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Letters | RETHINKING HARSH SENTENCES FOR JUVENILE OFFENDERS

Young have greater ability to reform

RE “FOR teens guilty of murder, penalties can vary widely; Review finds no pattern in young killers’ terms since Mass. law change’’ (Page A1, Dec. 27):

More states are re-examining their laws regarding life without parole for juvenile offenders. Such initiatives underscore the growing recognition that adolescents differ from adults in how they think, solve problems, and make decisions. Their brains are not yet fully developed, particularly in the areas that govern reasoning and complex behavior. As a result, they’re more likely to act on impulse, without fully considering the consequences of their actions. Fortunately, they’re also more likely to mature and change over time, enhancing the possibility of rehabilitation.

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In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the juvenile death penalty was unconstitutional. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “It would be misguided to equate the failing of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor’s character deficiencies will be reformed.’’

Last year, the court relied on similar reasoning when it ruled juveniles could not be sentenced to life without parole for crimes that do not involve murder. This March, the court will be asked to extend its ruling to all juvenile offenders.

The court’s decisions and recent state actions reflect an emerging consensus that punishment that may be appropriate for adult offenders should not automatically apply in cases involving juveniles.

David Fassler

Burlington, Vt.

The writer is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont.
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