Regional International Juvenile Incarceration Models as a Blueprint for Rehabilitative Reform of Juvenile Criminal Justice Systems in the United States

Robert Laird | May 3, 2021

Adolescence marks a unique and transformative time in a person’s physical, emotional, and intellectual development and requires special considerations in the realm of criminal justice. This Comment explores how rehabilitative models of criminal justice are better suited than punitive models to recognize and accommodate the intricacies and special factors inherent in juvenile delinquency and uses examples from regional international bodies to illustrate how the United States can adopt measures that align with modern-day neurology and psychiatry. First, this Comment explores the unique characteristics of juvenile offenders as adolescent, semi-autonomous individuals who are more likely to be incompetent to stand trial than adult offenders. Second, this Comment demonstrates how rehabilitative theories of punishment, rather than retributive theories, better align with the unique characteristics of adolescence. Third, this Comment shows how the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have embraced rehabilitative juvenile justice programs and how member states have integrated those ideals to varying degrees and in imaginative ways. This Comment also explores how the United States remains uniquely committed to a more punitive retributive regime that rose to prominence in the 1980s and fails to deter juvenile delinquency or reduce recidivism. Finally, this Comment proposes five moderate steps that states can adopt, without abandoning goals to reduce recidivism or deter crime, to reflect evolving international norms and to better embody the traditional rehabilitative goals of juvenile justice.