Pennsylvania District Attorney acts to reduce number of kids behind bars

February 11, 2019 | The Inquirer

The winds that determine the direction of criminal justice can be fickle—and our approach to juvenile justice is just as changeable. A few decades ago, when the panic over drugs and crime led to zero tolerance policies that put so many Americans behind bars, children didn’t fare much better. In the 1990s, a myth emerged of the “superpredator”—a new generation of uncontrollable, violent young offenders—that lead to harsher juvenile sentences and less tolerance for juvenile crimes. An increasing number of children were thrown in adult prisons, often subject to life without parole or long periods of solitary confinement.

Fortunately, those attitudes began to shift, driven in part on new research on brain development that suggested that children’s immature brains can make them incapable of judgment and reason and should not be held to the same standards of criminal punishment as adults.

District Attorney Larry Krasner moved that idea further forward last week when he announced new policies that are intended to modify how juveniles in the justice system are dealt with. These policies will alter some of the harsher penalties and treatment that young people have been subjected to, especially those who haven’t committed serious or violent crimes, or aren’t repeat offenders.

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