U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Criminal Responsibility in Adolescence: Lessons From Developmental Psychology (From Youth on Trial: A Developmental Perspective on Juvenile Justice, P 291-324, 2000, Thomas Grisso and Robert G. Schwartz, eds. -- See NCJ-184852)

NCJ Number
Elizabeth S. Scott
Date Published
34 pages
This chapter analyzes various conceptions of juvenile culpability for law violations in various periods of juvenile justice reform in America, using findings of developmental psychology as the basis for assessing these conceptions.
Part I of the chapter briefly reviews the changing concepts of adolescence in the three periods of juvenile justice reform during the 20th century in America. Part II presents a developmental framework within which to examine these perspectives. First, the author describes the role of antisocial conduct in adolescence, and then she offers a decision making model that incorporates cognitive and psychosocial developmental factors that may distinguish adolescents from adults. The conceptual framework is then applied in examining the impact of developmental factors on decisions to engage in criminal conduct. Part III of the chapter explores the possible implication of developmental knowledge for evaluating the criminal culpability of youth. The author concludes that the evidence of developmental psychology supports a presumption of youthful diminished responsibility for younger and mid-adolescents. The developmental framework is then used to challenge the utilitarian argument that societal protection requires severe penalties for youthful offenders. Instead, the framework indicates that punitive policies may not be the optimal means to achieve the instrumentalist goals of their proponents. Finally, Part IV examines the lessons of the developmental perspective for juvenile justice policy and suggests some directions for policy that is formulated in a developmental framework. 31 references