According to an article in New York Magazine, the criminal justice system needs to reconsider it’s approach to offenders that are young adults in light of recent findings on brain development.
The article states that the United States criminal justice system has “been notorious for its proclivity for imprisoning children,” noting the existence of laws that allow prosecutors and judges to treat juveniles like adults within the system. This is accomplished in Massachusetts by transferring juvenile cases to adult court under certain circumstances (i.e., when the juvenile is alleged to have committed a crime that is deemed sufficiently serious), and prosecuting them as “youthful offenders.” According to the article, the United States is “an outlier” in terms of the rates at which it imprisons children, including juveniles that receive life sentences. The article notes that this has caused a “great deal of outrage and advocacy” from human rights organizations. These organizations argue that juveniles should be treated more leniently in light of the fact that their decision making capabilities is compromised due to their age – namely, their brains are not fully developed and therefore they lack the ability to control impulsivity and make sound judgments in the way that the fully developed adult brain does.
The article references one writer, Dana Goldstein, who takes this argument one step further by advocating for similarly lenient treatment for young adult offenders in addition to juveniles. The article states that “the more researchers study the brain, the more they realize that it takes decades for the organ to develop fully and to impart to its owners their full, adult capacities for reasoning.” According to the article, “the research suggests that brain maturation continues into one’s twenties and even thirties.”