Reforming Juvenile Justice

CQ Researcher

Here Morgan Geyser is brought into court by a sheriff's deputy on Aug. 21, 2015 during the arraignment of the Slenderman stabbing trial in Waukesha County Court in Waukesha, Wis. The court entered a not guilty plea for them and moved to set a trial date in mid-October. (Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)Should teens who murder be treated as adults?

Sept. 11, 2015 — Youth advocates are seizing on bipartisan interest in criminal justice reform and historically low crime rates to lobby states to lighten sentencing standards for juveniles. They also advocate more efforts to prepare troubled teenagers — even those convicted of the most violent crimes — to be productive members of society. In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life terms without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional, and this fall it will hear a case on whether to make that decision retroactive for adult prisoners who committed their crimes as juveniles. But prosecutors and victims’ rights advocates say youths still must be held accountable for their crimes and judges should be able to refer repeat and violent offenders to adult court. Forming a backdrop to the debate is neuroscientific research on adolescent brain development that indicates that juveniles’ reasoning abilities and impulse control are limited well into their 20s. The research also suggests that they can change their behavior, raising questions about youth’s culpability and likelihood of rehabilitation.

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