Ask any insightful parent.
By MARY SANCHEZ
The Kansas City Star
Kids brains develop over time. Thats why young people are so frustratingly impulsive, react to peer pressure more than adults, fail to appreciate risks and consequences.
And its as true for the kid who crashes the car as it is for those who commit horrific crimes of violence.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court ingrained that sort of parental wisdom into case law. Citing a growing body of scientific research, the court laid down a challenge for Missouri and 27 other states with mandatory life sentences with no parole for some juveniles convicted of first-degree murder. Adjustments will have to be made to sentencing laws.
The court reiterated earlier decisions, noting youth is more than a chronological fact. It is a time of immaturity, irresponsibility, impetuousness and recklessness.
No argument there.
But the research also shows that young people, because they arent fully formed yet, exhibit a great capacity to change.
Thats an opportunity. Missouri has long applied some of the same research as it works with the 2,200 juveniles who enter Division of Youth Services each year.
Changes began in the early 1980s, but Missouri is known for gearing its approach more toward treatment than punishment. The result: In Missouri, juvenile offenders have far lower recidivism rates than in other states.
The court didnt outright ban juveniles convicted of first-degree murder from receiving mandatory sentences of life without parole. And the ruling shouldnt be misunderstood to mean that anyone is going to be freed from prison.
Missouri has 84 people who were sentenced under such mandatory laws. Some are now well into middle age.
The court specifically noted that appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest penalty will be uncommon. Nationally, there are 2,570 such inmates.
Briefs filed in the case showed just how difficult it is to determine a youths potential for violence as an adult, based on childhood behavior. One study found that most juveniles labeled as psychopaths wouldnt fit the description by adulthood.
And once the developmental state of juveniles is considered, every aspect of their interaction with criminal justice needs to be reexamined; from their ability to understand plea deals, to how they deal with police and prosecutors and their inability to assist defense attorneys.
Thats why experts are saying this U.S. Supreme Court ruling will reverberate for years. And Missouri is ahead of the game.
To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to email@example.com.