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Factsheet: The Juvenile Death Penalty

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2003
2 pages
This document discusses facts about the juvenile death penalty and why the death penalty for juveniles should be prohibited.
There are 78 persons on death row in the United States that were juveniles (age 16 or 17) at the time of the crime. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 22 juvenile offenders have been executed. Twenty-two States permit the juvenile death penalty, but only Texas, Virginia, and Oklahoma have executed more than 1 juvenile offender. Four other States have each executed one. The States of Washington, New York, Kansas, Montana, and Indiana have established laws prohibiting the death penalty for juvenile offenders. The United States and Iran are the only Nations that formally allow the juvenile death penalty. Sixty-nine percent of United States adults oppose the death penalty for juveniles. Recent studies have shown that the parts of the brain that govern judgment, reasoning, and impulse control are not fully developed until the early twenties. The law prohibits persons under the age of 18 from voting, serving on the military, and purchasing tobacco products because adolescents are less mature than adults. This basic distinction is contradicted when reserving society’s most severe punishment for adolescent offenders. The goals of the death penalty -- retribution and deterrence -- do not apply to youths. Of all offenders, adolescents are the most capable of rehabilitation given their youth, immaturity, and potential for growth. Prohibiting the punishment of death for 16- and 17-year-olds does not suggest that they do not know right from wrong, nor that they should not be punished, but rather that they should not pay for their crimes with their lives.