Last year, Colorado revised its criminal code in a deeply significant way that is now inspiring similar changes in states around the nation. In particular, the Colorado legislature narrowed the scope of circumstances under which prosecutors may take minor offenders out of the juvenile court system and charge them as adults. It also narrowed the ability of the system as a whole to house young offenders in adult correctional facilities. This important shift is inspiring other states to embrace a similar approach to juvenile justice.
According to the New York Times, the legal shift in Colorado was motivated in part by the suicides of two teen prisoners who had been housed in jails with adults in Colorado. These suicides, various abuses and mental health issues inspired by housing minors in adult correctional facilities have roused many state legislatures to restrict the housing of minor prisoners with adults and the trying of minor offenders as adults in general.
A director of the criminal justice program at the National Conference of State Legislatures recently told the New York Times that one of the scientific advances helping to facilitate this shift in Colorado and nationwide is an increased understanding within the scientific and legal communities of the potential for rehabilitation within adolescents whose brains are still developing.
In recent years, even the Supreme Court has taken the “diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change” among adolescents into consideration when determining what sentences are and are not appropriate for minor offenders. Hopefully, as brain development research expands, the ability of the nation’s justice system to treat minor offenders with more care and leniency will expand as well.
Source: New York Times, “A Bid to Keep Youths Out of Adult Prisons,” John Schwartz, Oct. 28, 2013