Tag Archives: under 21

Custodial Sentence for Youths

Sentencing for youths is very different than for adults.


A sentence of imprisonment can ONLY be passed on someone who is aged 21 at the time of sentence. In practice, if someone is aged between 18 and 21 it is relatively straightforward. The maximum sentences are the same as for adults, but, instead of prison, the person will be sentenced to detention instead.

This applies to the other types of prison sentences as well – it is suspended sentence of detention, detention for public protection etc.


For someone convicted of murder, they will be sentenced to ‘custody for life’ – in practice the same as life imprisonment. Someone under the age of 21 cannot be sentenced to a whole life tariff however.

If someone is aged under 18 then the starting point (whatever the circumstances) is 12 years. This does not stop the Court from imposing a tariff much higher than 12 years in the appropriate circumstances.

For murder, it is the same rules as an adult except that the sentence is called ‘detention during Her Majesty’s Pleasure’.

General approach

The general rule is that offences will be dealt with in the Youth Court. This a ‘branch’ of the Magistrates Court with specially trained judges. Instead of the 6 months, the maximum sentence that they can pass is 2 years (or the maximum sentence for an adult, whichever is lower). The form of prison is called a Detention and Training Order (DTO). As with adults, this involves spending half of the sentence in a detention centre and the other half in the community under supervision.

The difference however is that the Youth Court can only pass a DTO in specified ‘chunks’ of time; 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 18 and 24 months.

If someone is under the age of 15 then a DTO cannot be imposed unless they are a ‘persistent offender’, meaning that they have been in trouble several times before. For someone aged under 12, a DTO cannot be passed unless the court thinks that only such a sentence would be adequate to protect the public from further offending from him.

There is no power requiring the judge to take into account any time spent on remand for a DTO. If someone has spent time on remand however, the Judge should take this into account, as far as is possible, when sentencing.

When youths are sentenced in the Crown Court

Certain offences can lead to a sentence of more than two years, but this has to be imposed in the Crown Court. The Youth Court can send certain cases to the Crown Court. This only applies to offences where the maximum sentence is 14 years or more and, if the defendant is aged over 14, then causing death by dangerous driving or causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These cases are called ‘grave crimes’.

If the Youth Court considers that the dangerous provisions apply and that the youth, if found guilty, may get a Detention for Public Protection sentence or Extended sentence, then they must be sent straight to the Crown Court.

For firearms offences where the minimum sentencing provisions apply, the person must be sent for trial in the Crown Court.

If a youth is sentenced in the Crown Court then they will either be sentenced to a DTO (if the Judge feels a sentence of 2 years appropriate), or detention under section 91 otherwise.