The Contexts of Juvenile Justice Decision Making: When Race Matters


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Every state should undertake a comprehensive, sustained and transparent process for achieving juvenile justice reform guided by the developmentally informed principles enunciated in this report see Box S A key element in building and sustaining organizational and constituent support for reform has been the willingness of policy makers at all levels to be engaged in the process and to be transparent regarding the effectiveness and costs of their current programs and policies.

Two strategies have been helpful: 1 the use of bipartisan, multistakeholder task forces or commissions to promote consensus and long-term follow-through and 2 collaboration with foundations, OJJDP, and other youth-serving organizations to leverage resources. Juvenile courts and affiliated agencies specifically aim to hold youth accountable for wrongdoing, prevent further offending, and treat youth fairly. Actions taken to achieve these aims should be designed and carried out in a developmentally informed manner.

A plan for collecting and analyzing the necessary data should also be developed and the assessment made public. Recommendation 1: State and tribal governments should establish a bipartisan, multistakeholder task force or commission, under the aus-.

This body should. Undertake a formal, authoritative, and transparent review of its juvenile justice system aiming to align laws, policies, and practices at every stage of the process with evolving knowledge regarding. Develop a strategy for modifying current laws, policies, and practices, for implementing and evaluating necessary changes on an ongoing basis, and for reviewing any proposed juvenile justice legislation.

Strengthening the legislation will send a strong message regarding the need for state, local, and tribal jurisdictions to assume greater responsibility for complying with the requirements and achieving a developmentally appropriate juvenile justice system. It will also enable OJJDP to redirect its resources in a way that best supports the efforts of state, local, and tribal jurisdictions.

Recommendation 2: The role of OJJDP in preventing delinquency and supporting juvenile justice improvement should be strengthened. Any additional responsibilities and authority conferred on the agency should be amply funded so as not to erode the funds needed to carry out the core mission. OJJDP should prioritize its research, training, and technical assistance resources to promote the adoption of developmentally appropriate policies and practices by jurisdictions throughout the country, particularly helping those that have not yet achieved a state of readiness to undertake reform.

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Traditionally, OJJDP has been the primary funder of research on juvenile crime and juvenile justice, but its capacity is limited. It is essential that OJJDP and other funding agencies continue to support research that has far-reaching implications beyond that of juvenile justice. But it is critical that the research agenda, outlined in Chapter 11 of our report, adhere to the highest standards of scientific rigor. The evidence-based movement in treatment and prevention did not gain traction until the programs were evaluated with experimental designs and benefit-cost analyses were undertaken.

Recommendation 3: Federal research agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health, as well as OJJDP, should support research that continues to advance the science of adolescent development and expands our understanding of the ways in which developmental processes influence juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice responses. State, local, and tribal jurisdictions are dependent on a variety of data sources from the federal government and from various agencies within. This challenge must be pursued at the federal level, and OJJDP is the logical agency to lead the effort and provide the training and technical assistance on automated data systems and support for data analysis activities to assess reform initiatives.

Department of Justice agencies with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to improve the federal collection of juvenile arrest and incident data. OJJDP should provide training and technical assistance on data collection, automated data systems, and methods of protecting the confidentiality of juvenile records. Adolescence is a distinct, yet transient, period of development between childhood and adulthood characterized by increased experimentation and risk-taking, a tendency to discount long-term consequences, and heightened sensitivity to peers and other social influences.

A key function of adolescence is developing an integrated sense of self, including individualization, separation from parents, and personal identity. Research indicates that for most youth, the period of risky experimentation does not extend beyond adolescence, ceasing as identity becomes settled with maturity. Much adolescent involvement in criminal activity is part of the normal developmental process of identity formation and most adolescents will mature out of these tendencies.

This imbalance model implies dual systems: one involved in cognitive and behavioral control and one involved in socio-emotional processes. Accordingly adolescents lack mature capacity for self-regulations because the brain system that influences pleasure-seeking and emotional reactivity develops more rapidly than the brain system that supports self-control. This knowledge of adolescent development has underscored important differences between adults and adolescents with direct bearing on the design and operation of the justice system, raising doubts about the core assumptions driving the criminalization of juvenile justice policy in the late decades of the 20th century.

The goal of Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach was to review recent advances in behavioral and neuroscience research and draw out the implications of this knowledge for juvenile justice reform, to assess the new generation of reform activities occurring in the United States, and to assess the performance of OJJDP in carrying out its statutory mission as well as its potential role in supporting scientifically based reform efforts.

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Visit NAP. Looking for other ways to read this? No thanks. Suggested Citation: "Summary. Summary Recent research on adolescent development has underscored important behavioral differences between adults and adolescents with direct bearing on the design and operation of the justice system, raising doubts about the core assumptions driving the criminalization of juvenile justice policy in the last decades of the 20th century. Page 2 Share Cite. Page 3 Share Cite. Page 4 Share Cite.

Ph.D. Dissertations, School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati

Accountability Holding adolescents accountable for their offending vindicates the just expectation of society that responsible offenders will be answerable for wrongdoing, particularly for conduct that causes harm to identifiable victims, and that corrective action will be taken.

Page 5 Share Cite. Preventing Reoffending Assessing the risk of rearrest and the intervention needs of each youth is the necessary first step in achieving the overall goal of a more rational and developmentally appropriate array of preventive interventions in the juvenile justice system.


