The brain is developed through an ongoing process that begins during pregnancy and continues into early adulthood. The foundations of the brain begin to form between birth and five years of age as a child sees, feels, tastes, hears, and smells. Seven hundred new neural connectors are formed every second during a child’s first years. This forms the sturdy foundation that will affect the learning, health, and behaviors that follow.
The process of pruning begins after this initial period of rapid proliferation. During pruning, neural connections are reduced, cause brain circuits to become more efficient. Then, sensory pathways, such as basic vision and hearing, develop. Next, the development of early language skills and higher cognitive functions begins. These connections proliferate and prune in a specific, beginning with basic function and then moving on to more complex brain circuits built upon earlier, simpler circuits.
A close relationship between the child and the caregiver is the best way to nourish the child’s growing brain. Young children learn by interactions with adults—the children babble and make facial expressions and gestures, while the adult responds with similar vocalizations and gestures. In the absence of such responses—or if the responses are unreliable or inappropriate—the brain’s architecture does not form as expected, which can lead to disparities in learning and behavior.
Brain development can also be impaired by chronic or unrelenting stress that occurs in early childhood from events such as poverty, abuse, or sever maternal depression. Positive stressors are important and necessary for typical development; however, toxic stress can caused damaged neurons that will inadequately shape the developing brain.
Using Adolescent Brain Science to Inform Reliable Sentencing Outcomes – Roseanne Eckert
The United States Supreme Court held in Graham v. Florida (2010) and Miller v. Alabama (2012) that children may not be sentenced to life without parole without taking in consideration the unique characteristics of youth. The outcomes in these cases were informed by the research in adolescent development suggesting that teens are not as culpable due to their impulsivity, vulnerability to peer pressure, and their capacity for change. In this training, Roseanne Eckert, the Coordinating Attorney for the Florida Juvenile Resentencing and Review Project at the Florida International University College of Law, explains on the brain science can inform reliable sentencing outcomes.
“How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime” by Nadine Burke Harris, TEDMED (2014)
Abstract: In this TED Talk, pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect, and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. An impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on. Watch the full TED Talk or read the transcript.
“Minor is Major: How Adolescent Brain and Behavior Development Can Affect Competency, Culpability and Other Determinations in Criminal Court” by Cathryn S. Crawford, NACDL 2016 Mid-Winter Meeting. Download the presentation.
40 Developmental Assets
The Search Institute identified the 40 building blocks necessary for healthy development—known as Developmental Assets—that help young children grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. This particular list is intended for adolescents (age 12-18).
“Minor is Major: How Adolescent Braind and Behavior Development Can Affect Competency, Culpability and Other Determinations in Criminal Court” by Cathryn S. Crawford, NACDL 2016 Mid-Winter Meeting. Download the presentation.
SCIENTIFIC PAPERS AND ARTICLES
Punishing Kids in Juvenile and Criminal Courts
Barry C. Feld, Punishing Kids in Juvenile and Criminal Courts, Crime & Just. (Forthcoming 2018).
Abstract: During the 1980s and 1990s, state lawmakers shifted juvenile justice policies from a nominally offender-oriented rehabilitative approach toward a more punitive and criminalized one. Pretrial detention and delinquency dispositions had disproportionate adverse effects on minority youths. Despite juvenile courts’ convergence with criminal courts, states provided fewer and less adequate procedural safeguards to delinquents than to adults. Developmental psychologists and policy analysts contend that adolescents’ compromised ability to exercise rights requires greater procedural safeguards. States’ transfer laws sent more and younger youths to criminal courts for prosecution as adults, emphasized offense seriousness over offender characteristics, and shifted discretion from judges conducting waiver hearings to prosecutors making charging decisions. Judges in criminal courts sentence youths similarly to adult offenders. The Supreme Court, relying on developmental psychology and neuroscience research, in Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama, emphasized adolescents’ diminished responsibility and limited the harshest sentences. However, the court provided states limited guidance on how to implement its decisions. Judicial and legislative responses inadequately acknowledge that “children are different.”
Adolescent Brain Science and Juvenile Justice Policymaking
Steinberg, L. (2017). Adolescent brain science and juvenile justice policymaking. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 23(4), 410-420. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/law0000128.
