Juvenile Self-Control and Legal Responsibility: Building a Scalar Standard

In Alfred Mele (ed.), Surrounding Self-Control (2020)
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US criminal courts have recently moved toward seeing juveniles as inherently less culpable than their adult counterparts, influenced by a growing mass of neuroscientific and psychological evidence. In support of this trend, this chapter argues that the criminal law’s notion of responsible agency requires both the cognitive capacity to understand one’s actions and the volitional control to conform one’s actions to legal standards. These capacities require, among other things, a minimal working set of executive functions—a suite of mental processes, mainly realized in the prefrontal cortex, such as planning and inhibition—which remain in significant states of immaturity through late adolescence, and in some cases beyond. Drawing on scientific evidence of how these cognitive and volitional capacities develop in the maturing brain, the authors sketch a scalar structure of juvenile responsibility, and suggest some possible directions for reforming the juvenile justice system to reflect this scalar structure.
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Archival date: 2020-09-11
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