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Page 6 Share Cite. Fairness Treating youth fairly and ensuring that they perceive that they have been treated fairly and with dignity contribute to positive outcomes in the normal processes of social learning, moral development, and legal socialization during adolescence. As a general rule, the law considers juvenile offenders to be less culpable than adults, and for this reason juveniles cannot merit punishments as severe as those available for adults, even for the same crime [4] , [5].

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Although these protections have existed for some time, their application to severe offenses has been more recent [4] , [5]. When juveniles commit serious violent crimes, this protection may seem at odds with the goal of meting out punishment appropriate to the severity of the offense. Indeed, this argument was evident in the debate before the Supreme Court over whether life in prison without the possibility of parole, the most severe punishment available for juveniles, ought to remain legal for non-homicide cases.

Given how recent this protection is in the context of severe offenses, might a heightened desire to punish weaken it? Black American adults are incarcerated at a higher rate than White Americans [1] , [3] , [6] and are disproportionately likely to receive severe sentences such as the death penalty [7]. Moreover, Black juveniles who are transferred to adult court for trial and sentencing receive significantly more punitive sentences than White juveniles, and this practice is on the rise [9].

Extending this past research, we systematically examined whether priming participants with i.

Race and Juvenile Justice Decision-Making

We hypothesized that, even when they are presented with the same serious crime, people would see juvenile offenders as less different from adults and worthy of more severe punishments when exposed to an example case that included a Black American as compared with a White American. As noted, this distinction between juveniles and adults is considered foundational in the law.


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  7. For example, cases that ultimately extended the protections associated with juveniles to severe crimes have hinged on this relative difference in culpability [4] , [5]. At the same time, however, there are practices that may be seen as placing this distinction in jeopardy, such as assigning juveniles to adult courts for sentencing, which has been on the rise [9]. For these reasons, it is critical to understand factors that might inappropriately affect perceptions of this legal distinction, and particularly the role of race.

    Given that this precedent sets boundaries on appropriate punitiveness toward juveniles, any factors that inappropriately weaken or undermine the established difference between juveniles and adults could have serious practical ramifications across the criminal justice system.

    Thus, in the present study, we examined for the first time whether White Americans, a group overrepresented in jury pools [15] - [18] , the legal field, and the judiciary [19] would perceive juvenile status as a mitigating factor to the same degree when primed to think of Blacks versus Whites. In other words, we asked whether race influences the extent to which juveniles are viewed as less culpable than adults and, as a result, the support for a punitive policy directed at them. Although research shows that prejudice against Black Americans is positively related to support for punitive measures [6] , [20] - [23] , other work also shows that the mere association of Black Americans with crime leads to greater punitiveness above and beyond the effects of explicit racial prejudice [10] , [11] , [14].

    Only those who answered the race manipulation check question correctly were included in the final, weighted sample of Participants completed the study online and provided written informed consent. We attest that the data were collected in strict accordance with the ethical guidelines pertaining to the use of human subjects. At the time of the study, the Supreme Court was, in fact, weighing the constitutionality of a class of penalties for juvenile defendants in non-homicide cases: life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    Given that the tension between protection of juvenile status and punishment fitting the crime was evident in this case, we thought it an ideal setting for investigating our hypotheses. We provided participants with factual information about this Supreme Court case. Specifically, participants read that life without parole sentences for juveniles in non-homicide cases were currently under review by the Supreme Court, and then they read some details about this Supreme Court case e. Embedded in the materials, participants read about an example recipient of this sentencing option: a year-old male with 17 prior juvenile convictions on his record who brutally raped an elderly woman.

    This information was based on one of the two cases that the Supreme Court selected as representative for review in order to determine the constitutionality of these sentences generally [24]. We manipulated just one word across the two study conditions. In the description of the example recipient of the sentencing option, the juvenile was described as either Black or White i. Because the legal distinction establishing that juveniles ought to be viewed as less culpable than adults is the central basis of their protected status, we then asked participants about their perceptions of how juveniles as a group should be viewed, relative to adults.

    Past research suggests that support for more punitive criminal policy is associated with less positive feelings toward Black Americans relative to White Americans [20] and with more conservative political ideologies [25] , [26]. Therefore, participants completed two feeling thermometer scales, rating both White and Black Americans on a scale from 0 very cold or unfavorable feeling to very warm or favorable feeling.

    Finally, participants completed an item that probed their memory for the race of the defendant in the example case. In all analyses, we exclude those participants who did not correctly recall the race of the juvenile see File S1 , Note 3. Error bars represent standard errors of the means. Given these results, we then tested for mediation. Participants in the Black vs. White prime condition exhibited greater vs.

    The Contexts of Juvenile Justice Decision Making: When Race Matters The Contexts of Juvenile Justice Decision Making: When Race Matters
    The Contexts of Juvenile Justice Decision Making: When Race Matters The Contexts of Juvenile Justice Decision Making: When Race Matters
    The Contexts of Juvenile Justice Decision Making: When Race Matters The Contexts of Juvenile Justice Decision Making: When Race Matters
    The Contexts of Juvenile Justice Decision Making: When Race Matters The Contexts of Juvenile Justice Decision Making: When Race Matters
    The Contexts of Juvenile Justice Decision Making: When Race Matters The Contexts of Juvenile Justice Decision Making: When Race Matters

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