Abstract: The American legal system’s thinking about the criminal culpability of juveniles has been radically transformed over the past 12 years, largely as a result of the introduction of developmental science into the United States Supreme Court’s deliberations about the appropriate sentencing of adolescents who have been convicted of the most serious crimes. The author examines the role that developmental science, and, especially, developmental neuroscience, has played in this policy transformation. After a brief overview of the Court’s rulings in 4 landmark cases decided between 2005 and 2016, he summarizes the relevant psychological and neurobiological evidence that likely guided the Court’s rulings. The author concludes with suggestions for future research and policy analysis, including (a) the study of developmental differences between adolescents and adults that have implications for their differential treatment under criminal law, with a particular focus on the neural underpinnings of these differences; (b) the study of the impact of variations in juvenile justice policy and practice on outcomes other than recidivism; and (c) the study of the financial costs and benefits of juvenile justice policy alternatives.
The Problem with Inference for Juvenile Defendant
Carroll, Jenny E., The Problem with Inference for Juvenile Defendants (April 21, 2017). Florida State University Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, Forthcoming.
Abstract: Much of criminal law relies on proof by inference. In criminal law, fact finders untangle not only what happened, but why it happened. It is answering the “why” question that places an act and its result on the legal spectrum of liability. To reach that answer, the fact finder must engage in an interpretive act, considering not only what can be seen or heard, but the significance of that testimony or physical evidence in real world contexts – the world in which they occurred but also the fact finder’s own world.
Recent developments in neuroscience suggest that in the context of juvenile defendants, this moment of interpretation is fraught with particular risks. The emergence of fMRI technology has provided significant insights into adolescent brain development and its effect on adolescent thought processes. As a result, scientists (and courts) recognize that adolescent actors are more likely to engage in risky behavior, fail to properly comprehend long term consequences and over value reward. In short, science has proven what most long suspected: kids think and react differently than do adults.
Although criminal law has long accounted for this difference procedurally – most evidently in the creation of an independent juvenile justice system – there has been little exploration of its significance in the realm of substantive criminal law. This Article argues that what is known of adolescent brain development suggests that adult fact finders are poorly positioned to accurately assess a juvenile defendant’s state of mind, because adults lack the perspective of those whose actions and words they seek to interpret – juvenile defendants. Rather than asking fact finders to perform the impossible task of placing themselves in the adolescent’s mind, substantive criminal law should instead acknowledge the difference in perspective and permit evidentiary presentation and jury instructions akin to defenses that rely on the defendant’s actual, as opposed to imagined, perspective.
Child Abuse – Nonaccidental Injury (NAI) and Abusive Head Trauma (AHT) – Medical Imaging: Issues and Controversies in the Era of Evidence-Based Medicine
Barnes, Patrick, Child Abuse – Nonaccidental Injury (NAI) and Abusive Head Trauma (AHT) – Medical Imaging: Issues and Controversies in the Era of Evidence-Based Medicine, 50 U. Mich. J.L. Reform 679 (2017).
Abstract: A look at nonaccidental injury and abusive head trauma in children with a focus on Shaken Baby Syndrome.
“How Should Justice Policy Treat Young Offenders?: A Knowledge Brief of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience” by Richard J. Bonnie, BJ Casey, Andre Davis, David L. Faigman, Morris B. Hoffman, Owen D. Jones, Read Montague, Stephen J. Morse, Marcus E. Raichle, Jennifer A. Richeson, Elizabeth S. Scott, Laurence Steinberg, Kim Taylor-Thompson, and Anthony Wagner (2017)
Abstract: The justice system in the United States has long recognized that juvenile offenders are not the same as adults, and has tried to incorporate those differences into law and policy. But only in recent decades have behavioral scientists and neuroscientists, along with policymakers, looked rigorously at developmental differences, seeking answers to two overarching questions: Are young offenders, purely by virtue of their immaturity, different from older individuals who commit crimes? And, if they are, how should justice policy take this into account?
A growing body of research on adolescent development now confirms that teenagers are indeed inherently different from adults, not only in their behaviors, but also (and of course relatedly) in the ways their brains function. These findings have influenced a series of Supreme Court decisions relating to the treatment of adolescents, and have led legislators and other policymakers across the country to adopt a range of developmentally informed justice policies.
New research is showing distinct changes in the brains of young adults, ages 18 to 21, suggesting that they too may be immature in ways that are relevant to justice policy. This knowledge brief from the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience considers the implications of this new research. Purchase access to the brief.
