Reforming Juvenile Justice

September 11, 2015 • Volume 25, Issue 32
Should teens who murder be treated as adults?
By Christina L. Lyons


Twelve-year-old Morgan Geyser, above (Getty Images/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal/Michael Sears)
Twelve-year-old Morgan Geyser, above, and another girl will be tried as adults this fall in the stabbing of a classmate in the so-called Slenderman case in Wisconsin. Both girls reportedly were obsessed with the evil fictional character. The girl they allegedly stabbed survived. (Getty Images/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal/Michael Sears)

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 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 youths' culpability and likelihood of rehabilitation.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Juveniles and the Justice System
Sep. 11, 2015  Reforming Juvenile Justice
Mar. 05, 2010  Youth Violence
Nov. 07, 2008  Juvenile Justice
Apr. 27, 2001  Kids in Prison
Mar. 15, 1996  Preventing Juvenile Crime
Feb. 25, 1994  Juvenile Justice
Jul. 17, 1987  Troubled Teenagers
Nov. 28, 1986  Juvenile Justice
Jul. 27, 1979  Juvenile Justice
Feb. 11, 1970  Juvenile Offenders
Jul. 17, 1957  Reform of Delinquents
Sep. 25, 1953  Youngsters in Trouble
Sep. 08, 1950  Teen-Age Lawbreakers
Feb. 23, 1943  Juvenile Delinquency
Crime and Law Enforcement
Criminal Law Procedure and Due Process
Death Penalty
Juvenile Justice
Supreme Court History and Decisions