This paper has been produced at the request of the Youth Justice Improvement Board to encourage reflection about children and young people in the justice system in Scotland, particularly those who are detained in custody. It is intended for all who provide services and support to vulnerable children and young people, including those who come into contact with children and young people in the justice system. By offering insights into what we know about these children and young people and what is happening with youth justice, the paper seeks to provide a basis for discussions to inform improvement.


Children and young people who are involved in offending come into contact with the youth or criminal justice system in a variety of ways depending on their age, their needs and circumstances, and the nature of their deeds. Information about the different stages in the system is available through Youth and Criminal Justice in Scotland: the Young Person’s Journey. Both the lives of these children and young people and the ‘system’ that engages with them are complex. This means that it can be extremely difficult to understand what is actually happening for these children and young people, and also that there are rarely easy answers to guide how best to respond to their offending behaviour.

This paper has an emphasis on children aged 16 and 17 who are detained in custody but also includes references to young people aged 18 to 21, whose circumstances are often very similar to those of the younger age group. We use the term ‘children’ to refer to those under 18 years old and ‘young people’ when referring to 18-21, in keeping with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The paper focusses on three themes:

1. Backgrounds of children and young people involved in offending

2. Children and young people’s contact with the justice system, especially those who are sentenced to custody

3. What happens after custody?


The full paper can be viewed in the following link.