A generation after states decided to get tough on kids who commit crimes, some are retooling juvenile sentencing laws, reports the Associated Press. They’re responding to new research on the adolescent brain, and studies that indicate teens sent to adult court end up worse off than those who are not. Juvenile crime is down, in contrast to the 1990s, when politicians vied to pass laws to get violent kids off the streets. Now, in calmer times, some favor community programs for young offenders to replace punitive measures they say went too far. “The net was thrown too broadly,” says Howard Snyder of the National Center for Juvenile Justice in Pittsburgh. “When you make these general laws  a lot of people believe they made it too easy for kids to go into the adult system and it’s not a good place to be.”
Some states are reconsidering life without parole for teens; others are focusing on raising the age of juvenile court jurisdictionor are exploring ways to offer kids a second chance, once they’re locked up, or before. “There has been a huge sea change,” says Laurie Garduque of the MacArthur Foundation, which works on juvenile justice reform. “It certainly helps that there has been a decline in juvenile crime and delinquency.” Not everyone believes there’s reason to roll back the 1990s’ harsher penalties. “The laws that were changed were appropriate and necessary,” says Minnesota prosecutor James Backstrom. “We need to focus on the protecting the public–that’s No. 1. Then we can address the needs of the juvenile offenders.” Each year about 200,000 defendants under 18 are sent to the adult system. The MacArthur Foundation said in a report being released this month that about half the states are involved in juvenile justice reforms, among them, taking more kids out of the adult system, providing more mental health and community based-services and improving conditions at detention centers.