“Gender Differences in the Developmental Cascade From Harsh Parenting to Educational Attainment: An Evolutionary Perspective” by Rochelle F. Hentges and Ming-Te Wang, Child Development (2017)
Abstract: This study utilized life history theory to test a developmental cascade model linking harsh parenting to low educational attainment. Multigroup models were examined to test for potential gender differences. The sample consisted of 1,482 adolescents followed up for 9 years starting in seventh grade (Mage = 12.74). Results supported indirect links between harsh parenting and low educational attainment through the development of extreme peer orientations, early sexual behavior, and delinquency. Among male adolescents, harsh parenting was related to the development of an extreme peer orientation, which further led to increased delinquency, and subsequently lower educational attainment. Among female adolescents, harsh parenting predicted extreme peer orientations, which increased both delinquency and early sexual behavior. Early sexual behavior further predicted lower educational attainment in female adolescents. Purchase access to the full article.
Prospects for Developmental Evidence in Juvenile Sentencing Based on Miller v. Alabama
Grisso, Thomas, Kavanaugh, Antoinette, Prospects for Developmental Evidence in Juvenile Sentencing Based on Miller v. Alabama, 22 Psychol., Pub. Pol’y, & L. 235 (2016).
Abstract: Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions barred mandatory life without parole for juvenile homicide (Miller v. Alabama, 2012) and applied Miller retroactively (Montgomery v. Louisiana, 2016). Miller identified several developmental factors to consider in mitigation, but left many questions unanswered about their application. The authors offer several sentencing contexts to frame the types of developmental and clinical evidence that may be relevant for Miller hearings under various circumstances. Within these contexts, they explore types and sources of relevant developmental evidence and raise questions about quality and limitations. Their analysis identifies areas in which appellate court clarification is needed to determine how developmental evidence will be used in Miller cases, and they alert developmental experts to prospects and cautions for providing relevant evidence, as well as areas in need of research.
“Searching for Signatures of Brain Maturity: What Are We Searching For?” by Leah H. Somerville, Neuroview (2016)
Abstract: Evidence of continued neurobiological maturation through adolescence is increasingly invoked in discussions of youth-focused policies. This should motivate neuroscientists to grapple with core issues such as the definition of brain maturation, how to quantify it, and how to precisely translate this knowledge to broader audiences. Purchase access to the article.
“Applying the Science of Child Development in Child Welfare Systems” by Steven D. Cohen, The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2016)
Abstract: How can we use insights from cutting-edge science to improve the well-being and long-term life prospects of the most vulnerable children in our society? This is both a critical challenge and a powerful opportunity to affect the trajectories of millions of children in the United States and around the world. It is a question of particular importance to those who make or affect public policy. This paper shows how the science of child development can be leveraged to strengthen and improve the public child welfare system so that it can better support the children, families, and communities it serves.
The paper is intended for leaders in the public agencies responsible for child protection and related functions; in the private, non-profit agencies that provide many of the services in these systems; in the courts, which play a critical role in child welfare; in legislative committees that oversee child welfare and related services; and in the many other public systems, such as early childhood education, mental health, and juvenile justice, whose support is essential to success in child welfare. Read the full paper.
“The Enduring Predictive Significance of Early Maternal Sensitivity: Social and Academic Competence Through Age 32
Years” by K. Lee Raby, Glenn I. Roisman, R. Chris Fraley, and Jeffry A. Simpson, Child Development (2015)
Abstract: This study leveraged data from the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation (N = 243) to investigate the predictive significance of maternal sensitivity during the first three years of life for social and academic competence through age 32 years. Structural model comparisons replicated previous findings that early maternal sensitivity predicts social skills and academic achievement through mid-adolescence in a manner consistent with an Enduring Effects model of development and extended these findings using heterotypic indicators of social (effectiveness of romantic engagement) and academic competence (educational attainment) during adulthood. Although early socioeconomic factors and child gender accounted for the predictive significance of maternal sensitivity for social competence, covariates did not fully account for associations between early sensitivity and academic outcomes. Read the full article.
Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2014)
Abstract: An “environment of relationships” is crucial for the development of a child’s brain architecture, which lays the foundation for later outcomes such as academic performance, mental health, and interpersonal skills. However, many of our nation’s policies fail to consider the importance of adult-child relationships for child well-being. This working paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child explains how these relationships shape child development, and identifies ways to strengthen policies that affect those relationships in the early childhood years. Read the full paper.
