Children and the courts

Published on People’s World, by Thomas Riggins, June 28, 2012.

Well, we can at least congratulate the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) for its recent decision that sentencing children to life in prison without parole is unconstitutional, as is the use of mandatory “one size fits all” sentences.

Justice Elena Kagan was absolutely correct in stating, in her majority opinion, that the brains (and hence the minds) of children are undeveloped in those areas governing maturity, ethical and moral development, impulsiveness, and judgment regarding the consequences of their actions. These areas of the brain are not fully functional until the mid 20s and children cannot be expected to behave as if they were already operational.  

No matter what crimes children have committed it is neither just nor even sensible to lock them up for life and throw away the key. The adult personality of these children (with the possible exception of sociopaths or psychopaths) will be, with proper educational and environmental stimulation, completely different from that of the impulsive, immature juvenile offender presenting him or herself before a judge.

SCOTUS has made us a little more civilized with this decision but more has to be done. Specifically it must be found unconstitutional (on the same 8th Amendment grounds of cruel and unusual punishment) to try children as adults – after all they are not adults, they are children … //

… Professor Williams concludes, “There is big gap between research conducted by neuroscientists and the realities of the day to day work of the justice system. Although criminal behavior results from a complex interplay of a host of factors, neuroscientists and clinicians are identifying key risk factors that – if addressed – could reduce crime. Investment in earlier, focused interventions may offset the costs of years of custody and social violence.”

But we should note, that even if early intervention fails, these children still need to be looked after as children who need and deserve our help. Surely it behooves the adults who must deal with these children on all levels to find ways to help them, not lock them away for the rest of their lives in adult prisons. (full text).


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on June 24, 2012;

Today in history: Civil Rights Act signed, on People’s World, July 2, 2012: … On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, a historic advance for all Americans …

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