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November 28, 2012

"Should Juvenile Criminals Be Sentenced Like Adults?"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy piece in The Daily Beast; it considers not just the hot constitutional topic of juve LWOP sentences, but the broader policy and practical issues involved in adult sentencing of juvenile offenders. The piece's subheading highlights the main case that is the focal point of the article: "Sean Shevlino was 16 when he robbed some local businesses. Sentenced as an adult, he’s serving 10 years. Is that better for anyone?".  Here are some excerpts fromt he piece:

Increasingly, social scientists, law-enforcement authorities, lawyers, and judges are questioning the wisdom of charging juveniles as adults. It is only in the last few years that the law has begun to recognize what science has long known: that adolescent brain development takes more time than previously thought.

"While some teenagers can be astonishingly mature and others inconceivably childish, middle adolescence—roughly, ages 14 to 18—might be the worst time in a person’s life for rational decision making, says Laurence Steinberg, an adolescent psychologist at Temple University. Research has repeatedly shown that during these years, pleasure centers are at full throttle, and foresight is lacking, particularly in young men.

“Among all American boys, about 75 percent violate the law at some point,” Steinberg says. “For some it might be as minor as possession of marijuana and for others it could be as serious as armed robbery, but in either case they’re breaking the law. The question we ask is why some stop and others don’t. Our sense is most stop because they just grow up.”

During pre- and early-adolescence, the brain becomes more efficient and logical, and dopamine activity increases. Things like sex, drugs, and adrenaline thrills feel really good, and when teens are in groups they are even more likely to go for the thrill. But as teens approach adulthood, the pathways between the brain’s CEO and the limbic system—the emotional center—increase substantially, allowing for greater impulse control. According to some studies, brain development is not complete until the mid-20s....

[S]ince 2005, several states have raised the adult criminal bar to age 18, either for some or all offenses. A state task force in North Carolina, one of two states where the age of criminal responsibility is 16, has recommended that for minor crimes, teens under 18 remain in the juvenile system.

The benefits of keeping juveniles out of the adult system are also financial. If the age were raised to 18 for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, North Carolina would net $52.3 million a year over the long run, according to an analysis by the Vera Institute of Justice.

November 28, 2012 at 07:19 PM | Permalink


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Logic flaw.

Assume adolescents are impaired per se, rather than the dumbass lawyer. Assume all handicaps are true, when mental performances are actually superior, and adolescents have lower crime rates than adults.

If everything is true in this lawyer propaganda piece, then greater punishment, with greater certainty of punishment is needed to get through their thick skulls and helpless inability to control themselves.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 29, 2012 1:48:05 AM

\\ "what science has long known: that adolescent brain development takes more time than previously thought" \\

Right, or that we are increasingly expecting less from young people, so their brains are not developing as rapidly.

They can't recite the Gettysburg Address,
can't write in cursive,
can't speak one sentence without um, um, um, like, like, like,

but can surf the net with ease,
can employ an 'advanced' language LOL/OMG/BYOB,
and do watch "PG" movies that used to be "R".

Posted by: Adamakis | Nov 29, 2012 9:56:38 AM

| "A state task force in NC...has recommended that for minor crimes, teens under 18 remain in the juvenile system. |

Wow, sin agad sin. There you have it Einstein. MINOR crimes--work it out.

Posted by: Adamakis | Nov 29, 2012 10:01:56 AM

"Sean Shevlino was 16 when he robbed some local businesses. Sentenced as an adult, he’s serving 10 years. Is that better for anyone?"

Note the plural "businesses." Poor little undeveloped Sean is a serial robber.

In answer to the question, it's good for the people he will not rob during the next 10 years.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Nov 29, 2012 1:35:22 PM

Under 18? Too stupid for sex.

Under 18? Smart enough for LWOP.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 29, 2012 1:57:47 PM

Were people like Kent Scheidegger ever teenagers? Or, were they just hatched or cloned as adults? Have they ever been around children?

Posted by: Taxpayer | Nov 29, 2012 3:18:35 PM

Taxpayer --

Children learn way before adolescence that stealing from stores is morally wrong and illegal. If your children don't know that, you might consider quitting commenting on law blogs and finishing your work at home -- for their sakes.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 30, 2012 10:32:06 AM

'If your children don't know that, you might consider quitting commenting on law blogs and finishing your work at home -- for their sakes.'

what a jerkhead and clueless response, people living in glass houses shouldn't throw rocks, have you actually had any kids of your own because it sure doesn't sound like you have

Posted by: Grant | Nov 30, 2012 5:28:08 PM

We were all kids once, but somehow we managed to avoid committing robbery.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Nov 30, 2012 5:56:13 PM

Grant --

The "clueless" response is yours, my man -- the one that assumes children are just small felons.

Yes, they have to be taught not to steal. But as I said, they learn that lesson way before they reach their teenage years. If they haven't, they deserve trouble, are going to get it, and so are their parents. If you don't like that, tough.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 30, 2012 11:03:19 PM

'The "clueless" response is yours, my man-- the one that assumes children are just small felons.'

and proof that book/institutional intelligence is not an indicator of knowledge in the real world experiences raising and dealing with adolescents in the this day and age, thank goodness your no longer serving the public in an official capacity anymore, retirement is the best thing that can happen to people like you short of expiration

Posted by: Grant | Dec 4, 2012 8:29:14 PM

Much time has passed since this article was written and there has not been any real change in S.C. The point is missed completely by those who look at putting the actions of a juvenile on the same level as an adult. There is scientific facts and studies all over the world that show the brain does not fully develop until the early 20's. Even the best, brightest, well disciplined child does stupid things and act out. No who commented here can honestly say with a straight face that they never spoke back to their parents, disregarded their parents rules, perhaps did something that could have turned into a dangerous situation or were flat out stupid. And then add more teenage brains together and things could be crazy. In all of this I am not saying that there should be consequences for one's actions. I feel strongly there should be consequences and standards to be held to. But how a 16 year old see's things is far different than a 30 year old, I would hope. Throwing children and adolescents in jail with adults for years on end does not truly remedy the problem. First, those who go in a children and come out as adults are more scarred, damaged, warped and dysfunctional than if they were put into a juvenile institution. Thus, we did not "rehabilitate" but created more of a problem. Next, the cost of housing criminals far, far exceeds the cost of a combination of institutionalization (prison time) and rehabilitation (education, counseling, job training, etc.) The adage of "lock them up as they deserve it" without taking more steps to help those going into our prison systems does not cut it for anyone. This is especially true for our youth. Finally, truly accepting that people mess up at times, especially our youth, is key. If we were all held day in and day out over the course of our lives for something we did at age 15 or 16, there would be no hope, no goals, no joy and no desire to continue in a positive and productive way. There has to be a better way to handle the sentencing our our youth in SC and across the country. Being harsh, unbending and basically ignorant appears to me to be attitudes that border on things our youth do.

Posted by: Coyle | May 23, 2016 4:03:15 PM

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