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(Custodial) spaces to grow? Adolescent development during custodial transitionsDrawing on empirical data from two individual research projects, this paper extends the literature on child and youth incarceration and offers a previously unexplored analysis of experiences and transitions through institutional environments for young people. Different penal environments have different operational practices and treatment according to arbitrary age-determined constructions of childhood, youth and young adulthood, evidenced by decreasing safeguards. This article demonstrates the reduction of operative and supportive investment in those held, and the shifting perception from children that require ‘training’ to young people and young adults who are managed and whose particular needs are neglected. The arbitrary nature of transitions presents a paradox between developmental maturity as an individualistic ongoing process and arbitrary age-determined transitions. As such, it is argued that there should be a more developmental approach to caring for young people across penal environments which accounts for their ongoing maturity and complex needs.