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 federal 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 requiring a community-based mediation between victims and enders. 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 doing so 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.
Reducing Incarceration For Youthful Offenders With a Developmental Approach To Sentencing,
46 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 801
Available at: https://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/llr/vol46/iss3/2