Get-tough laws that have put more teenagers in adult prisons conflict with new research suggesting how children can be set straight and society protected, says USA Today. At a two-day meeting starting today in Washington, researchers will meet with juvenile justice decision-makers – directors of state juvenile justice systems, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys – to discuss how the new evidence should affect treatment of teen offenders. “We know so much more about the adolescent brain and behavior than we used to, and we want to get these facts into the hands of people who can make a difference,” says psychologist Laurence Steinberg, who heads a network of researchers and juvenile-justice workers funded by the MacArthur Foundation, which sponsored the meeting.
Since 1992, every state but Nebraska has made it easier to try juveniles as adults, and most states have enacted harsher sentences. Many states limit judges’ discretion, sending all teens who commit serious offenses to adult courts, or allowing prosecutors to opt for adult prosecution. There’s firm evidence that teens prosecuted as adults are much more likely to commit crimes when they get out than comparable young people tried as juveniles, says Shay Bilchik, president of the Child Welfare League of America. Juvenile facilities tend to offer better education, job training, and drug abuse and mental health treatment, Steinberg says. Teens there aren’t learning from adults how to be career criminals.