11/11/2011

Truth About Youth


For far too long we have accepted and nourished a culture that systematically devalues the importance of our children reaching their maximal development.

A culture that pretends to believe that our Nation's children will fulfill their potential in dilapidated, unsafe schools with out dated curriculum's and equipment. A culture that designed the minds, the ideas and the motives of two Pennsylvania Court Judges, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and Micheal T. Conahan, who in 2009 were found guilty of accepting bribes, "A finders fee" first for their help of getting Juvenile Detention Facilities built and then to keep them filled. A culture that is without a healthy dose of empathy, for the masses would be less inclined to tolerate dysfunctional and uninspiring schools if they believed that those kids were like their own kids, a CEO  would be less inclined to strip their employees of vital pieces of their health care plan if he/she saw their employees as equals to themselves.

   But yet, a culture with a long history of Citizens stepping out of the shadows, out of obscurity to raise vital issues to the light in an endeavor to perpetrate progressive societal reformations. The Children of this Nation are currently in dire need of the assistance of that freedom fighting spirit. For they are being discarded into Adult Penal Institutions at an alarming rate.

  In States all over the Nation Juvenile offenders are being sentenced to very lengthy terms of Incarceration. In virtually all of these States Judges aren't statutorily required to consider Juvenile's youth at sentencing. Over the past fifteen years there has been an explosion in the amount of children in adult jails and prisons, over 200% increase. A trend that began in the 'get tough on crime' era when many State Legislators passed Laws that automatically bypassed the Juvenile Justice System, of which put children s fate into the hands of State Legislators and Prosecutors, without protection for youth. In three States, If you are sixteen, you can automatically be moved to the Adult system, Ten States do it at seventeen. In the State of Wisconsin a 14 year old child is eligible to be waived into the adult system, though myopically the relevant factors to be considered at sentencing only include the following:

(1) Protection of the public

(2) Gravity of the Offense.

(3) Rehabilitative needs of the defendant, 973.017 (2) Wis. Stats.

In State V. Davis, 281 Wis. 2d 118 the State of Wisconsin further neglects it's responsibility to it's children when it stated, "A defendant's age is a secondary factor that the trial court may, but is not required to consider in fashioning an appropriate sentence. The Trial Court, if it considers age, determines whether it should carry any weight". In other words, a Judge has the sole discretion to determine whether or not a child's age is relevant at sentencing.

But recent developments in brain research make it abundantly clear that a defendant's age, in the case of a Juvenile is extremely relevant.

Researchers at UCLA, Harvard Medical School and the National Institute of Mental Health have traced the development of the adolescent mind. What they have discovered is that the Adolescent brain goes through a growth process well into the early 20's. The area not fully developed in the adolescent mind is called the Pre frontal Cortex. A small area of the Frontal Lobe and the largest section of the brain, the Pre frontal Cortex is responsible for complex thinking. This area allows the mind to organize, think in the abstract, prioritize, anticipate consequences and control impulses. Therefore, the underdevelopment of the Pre frontal Cortex is the physical source of immature decision making in adolescents.

  The Scientific research makes clear that adolescents do not think and behave the same way as adults and therefore, should not be legally treated the same way. In so much that the lengthy sentences imposed without consideration of this mitigating factor violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

   Recognition of the decision-making limitations of the immature mind underlines legal requirements for Voting, drinking, Marriage, entering into Contracts and Military Service. Despite these Legal protections instances of Inner City Violence have shifted Public perception on the needs of the youth involved with the Law, from rehabilitation to deterrence and retribution. This shift has resulted in the Legislative enactment of harsher penalties for youthful offenders and longer sentences for Incarceration.

   The most recent evolution in theories for competence evaluation for youthful offenders considers developmental immaturity. Consideration of developmental  immaturity stems from recognition of the naturally impaired decisional competence of youths. Study of adolescent decision making evaluates the cognitive abilities and psycho- Social traits that allow for good use of the available cognitive tools. The Psycho-Social traits that are a factor in adolescent decision making are comprised of Maturity of Judgment' which has three elements: Responsibility, Perspective and Temperance.

Responsibility is defined as healthy self-Identity and Autonomy

Perspective is the ability to appreciate complexity of a situation and see the big picture

Temperance deals with the ability to limit impulsive and emotional decision making, to think before acting, and avoid decision making extremes.

The elements of maturity predispose a young person to act in certain ways but are not fixed abilities or competencies. The difference in adult and adolescent decision making stems from a different appreciation in priorities. Adolescents put less importance on long term consequences, but rather, put greater emphasis on the novelty and intensity of a situation. Although adolescents lack maturity based on their priorities.


     I find it odd and grandly contradictory that our level of sophistication has reached such an advanced stage that we can create the technology that sends man to the moon, yet we haven't created a system that responsibly adjudicates our troubled children.

A system that seeks to rehabilitate and progressively mold their minds instead of using the most vulnerable sector of the population as political ponds. It's time we take heed to the cutting edge science and use it within the construction of a system that is dedicated to helping children reach their maximal development, use it to construct a legal foundation that outlaws the waiver of children into the Adult Judicial System and making it a requirement for Judges to consider age (of Juveniles) at sentencing.


"One of the most effective ways of measuring the quality of an era is by watching the ways in which they treat their children"

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