Juvenile Law Center

Pursuing justiceA Juvenile law center Blog

March 26, 2012

Rutgers Hate Crime and "Youth as a Defense": Misconceptions Abound

posted by Juvenile Law Center

A recent and disturbing New York Times headline underscores how little is understood about youth, human brain development, and the law. This is exactly how harmful public perceptions are created and perpetuated—when people in influential positions make sweeping conclusions based upon incomplete information. The headline read: "Rutgers Verdict Repudiates Notion of Youth as Defense." 

The story was written in response to a recent verdict in the high-profile Rutgers University hate crime case. Eighteen-year-old Rutgers freshman Dharun Ravi used a webcam to spy on his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, and invited friends to watch as Mr. Clementi engaged in a sexual encounter with another man. Tragically, Mr. Clementi committed suicide a few days later. Prosecutors charged Mr. Ravi with a hate crime. His attorney characterized Mr. Ravi's behavior as nothing more than a stupid college kid prank. But the jury wanted the 18-year-old to be held accountable and found Mr. Ravi guilty. 

The article went on to say, "The failure of the jerky-kid defense is likely to change the legal landscape by showing that jurors can conclude that young people who are sophisticated enough to spy on, insult and embarrass one another electronically are sophisticated enough to be held accountable." And, "the notion of innocent youth as a shield to culpability might not hold as much sway as it once did in court... ." That anyone, must less the New York Times or other legal professionals, would draw such an all-encompassing conclusion based upon this case is alarming.


Tags:Juvenile and Criminal Justice
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February 29, 2012

Leap Day Long Overdue for Children in Conflict with the Law

posted by Juvenile Law Center

"Reintegration is not a federal program, it's a community process." Rights & Responsibilities (c) 2007 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Eric Okdeh

What can Leap Year teach us about effective advocacy for kids involved with our court and justice systems?

Every four years, Leap Day is added to the calendar on February 29th because the length of a year is actually 365.242 days, not 365 days. The practice of aligning our annual calendar with scientific knowledge dates back to the days of Julius Caesar. It was Caesar who created the leap year in 45 B.C., based upon the calculations made by his astronomer, Sosigenes. As scientific knowledge grew, the calendar was again adjusted in the 16th century, bringing us the modern Gregorian calendar.

Thousands of years ago, the Romans recognized the need to base policy and practice decisions upon scientific research and knowledge. On this Leap Day, we thought we should take a moment (we have a whole extra day, after all!) to reflect upon the need to consider developmentally-appropriate, research-driven solutions for children involved in America's justice system. By taking account of the growing body of science about children's cognitive, social, and emotional development, we can leap substantially ahead in our adoption of progressive juvenile and criminal justice policies.

Tags:Juvenile and Criminal Justice
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February 13, 2012

Pennsylvania Should Repeal Juvenile Sex Offender Registration Law

posted by Juvenile Law Center

In December 2011, Pennsylvania enacted its version of the federal Adam Walsh Act—a piece of draconian legislation that will require up to lifetime registration for Pennsylvania juveniles convicted of sex offenses. The General Assembly passed the law, and the Governor signed it, despite a steady and persistent chorus of dissent from leading child advocates across the state and nation. Why would children's advocates raise concerns about a new law that ostensibly aims to protect children? Because the law has the potential to destroy more lives than it will protect, while robbing Pennsylvania taxpayers of critical resources.

Tags:Juvenile and Criminal Justice|Juvenile Sex Offender Registration
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February 07, 2012

Governor Corbett's Proposal to Fully Implement the Federal Fostering Connections Act is a Win, Win, Win

posted by Juvenile Law Center

Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania today announced his proposed budget plan for fiscal year 2012-2013, which included a proposal for full implementation of the older youth provisions of the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (Fostering Connections). Foster youth who age out of care without permanent family supports and connections are one of our most vulnerable populations. These youth, who have histories of abuse and neglect, are strong, resilient, and full of potential, but can easily fall through the cracks as they enter adulthood. They deserve better—and we as a nation can do better.

Tags:Child Welfare and Foster Care|Fostering Connections|Normalcy for Foster Youth|Permanency (Foster Care)|Transitions to Adulthood (Foster Care)
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January 27, 2012

It's Time to Ban Sentences of Life Without Parole for Juveniles

posted by Juvenile Law Center

Are you the same person you were when you were 14 years old?

Or have you gained some insight and wisdom, and become more responsible since then? With few exceptions, we all experience dramatic changes in the way we think and handle ourselves as we move into adulthood. But what if a 14-year-old makes a terrible decision that he can't take back—something that resulted in the death of another person? Does the fact that he made a horrible decision suddenly erase his innate capacity for change? Settled research says no.

Tags:Juvenile and Criminal Justice|Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP)
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