1/31/2011

Research on Adolescent Brain Influences

Research on Adolescent Brain Influences

               U.S. Juvenile Justice



Juveniles are Very Influenced by Peers - emdot
Many crimes committed by children and adolescents more resemble quasi-serious mischief than terror-inducing atrocities: Shoplifting, minor vandalism, and underage drinking are sometimes indulged in even by conventionally “good kids.” More importantly, most such offenders naturally outgrow their delinquent behavior via the maturation process.
Violent crimes committed by juveniles, including homicide, obviously present a much more troubling situation. In such egregious cases, the need to protect society must still be balanced by the developing body of data indicating that adolescents do not and cannot yet make adult-level decisions. Thus the justice system cannot reasonably hold juveniles to adult standards of behavior.

Scientific Research into Adolescent Maturity Levels

MRI studies performed over the last twenty years provide clues that purport to explain a phenomenon of which parents of teenagers have always been aware: Adolescents simply don’t think things through very well. Imaging shows that “gray matter,” the portion of the brain responsible for cognitive reasoning skills and higher “executive functions,” does not fully develop in the frontal lobes until early adulthood.
Moreover, young teens use the amygdala (the “fight or flight” limbic-system-controlling structures in the temporal lobes) to a greater extent than the frontal lobes in order to make decisions and interpret the emotions of others. In other words, their judgments and emotional reactions are somewhat impaired.
Developmental psychology testing on subjects aged 10-30 consistently shows that younger subjects have poorer impulse control, less ability to delay gratification, and a much higher degree of susceptibility to peer pressure than do more mature subjects. While adolescents are certainly capable of intellectual achievements, their psychosocial and emotional development is sorely lacking.

U.S. Supreme Court Decisions on Severe Punishments for Juvenile Offenders

In the 2005 decision Roper v. Simmons (543 U.S. 551 (2005)), the U.S. Supreme Court held by a 5-4 majority that imposing the death penalty on juveniles violated the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
In 2010’s Graham v. Florida (560 US. ___ (2010)), the Court further held by a 6-3 majority that a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles who have committed nonhomicide crimes violates that same Eighth Amendment ban.

Both decisions were based partly on the aforementioned developmental testing that pointed to a peculiarly “emotionally backwards” aspect to the adolescent mind.

Juvenile Justice System Changes in America

There are 129 American prisoners currently serving life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles. The Court’s holding in Graham will doubtless be applied retroactively to these individuals. While they may still receive (and deserve) long prison sentences, incarceration for life without parole is no longer a resentencing option.
Many experts observe that juveniles are inherently more capable of reform than older criminals. This often turns out to be true; one brief filed in the Graham case was on behalf of a group of now-productive and law-abiding adults, including actor Charles Dutton and U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, who had not exactly led exemplary lives as youths. Lower courts have actually only infrequently sentenced juveniles to life without the possibility of parole, most likely due to this greater chance of rehabilitation for many young criminals.
Legislatures also appear to be taking these issues into account. Texas, not traditionally considered a “soft on crime” state by any means, abolished life without parole sentences for all juvenile offenders in 2009. In addition, the American Bar Association continues to oppose such sentences for juveniles who commit homicide; it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will ever extend the Graham ruling to cases involving the commission of murder by a juvenile offender.
In the original British version of Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange, antisocial adolescent hooligan Alex turns his destructive life around and begins his journey toward a presumably worthwhile adulthood in the final chapter. This ending was completely omitted from the American edition of the book, as the U.S. publisher felt it was much too unrealistic; a violent and degenerate teen must surely always remain so. As law and science catches up with literary observations, there is at least a glimmer of hope that sometimes overly condemnatory societal attitudes eventually will as well.
Readers of this article may also enjoy “The Leopold and Loeb Case and the Insanity Defense” in Suite 101’s Politics & Society section.
Sources
Burgess, Anthony, Introduction to A Clockwork Orange, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1986.
Graham v. Florida (08-7412); Sullivan v. Florida (08-7612),” Cornell University Law School website, 2010.
Hansen, Mark, “What’s the Matter with Kids Today,” ABA Journal, July 2010.
Liptak, Adam, “Defining ‘Cruel and Unusual’ When Offender Is 13,” The New York Times, Feb. 2009.
SCOTUS: Juvenile Sentencing Law Struck Down,” liveshots.blogs.foxnews.com, May 2010.
"Teenage Brain: A work in progress," Fact Sheet, National Institute of Mental Health, 2001.

                                        When Juveniles Go on Trial
The age at which juveniles can be tried as adults is changing under Illinois law.

Currently, all defendants age 17 and above are tried as adults. That would start changing in 2010 thanks to a growing body of research showing the negative impacts of treating juveniles as adults in the criminal justice system -- including the increased likelihood of lifelong brushes with the law.

"We really do look more for rehabilitation in juvenile court," said Will County State's Attorney Juvenile Division Supervisor Tina Filipiak.

Under the changes to the Juvenile Court Act, all defendants under the age of 18 accused of misdemeanors would be tried in juvenile court. A statewide task force mandated under the act would study the possibility of also requiring that anyone charged with a felony committed before his or her 18th birthday be tried in juvenile court.

Illinois is one of only 13 states in which the minimum age of a juvenile is below 18, according to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Young Minds


According to several recent studies, youths tried as adults and placed in the adult corrections system go on to commit more crimes than those tried and punished in the juvenile justice system. The body of research is large enough the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2007 called the treatment of juveniles in the adult criminal justice system a "counterproductive strategy for preventing or reducing violence."

The legislation authorizing the change in Illinois cites research on the juvenile brain showing that reasoning and impulse control behavior are not fully developed until the early 20s.

"They've been trying to do this for a couple of years," said Filipiak.

Juvenile Justice


The way juveniles are handled if detained by police also is different from the way adults are treated. Specially trained juvenile officers question suspects and, if a youngster is detained, he or she is kept in a separate location from adult offenders.

Filipiak said a juvenile must be tried within 30 days under most circumstances.

In the court system, juveniles are prosecuted under petitions and deemed "delinquent" if found guilty. The case is not heard by a jury, but by a judge who is given much flexibility in determining how to deal with a guilty party.

"There is no set sentence like an adult," said Filipiak. "The judge has a lot of leeway to take a look at the person as a minor."

In Illinois, juveniles must be at least 15 to be tried as adults and they must be charged with serious offenses such as first-degree murder, unless a judge approves a transfer to an adult court. Those under 15 can be sentenced to prison for indefinite periods until the age of 21, when their case would be reviewed, but they cannot be tried as adults, regardless of the offense.

http://www.daily-journal.com/archives/dj/display.php?id=433277

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