After a crackdown in the 1990s that saw many teenagers sent to adult prisons for violent crimes, lawmakers in Washington State and other places are reconsidering their earlier hard line, reports the Seattle Times. Citing recent studies of early brain development, many in the criminal-justice system are taking the position that juveniles should not necessarily be doomed to long prison terms for crimes they committed when they may have been too young to control their impulses, make sound decisions, or grasp the significance of their actions.
Over the past 10 years, 20 states have passed “blended-sentencing” laws for teens convicted as adults of the most serious offenses. Many of the laws give judges the flexibility to consider juvenile-court sentencing options, adult-sentencing options, or some blend of both. A pending measure in Washington State would no longer require judges to impose certain adult prison terms for teens convicted in adult court of serious crimes such as murder. Two houses of the legislature have approved different versions of the bill. The House version has wide support. Tom McBride, head of the state prosecutors’ association, called it “an awesome remedy” for those relatively few cases in which a judge may not believe an adult prison sentence is appropriate for a young defendant.