and Culpability: Adolescent
Judgment in the Justice System
University of California, Irvine
Basic scientific knowledge about adolescent development and decision making has numerous implications for the development and implementation of a wide range of social policies that govern the behavior and treatment of youth. One such policy context is the justice system, where developmentally based assumptions about adolescent capacities and decision making historically have provided an explicit rationale for the maintenance of a separate justice system for adolescents. Although the founding assumptions behind the juvenile justice system may have been based more on philosophy than science, they were consistent with the notion of the psychologically immature adolescent who, with the right "guidance," could be encouraged to desist from antisocial behavior and grow into a productive, law-abiding adult. Legal reforms of the last half of the 20th century, however, have changed the characterization of juveniles—even juveniles as young as age 10—from wayward youth, who lack the skills necessary for mature judgment, to adultlike criminals with mature capacities for decision making. Although recent legal and policy changes, like those that led to the formation of the juvenile justice system initially, were not based solely or even primarily on science, the changing landscape of juvenile justice represents an opportunity to bring existing research on adolescent behavior to bear on legal reform, as well as to shape new research that can evaluate the legal system's assumptions regarding important differences, or lack thereof, between adolescents and adults.
In this chapter, we attempt to integrate developmental research on adolescent judgment and decision making with the legal system's assessments of