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Practitioner Brief: Applying a Developmental Framework to Juvenile Sentencing-What Forensic Experts and Attorneys Should Know

Published Sep 30, 2015, Elizabeth Scott, Thomas Grisso, Marsha Levick, and Laurence Steinberg

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Recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court have severely restricted the use of life without parole for juvenile offenders (JLWOP). Affirming the principle that children are developmentally different from adults, and that those differences must be considered in sentencing, the Court made it clear that sentencing hearings must consider five mitigating factors: 
  1. Decision-making capacity 
  2. Capacity to resist negative influences 
  3. Context of the offense 
  4. Legal competency 
  5. Potential for rehabilitation

Child forensic mental health experts have a variety of tools and procedures to assess these factors in juveniles and help guide decisions in sentencing hearings and, to a more limited extent, in resentencing and parole hearings. Although the Supreme Court ruling only dealt with JLWOP, these factors are important in guiding juvenile sentencing decisions more generally.

This brief is based on the full report “The Supreme Court and the Transformation of Juvenile Sentencing," available at The preparation of the report and accompanying briefs was supported through Models for Change: Systems Reform in Juvenile Justice, an initiative of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.