Youth Justice – “Does childhood end at 18?”

Todayʻs post is all about youth justice. We open with an article about Nevada passing a Juvenile Justice Bill of Rights law that mandates that detention facilities inform youth and their guardian of a youth’s right to be treated with dignity and respect, receive healthcare, food, education, and be free from abuse.

We follow that piece with links to two articles questioning whether individuals 18 years old should be treated as adults in light of research about brain development that indicates that the frontal cortex (the part of the brain that acts as its executive center) is not fully developed until a person is in their mid-twenties.

And the last item is an article about a Chicago youth program that is working.

NV Passes Youth Justice Bill of Rights
Josh Gordon, National Juvenile Justice Project, June 20, 2017

“The Juvenile Justice Bill of Rights mandates that detention facilities inform youth and their guardian of a youth’s right to be treated with dignity and respect, receive healthcare, food, education, and be free from abuse. The bill also makes it clear that youth who believe their rights are violated have the right to file a grievance for redress.

“With the bill of rights passage, Nevada actively places the burden on the state to inform youth and their families.”


Who’s a Kid?
Science — and law enforcement — are rethinking young adults.
Dana Goldstein, The Marshall Project, Oct. 27, 2016

“Consider three young people: An 18-year old who can vote, but can’t legally buy a beer; a 21-year old who can drink, but is charged extra to rent a car; and a 25-year old who can rent a car at the typical rate, but remains eligible for his parents’ health insurance.

“Which one is an adult? All of them? None of them? Some of them? Or does it depend on the individual?

“These questions are newly salient in the criminal justice system. Over the past year, several states—including Vermont, Illinois, New York, and Connecticut—have debated laws that would change how the justice system treats offenders in their late teens and early twenties. It remains the case that in 22 states, children of any age—even those under 10—can be prosecuted as adults for certain crimes. “Raise the Age” campaigns across the country are pushing for legal changes in order to treat all offenders under 18 as juveniles. But some advocates and policymakers are citing research to argue 18 is still too young, and that people up to the age of 25 remain less than fully grown up.

“Some of the most compelling evidence comes via magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. In 2011, brain researchers Catherine Lebel and Christian Beaulieu published a study of 103 people between the ages of 5 and 32, each of whom received multiple brain scans over the course of six years. The researchers were looking for changes in white brain matter, a material that supports impulse control and many other types of cognitive functioning. The majority of participants in the study, including those as old as 32, experienced increases in white matter connectivity between scans. In some parts of the brain, this connectivity increased by as much as 4 percent between the ages of 20 and 30, compared to as much as a 6 percent change between the ages of 10 and 20. In a separate study of 403 children and adults, the same researchers and a group of collaborators found that the volume of white brain matter peaks around age 37. Altogether, the research suggests that brain maturation continues into one’s twenties and even thirties.


“If people in their twenties are a lot like adolescents socially and biologically, should they really be considered full adults under the law? Many advocates who work directly with this population say no. “For many years, the idea of how to achieve public safety with this group was you want to lock them up, protect the community by not having them around,” said Yotam Zeira, director of external affairs for Roca, a Massachusetts organization that provides counseling, education, and job training to 17 to 24-year old male offenders. “The sad reality is that after you lock them up, nothing gets better. Public safety is not really improved. Prosecutors know they are prosecuting, again and again, the same people.”

“Zeira, the coauthor of a report on justice alternatives for this age group, sees three possible reforms: reclassifying young adults in their early twenties as juveniles, as is the case in Germany and the Netherlands; providing judges, attorneys, and probation programs more tools within the adult system to treat younger defendants with leniency and rehabilitation; or creating an entirely new young adult justice system “in between” the family and criminal court, with specially trained prosecutors and judges and less of a mandate to incarcerate. …”

Does childhood end at 18?
Jessica Pishko, writer at Fair Punishment Project, In Justice Today, August 17, 2017

“If someone commits a crime days after turning 18, should he be treated like an adult or a child?

“In two recent cases — Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana — the U.S. Supreme Court held that life-without-parole should be reserved for the rare kid (defined as someone under 18) “whose crime reflects irreparable corruption,” citing the ability of youth to evolve and scientific discoveries about young adult brain development. “Children are different,” Justice Kagan wrote, neatly summarizing modern-day medical understanding and common sense attributable to anyone who knows a teenager.

“But does 18 makes sense as an arbitrary cut-off? More courts across the country are saying no. After all, people under 18 cannot drink or rent a car. Experts say that the brain continues to develop profoundly between the ages of 18 to 22. And anyone with common sense who knows someone between 18 and 22 cannot reasonably argue that they are able to make the same judgments an adult would make.


“… It’s important to remember that these cases are not making a blanket statement about whether individuals deserve lesser sentences — rather they are simply providing the opportunity for young individuals to present evidence that they may be less culpable than others.

“As courts across the country face resentencings for inmates who were unconstitutionally condemned to die in prison as youth, there is hope that the arbitrary age cut-off of 18 may soon erode to allow for individualized sentencing.”


How a Chicago Program Cut Violent Arrests in Half
Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy thinks emotional well-being can help reduce gun deaths.
Olga Khazan, June 25, 2017

“On an average day, 93 Americans are killed with guns—more than in any other developed country. National reforms, such as closing loopholes around background checks, might help curb that, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said this past week at the Aspen Ideas Festival. But those types of changes aren’t likely to make it through a Republican-led Congress. So instead, Murthy pointed out some initiatives individual communities can take on to reduce gun deaths at the local level.

“Murthy specifically highlighted programs focused on reducing stress and isolation, and that promoted positive social connections. One impactful example, Murthy said, is “the Chicago ‘Becoming A Man’ program — a one-year intervention, over 32 or so weeks, where kids met with a mentor once a week to develop social connection, to develop skills on how to handle conflict and adversity. In one year compared to a control group they had a 44 percent reduction in violent arrests.”

We celebrate the advocates working with our youth to help them reach their fullest potential. Mahalo to all you good people working with our next generation of leaders!

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