Rethinking Juvenile Justice

Harvard University Press, 2008

Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 09-194

30 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2008

See all articles by Elizabeth S. Scott

Elizabeth S. Scott

Columbia University - Law School

Laurence Steinberg

Temple University - Department of Psychology

Date Written: December 11, 2008


Legal reforms over the past generation have transformed juvenile crime regulation from a system that viewed most youth crime as the product of immaturity into one that is ready to hold many youths to the standard of accountability imposed on adults. Supporters of these reforms argue that they are simply a response to the inability of the traditional juvenile court to deal adequately with violent youth crime, but the legal changes that have transformed the system have often been undertaken in an atmosphere of moral panic, with little deliberation about consequences and costs.

In this book we argue that a developmental model of regulation that is grounded in scientific knowledge about adolescence and juvenile crime is more compatible with the justice system's commitment to fairness and also more likely to promote social welfare than the contemporary approach. This premise for the most part translates into a legal regime that deals with most adolescent offenders as an intermediate legal category of persons - neither children nor adults. Developmental knowledge clarifies that the typical teenage offender is less culpable than his adult counterpart and therefore deserves less punishment. It also indicates that most adolescents mature out of their inclination to get involved in criminal activity, and that correctional interventions may influence the trajectories of their adult lives. The research shows that programs that attend to developmental knowledge are likely to facilitate the transition to conventional adult roles, benefiting both young offenders and society by reducing recidivism and reducing the economic costs of crime regulation.

Suggested Citation

Scott, Elizabeth S. and Steinberg, Laurence, Rethinking Juvenile Justice (December 11, 2008). Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 09-194; Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 09-194. Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth S. Scott (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States
(212) 854-9758 (Phone)
(212) 854-7946 (Fax)

Laurence Steinberg

Temple University - Department of Psychology ( email )

Weiss Hall
1701 N. 13th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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