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The history of the juvenile justice system is reviewed tracing the development of the rehabilitation model that presumes that behavioral problems in youth will lessen as they grow older and their brain and nervous system matures. Despite the data that less than 20% youth arrested for juvenile delinquency and sent to the juvenile justice system go on to become career criminals as adults, many question rehabilitation and argue for punishment as a deterrent. Obviously, rehabilitation must be tempered with considering public safety. We describe the process of waiver into adult court for those who commit serious violent offenses like murder and the difficulty with the current services in many facilities for these youth. Recent USSC cases that document the neurological studies demonstrating that children’s brains do not fully develop until they are in their mid-20s are discussed showing the missing abilities. As a result the USSC has given their opinion that youth under the age of 18 may not be executed nor sentenced to life without parole. The crime rate for juveniles has been decreasing since the mid-1990s except for black and brown youth where racial bias is responsible along with other inequities in social class and housing in crime-infested neighborhoods. We describe the studies of juveniles under Florida’s new ‘red flag laws’ who have long-standing mental health histories similar to the shooter in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S, shooting. Treatment for them and elimination of socioeconomic and racial inequities will take radical social change, not just psychology. Nonetheless, the juvenile justice system works together with mental health professionals to help youth grow up to be responsible citizens.
KeywordsJuvenile justice Rehabilitation Public safety Roper v Simmons Graham v Florida Brain maturation Red flag laws
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