Adolescent development and juvenile justice

Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2009;5:459-85. doi: 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.032408.153603.


Although justice system policy and practice cannot, and should not, be dictated solely by studies of adolescent development, the ways in which we respond to juvenile offending should be informed by the lessons of developmental science. This review begins with a brief overview of the history, rationale, and workings of the American juvenile justice system. Following this, I summarize findings from studies of brain, cognitive, and psychosocial development in adolescence that have implications for the treatment of juveniles in the justice system. The utility of developmental science in this context is illustrated by the application of these research findings to three fundamental issues in contemporary justice policy: the criminal culpability of adolescents, adolescents' competence to stand trial, and the impact of punitive sanctions on adolescents' development and behavior. Taken together, the lessons of developmental science offer strong support for the maintenance of a separate juvenile justice system in which adolescents are judged, tried, and sanctioned in developmentally appropriate ways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Criminal Law*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Juvenile Delinquency / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychology