Reducing Incarceration for Youthful Offenders with a Developmental Approach to Sentencing

85 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2013 Last revised: 27 Aug 2014

See all articles by Samantha Buckingham

Samantha Buckingham

Loyola Law School - Center for Juvenile Law and Policy

Date Written: November 22, 2013


Current sentencing practices have proven to be an ineffective method of rehabilitating criminal defendants. Such practices are unresponsive to developmental science breakthroughs, fail to promote rehabilitation, and drain society’s limited resources. These deficiencies are most acute when dealing with youthful offenders. Incarcerating youthful offenders, who are amenable to rehabilitative efforts, under current sentencing practices only serves to ensure such individuals will never become productive members of society. Drawing on the author’s experiences as a public defender, studies in developmental psychology and neuroscience, and the Supreme Court’s recent line of cases that acknowledge youthful offenders’ biological differences from adult offenders, the author proposes a restorative-justice approach to replace current sentencing practices. This solution includes tailoring a youthful offender’s sentence to his or her developmental level and offering a community-based mediation between victims and offenders. The proposal counteracts a major deficiency of current sentencing practices — the failure to offer youthful offenders an opportunity to truly understand their crimes. Only by providing an opportunity to learn from an offense will a youthful offender be in a position to rehabilitate. This Article responds to possible critiques of the proposal, including concerns about the ability to accurately measure the success of a restorative-justice sentencing model, the fear of implicating the offender’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and the cost of implementing mediation-based efforts. Ultimately, this Article determines that a developmentally appropriate, community-based sentencing scheme — with restorative justice overtones — best addresses the unique situation youthful offenders find themselves in. A sentence for a youthful offender should — indeed, must — present meaningful opportunities for the youthful offender to rehabilitate, and age-appropriate sentences grounded in restorative-justice principles will do this effectively.

Suggested Citation

Buckingham, Samantha, Reducing Incarceration for Youthful Offenders with a Developmental Approach to Sentencing (November 22, 2013). 46 Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 801 (2013), Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2013-38, Available at SSRN:

Samantha Buckingham (Contact Author)

Loyola Law School - Center for Juvenile Law and Policy ( email )

919 Albany Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015-1211
United States
213-736-1328 (Phone)

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