One of the major arguments against my thesis is that children from different environments, gender and genetic backgrounds reach neurobiological milestones at different times. Therefore, whats to say that one 13 year old has the mental capabilities to be held to an adequate level of culpability as an 18 year old. During the 1990’s there was a flux of violent crimes being committed by children, creating a media firestorm that created a “mini-predator” profile of these adolescents that commit adult crimes. The backlash was to treat these children as adults and having the legal system hold them accountable to adult standards. These legal practices haven’t changed much in the last quarter century, regardless of the new scientific research released about brain development and behaviorism.
Just because people fear these children who commit violent crimes is no reason to forgo all of the new information available to us to better help rehabilitate those who commit these crimes. Children are children. Theres science now to back up the fact that children are physiologically different than adults. One of those differences is in the mental capabilities to make decisions and understand the ultimate consequences of their actions. Brains are not fully matured even into the teenage years and because of that they shouldn’t be held to full accountability for their behavior.
Its imperative we remember the necessity of self-regulation in regards to decision making. Bandura is quoted saying, “neither intention nor desire alone have much effect if people lack the capability for exercising influence over their own motivation and behavior.” This directly ties into my theory that a developing brain does not have the capability to have that pre motivation that adults have when it comes to violent offenses. Due to this lack of self-regulatory ability, holding juvenile offenders to high culpability is immoral. They lack the ability to make certain decisions while also understanding the consequences of their actions.
Despite of scientific research, these advancements seem to have hindered advancement in the legal field regarding juvenile offenders. They take the argument that each child develops at different times, therefore there may be some cases in which a juvenile can be held accountable for their behavior above all other reasons. While it is undeniably true that development is a spectrum, there are certain universal truths: the prefrontal cortex is not matured until well into your twenties. That should be the end of the conversation about maturity but it isn’t.
Spinks, Sarah. “Adolescent Brains Are A Work In Progress.” Nature, Mar. 2000.
Bandura, Albert. “Social cognitive theory of self-regulation.” Organizational behavior and human decision processes 50.2 (1991): 248-287.
K. M. Banham Bridges, Factors Contributing to Juvenile Delinquency, 17 Am. Inst. Crim. L. & Criminology 531 (1926-1927)