Publication Date

April 2019

Advisor(s)

Charles Barber

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

This thesis seeks to examine the role of neuroscience in shaping public policy in the context of the juvenile justice system in the United States. Well before current neuroscientific technology and before the actual establishment of the juvenile justice system in the United States, there was always a historical understanding that juveniles were not capable of possessing the same moral responsibility for a crime as adults. This thesis examines the shifting political tides that have impacted the juvenile justice system throughout its history, as well as explores the current neuroscientific understanding of the differences between adolescent and adult brains and its connection to criminality. In the neuroscientific community, it has been widely accepted for decades that adolescent brains are not fully developed until their mid-to-late 20’s, however, it has taken decades for any real reform movement in the juvenile justice system. Using Connecticut as a case study, this thesis examines the efforts between 2015 and 2019 to transform juvenile justice with the “Raise the Age” initiative, which seeks to increase the age at which juvenile offenders are tried as adults, from eighteen to 21. I explore the recent changes in Connecticut and explore the disparities between accepted scientific knowledge and its transformation into public policy. The thesis chronicles the torturous and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to “Raise the Age” in the state. The dissertation concludes with an exploration of the reasons for the disconnect between accepted scientific understanding and policy, as well as offering some recommendations on how to attempt to bridge this connection.

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