A 2010 landmark Supreme Court decision, Graham v. Florida, ruled that juvenile offenders who commit non-homicide offenses could not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A brief submitted in support of juvenile offenders Terrance Graham and Joe Harris Sullivan by an interdisciplinary group of psychologists and social scientists, which included NYU Law faculty, Dean Mary Brabeck and Steinhardt faculty was cited in the decision.
The group summarized the relevant scholarship and concluded that:
“Although adolescents must be held responsible for their actions, they generally lack mature decisionmaking capability, have an inflated appetite for risk, are prone to influence by peers, and do not accurately assess future consequences. At the same time, adolescents’ minds and selves are highly malleable and capable of enormous change.”
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, cited the amicus brief which makes the case that juvenile offenders, “who are most in need of and receptive to rehabilitation,” suffer from an absence of rehabilitative opportunities.”
“The decision is important for so many reasons,” said J. Lawrence Aber, a professor of applied psychology and public policy, “It draws on knowledge from developmental science to clearly establish that adolescents’ cognitive and behavioral regulatory capacities are still undergoing rapid development. (Adolescents are not yet adults!) And while their regulatory capacities are still developing, the possibility for positive change is great. Under such circumstances, imprisoning adolescents for life is cruel and unusual.”
In addition to Aber and Brabeck, Steinhardt faculty members Jacqueline Mattis and Niobe Way of the Department of Applied Psychology, and Pedro Noguera of the Department of Teaching and Learning contributed their expertise to the draft.
“It is rare that scholars can claim their work as an immediate and tangible impact on the lives of others,” said Brabeck. “This is a case in which scholarships makes a difference.”