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Do juvenile killers deserve a second chance?

On Behalf of | May 3, 2022 | Criminal Defense

People of juvenile age who commit murder in Maryland are a source of controversy. They are often sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. The thought of releasing them after they have demonstrated an ability to reform is anathema to many. But leading medical experts say there is a chance for redemption.

Arguments are strong on both sides

Giving a second chance to violent offenders, no matter how young, is one of the biggest and most contentious criminal defense issues. There are good arguments on both sides of the question. Many people, especially family members of the people who have been killed, believe that to do so undermines the finality of murder. They remind us that the person who died had no second chance.

However, many leading medical and scientific experts claim that the issue is not quite so cut and dry. They point to recent findings in the field of neuroscience that seem to suggest that the human brain can and will change over time. Their contention is that the immaturity of a juvenile brain can reduce culpability.

In a juvenile brain, the limbic system is operating at full speed. This is due to the fact that the frontal cortex has not matured. This can mean that certain impulses that adults would filter out are left to influence a juvenile. The disconnect between the limbic system and frontal cortex can thus lead to chaos.

Can a juvenile offender earn a second chance?

The possibility of rehabilitation, especially for juvenile offenders, is one that intrigues many health and legal experts. The immaturity of the juvenile brain is a strong argument for reform and eventual release. However, there must be demonstrable proof that the individual in question is really willing to reform.

Many juvenile killers have spent decades behind bars. They have grown and matured into adults with fully developed brains. Some have shown sufficient progress to earn release, albeit with full community supervision. Others continue to petition for their own eventual release. This is an issue whose ultimate resolution will remain in question.