New University of Edinburgh research recommends under-25s should not be sent to jail because their brains are too immature


People under the age of 25 should not be imprisoned because their brains are too immature, the leading author on new research has told EN4 News.

Professor Matthias Schwannauer, who is a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Edinburgh, said in his report, published today, that a custodial sentence heightens the risk for brain damage and makes adolescents less likely to rehabilitate than adults are.

The Scottish Sentencing Council (SSC) has announced a 12-week public consultation into whether under-25s should be imprisoned.

The consultation comes after research conducted by the University of Edinburgh on behalf of the SSC found that there were severe cognitive complications for incarcerating people under the age of 25.

The report found that the adult brain reaches maturity between 25-30 years old, which means it is not able to handle the stressful environment of prison.

“It’s really important for the courts to understand the developmental needs of young people… we need supportive programmes that are community-based,” Schwannauer told EN4 News.

“Putting people in prisons where there is a spike of drug use and self-harm is basically just putting further risk on the individual and their communities.

“I really hope Scotland can path the way to an alternative way in order to reduce future risk and societal cost.”

Support for this review and consultation has been backed by The Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice (CYCJ).

Spokeswoman Charlotte Morris said today that a CYCJ report found that 37% of youngsters are tried in adult court and don’t understand the process.

But Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser argued that there is a lot more work needed before alternatives to prison are considered.

He told EN4 News: “It’s difficult to see how reducing the number of people going to prison for committing serious offences is going to help protect the public or provide an effective deterrent from people in this age group committing very serious crime.”

“I think a lot more work needs to be done before we use community disposals as an alternative to prison for people in this age group,” Fraser concluded.

The SSC said in a statement: “The council’s hope and expectation is that it will bring long-term social and economic benefits,” an SSC statement read, “and by promoting reduced reoffending through greater emphasis on rehabilitation and increased use of the children’s hearings system.”

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