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The criminal child and its potential for change: A presumption in favor of rehabilitation in sentencing juvenile offenders

Shukla, Prateek
June 4, 2015

Source: (2012) New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement. 38: 379- 398

The Federal Juvenile and Delinquency Act (FJDA)’ provides that
juvenile offenders shall be transferred to a federal district court for criminal
prosecution as adults only after considering whether prosecuting the
offender is in the “interest of justice.”2 The court presiding over the transfer
hearing shall consider a variety of factors including: “the juvenile’s present
intellectual development and psychological maturity; the nature of past
treatment efforts and the juvenile’s response to such efforts; [and] the
availability of programs designed to treat the juvenile’s behavioral
These provisions show that the FJDA is structured around two
fundamental assumptions. First, children who commit crimes will not be
treated as harshly as adults who commit the same crimes. Second, children
are psychological works-in-progress in that they are not fully equipped
with the tools critical to pragmatic decision-making. It is this latter
characteristic of children that warrants the very existence of the juvenile
system, along with its own unique set of sentencing guidelines. Given the
malleability of the juvenile mind,4 it is critical for society to nudge juvenile
offenders in the right direction by making them aware of their potential for
demonstrating “growth and maturity.”


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