Over the Labor Day weekend, Tara Huffman, director of OSI’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice program, talked to the Al Jazeera TV network about the US practice of sentencing young people to life in prison without parole. The Supreme Court deemed such sentences unconstitutional in 2012, but more than 2,000 people remain in prison on sentences passed down before the decision.
“The US criminal justice system has been and remains overly punitive in many ways and unfortunately that punitive mindset and philosophy extends to young people,” she said.
The segment, which you can watch in full below, opens with the family of a man who has been in prison since 1990 for being the lookout for a major drug deal that went bad when he was 16 years old. When Huffman joins at the 2:45 mark, she talks about the science of young peoples’ brains and the possibility of redemption.
“The science that has been revealed in just the last 20 years confirms what every parent has known for quite some time, which is that young people don’t think the way we do, they don’t process information the same way we do,” she says. “That means there’s still an opportunity, if that person receives an age- and developmentally-appropriate response, he or she can change. He or she can learn to make better decisions, take information, risk, consequences into account. And so because of their age, their age actually lends to them making choices that may result in harm to them or to others, but their age also says that they can change. They can become rehabilitated, they can become better people, they can become productive, and we need to make sure that our system is providing them that opportunity.”