The Science of Neglect: The Persistent Absence of Responsive Care Disrupts the Developing Brain by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2012)
Abstract: Young children who experience severe deprivation or neglect can experience a range of negative consequences. Neglect can delay brain development, impair executive function skills, and disrupt the body’s stress response. This working paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child explains why neglect is so harmful in the earliest years of life, and why effective interventions can improve long-term outcomes in learning, health, and the parenting of the next generation. Read the full paper.
Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2004)
Abstract: This working paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child defines the concept of “toxic stress”—what happens when children experience severe, prolonged adversity without adult support. It discusses how significant adversity early in life can alter a child’s capacity to learn and adapt to stressful situations, as well as how sensitive and responsive caregiving can buffer the effects of such stress. The paper also suggests how to create policies that minimize the disruptive impacts of toxic stress on young children. Read the full paper.
“Brain Development During Childhood and Adolescence: A Longitudinal MRI Study” by Jay N. Giedd, Jonathan Blumenthal, Neal O. Jeffries, F. X. Castellanos, Hong Liu, Alex Zijdenbos, Tomás Paus, Alan C. Evans, and Judith L. Rapoport, Nature Neuroscience (1999)
Abstract: Pediatric neuroimaging studies up to now exclusively cross sectional, identify linear decreases in cortical gray matter and increases in white matter across ages 4 to 20. In this large-scale longitudinal pediatric neuroimaging study, we confirmed linear increases in white matter, but demonstrated nonlinear changes in cortical gray matter, with a preadolescent increase followed by a postadolescent decrease. These changes in cortical gray matter were regionally specific, with developmental curves for the frontal and parietal lobe peaking at about age 12 and for the temporal lobe at about age 16, whereas cortical gray matter continued to increase in the occipital lobe through age 20. Read the full article.
“Piecing Together Mother’s Stress and Baby’s Genetics to Understand Brain Development” by Jim Hudziak, The American Journal of Psychiatry (2015)
This article analyzes how the circumstances of pregnancy, especially stress levels for the mother, interacts with offspring genomic architecture to influence brain development. Read the full article.
The Juvenile Record Myth
Joy Radice, The Juvenile Record Myth, 106 L.J. 365 (2018).
Abstract: The proliferation of adult criminal records and their harmful impact on people with convictions has received growing attention from scholars, the media, and legislators from both sides of the political aisle. Much less attention has been given to the far-reaching impact of juvenile delinquency records, partly because many people believe that juvenile records are not public, especially after a juvenile turns eighteen. That common notion is a myth.
This Article addresses that myth and adds to both the juvenile justice and collateral consequences literature in four ways. First, The Juvenile Record Myth illuminates the variety of ways states treat juvenile records–revealing that state confidentiality, sealing, and expungement provisions often provide far less protection than those terms suggest. Although juvenile delinquency records are not as publicly accessible as adult records, their impact is felt well beyond a juvenile’s eighteenth birthday. No state completely seals juvenile delinquency records from public view or expunges them. Some states even publish juvenile records online, and almost all permit some degree of public access.
Second, this Article provides the first comprehensive analysis of the crucial role of nondisclosure provisions in eliminating the stigma of a juvenile record. Now that colleges, employers, state licensing agencies, and even landlords are increasingly asking about juvenile delinquency charges and adjudications, the confidentiality, sealing, and expungement protections that do exist will be significantly undermined unless states allow juveniles with records not to disclose them. Third, using recent literature on juvenile brain development and the recidivism research of criminologists, The Juvenile Record Myth presents new arguments for why juvenile delinquency records should not follow a juvenile into adulthood–and why the state’s obligation to help rehabilitate juveniles (an obligation typically recognized in a state’s juvenile code) should extend to restricting access to juvenile records. Finally, it argues for a comprehensive and uniform approach to removing the stigma of a juvenile record through a combination of robust confidentiality, expungement, sealing, and nondisclosure statutes to facilitate a juvenile’s reintegration.
Monkey, Love, and 20th Century in a Nutshell
This film clip features Harry Harlow’s experiments using rhesus monkeys to study the role of caregiving and companionship in social development and cognitive development.