer support roles.
  • Restorative Justice via victim-offender conferencing (for property-based crimes)

In addition, we would expect that psychosocial maturity training could help staff develop and apply effective skills to relate, respond to and coach young men.

What doesn’t work?

  • military-style detention regimes
  • more punitive or deterrence-based approaches, especially where the punitive elements do not fit with how we understand rewards and sanctions to work with immature or younger people.
  • approaches that fail to help people build skills for the future (e.g., that focus purely on gaining insight or on the consequences of offending)
  • interventions that reinforce a criminal identity

Further reading

Achieving Better Outcomes for Young Adult Men (2015) This provides a summary of the evidence, the priority needs of young adult men, and how to address them.

Reducing Reoffending in young male adults - Rapid Evidence Assessment (2015) This examines ‘what works’ in reducing reoffending of 18 - 25 year old young adult offenders.

Analytical Summary (2017) Research and analysis. Development and validation of a screening assessment. Psychosocial maturity for adult males convicted of crime.

Needs and characteristics of young adults in custody: Results from the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SPCR) survey (MoJ 2015)

What Works in Managing Young People Who Offend? A Summary of International Evidence Ministry of Justice (2016)

T2A Evidence Transition to Adulthood is an initiative of the Barrow Cadbury Trust’s criminal justice programme. The Trust is an independent, charitable foundation

Women mature at a different rate and manifest maturity in different ways to men. The needs of young adult women are different. Achieving better outcomes for women offenders (2015)

Life in prison: Peer support HMIP findings paper. Summary of literature (Jan 2016)

Life in prison: Earning and spending money HMIP findings paper. Summary of literature (Jan 2016)

Life in prison: The first 24 hours HMIP findings paper. Summary of literature (Nov 2015)

YJB effective practice library

TransitionsCriminal Justice Joint Inspection report of the transitions arrangements from youth to adult services in the criminal justice system (Oct 2012)

Young People in Custody Prison Service journal special edition (July 2016).

Tell us what you think of the Prison and probation evidence resource so we can improve it.

This page summarises the available evidence base and is informed by independent academic peer review. It does not represent Ministry of Justice or Government policy.

Published 15 May 2019