Chris Uggen's Blog: ginormous question for juvenile justice

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

ginormous question for juvenile justice

juvienation and the washington post report on the case of gary durant, a high school junior:

Should young people who are accused of a crime receive the full force of laws intended for adults, given accumulating evidence that their brains are not fully matured? Pitting attorney against attorney, scientist against scientist, even attorneys against scientists, that question has the potential to redraw courtroom battle lines nationwide.

psychologist larry steinberg of temple, a real authority on adolescent development, is quoted at length:

“there is a whole set of abilities that are still maturing after age 16. It has changed my mind about where the boundary should be drawn between adolescence and adulthood. Even at 21 or 22, kids are still developing competencies.”

shelly schaefer and i have been thinking about this issue in minnesota, where youth adjudicated for serious crimes are often given a blended juvenile/adult sentence (known locally as EJJ, or extended juvenile jurisdiction). they get a standard juvie sentence, but a looooong adult bit hangs over their heads until they successfully complete probation at 21. this month, a young man failed on EJJ, triggering a 72-year (yes, year) sentence. think about it: one irrational decision by a teenager determines whether he's free and clear at 21 or incarcerated until age 90.

as the parent of two teens, i doubt that such sanctions really impel them to "think twice" about the long-term consequences of their behavior. i can't speak for young mr. durant, but from the perspective of the high school junior in my house, i get the sense that 21 really doesn't seem all that far from 90.


At 10:58 AM, Blogger Charlieblue said...

After reading this post I'm on looking up terms like "Juvenile", "delinquent" and "felon"

juvenile delinquent
1. a minor who cannot be controlled by parental authority and commits antisocial or criminal acts, as vandalism or violence.
2. a child or youth characterized by juvenile delinquency.
Seems to me that our society plays funny games with who is responsible for their own behavior and who isn't. The distinction between who is old enough to drink alcohol, and who is old enough to carry a gun for their country, being the most obvious.
When I was arrested, my co defendant (convicted on the exact same charges) was given 1year to my 8year sentence (I served 4). The judge explained this with his feeling that at 27years I was more culpable than my 23yearold friend.
The courts muddling of the issue seems to reflect a confusion in our culture about responsibility.
I'm wondering what the youngest age for an American citizen subjected to an adult sentence might be?


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