Monday, October 01, 2007

Brain science of juvenile crime: Frontal cortex in youth underdeveloped

Why should juvenile crime be treated differently than crime by adults?

In part because youth brains, particularly their frontal cortices, haven't fully developed yet, and that lack of development contributes to the ways young people get into trouble. Via LiveScience's "Top Ten Things You Didn't Know About You" (click on #5),
We know that hormone-fueled changes in the body are necessary to encourage growth and ready the body for reproduction. But why is adolescence so emotionally unpleasant? Hormones like testosterone actually influence the development of neurons in the brain, and the changes made to brain structure have many behavioral consequences. Expect emotional awkwardness, apathy and poor decision-making skills as regions in the frontal cortex mature.
In the LiveScience article under "apathy," we get more detail about what thinking skills remain underdeveloped among teens:
The area of the brain associated with higher-level thinking, empathy, and guilt is underused by teenagers, reports a new study. When considering an action, the teenage medial prefrontal cortex, located in front of the brain, doesn't get as much action as adults.
Poor decision making skills, an inability to consider consequences, absence of guilt, apathy about outcomes, and testosterone-fueled misbehaviors - honestly to describe it that way makes teenagers sound like sociopaths. Yet what parent of teens would dispute the description, at least on their kids' worse days?

Keep in mind these studies don't describe delinquent youth, they're studying average ones. That's why youth corrections differs from adult prison management, and why you hear so much talk about prioritizing "rehabilitation" instead of the "punishment culture" at the Texas Youth Commission. With the exception of true sociopaths, and they're a decided minority of kids, most TYC yough still have a chance to learn socially accepted behaviors, but nobody thinks they're learning them under Texas' current youth prison regime.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you can have our elected officials read this and hopefully the light will come on for some of them that TDCJ and TYC does not mix.

Most of us already know this but do understand they are elected and sometimes common sense is not a prerequisite for office.

Anonymous said...


This research has been going on for the last decade or more. Readers wanting an introduction to it should check out the PBS documentary film "Inside the Teenage Brain" (2002). It's available in the UT library (I ordered it back when I taught a class there on teens).

This research played a part in the Supreme Court's ruling in Roper v. Simmons (2005) outlawing the juvenile death penalty.

Bill Bush

Jason said...

So what is wrong with the adult brain of a 36 year old who robs and kills a store clerk? Where do you start holding people responsible for their actions? Which is normal? Juveniles committing violent crimes or not? While surely juveniles are still developing, they are capable of knowing right from wrong. I think too many people try to use this as an excuse to avoid personal responsibility. If you're looking down the barrel of a gun do you care if the person holding is fully developed or not?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't see your point about the 36-year old if they're legally competent, Jason - my point was about juveniles.

There, too, I think you're off point. About 60% of TYC inmates are nonviolent offenders, and most of the violent ones didn't use firearms in their crimes. So choosing the scariest scenario and portraying it as typical really doesn't help make honest decisions about how to handle most cases in the system. What's more, the vast majority of youth offenders are handled locally, and don't come close to fitting your description. But you'd have everyone treated the same as the worst of the worst. What sense does that make?

The answer to your question is no, I don't care about the offender's brain development when they're pointing a gun at me. But I do care whether, after they're incarcerated, the corrections system uses best practices that encourage rehabilitation instead of only punishment. That's mainly because, especially for juveniles, if that doesn't happen, they're more likely to commit the same kind of crime again once they get out.

Anonymous said...

To 10:45 - Kids may know right and wrong about murder, but what about shoplifting, drug or alcohol use, trespassing, vandalism, property destruction, or other offenses that peers pressure them to do or portray as acceptable? Those are the ways kids' brain development screws them up because they don't foresee consequences, that and getting them to the wrong place at the wrong time.

tttt said...

Let's don't forget the teenagers hired to guard the convicted in TDCJ and the committed in TYC. They can have the same problems as well.

tttt said...

"Inside the Teenage Brain" is also available to watch free online;

Anonymous said...

Thanks tjdo, I thought it might be up online.

Highly recommended film, IMO.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

Scott: Found this on Yahoo and it has nothing to do with anything important.. just thought readers should realize we are not the only ones who seem not to be able to get enough Grits:

Man eats 21 pounds of grits for title Sun Sep 30, 1:18 AM ET

BOSSIER CITY, La. - He'll never want breakfast again.

Pat Bertoletti, a mohawk-sporting chef from Chicago, gulped down 21 pounds of buttery, goopy grits in 10 minutes to win $4,000 in the first World Grits Eating Championship at Louisiana Downs on Saturday.

The grits were presented in 2-pound trays, each about 8 inches by 6 inches and 1 1/2 inches deep, said Ryan Nerz, a spokesman for Major League Eating.

Bertoletti, in a statement, said the

Anonymous said...

Y'all see this??? Click the link in my name.

Anonymous said...

Let's try this again.

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone be surprised that Bronte had these type of conditions? Lets see it is a contract facility and their objective is the bottom line ($$$$). The question should be asked why has it been allowed to stay open over the past 6 months?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a Quality Control Specialist there?

Anonymous said...

The question should be asked (concerning Bronte-Coke County Juvenile Facility), when was the Ombudsman last visit to Bronte, and what did his report state about the conditions.

He does make reports right?

We already know the Dallas Morning News covered this story 3 months ago.

Now the governor makes a comment to the MSM about how swift and decisive TYC was in their decision to shut Bronte down. If I was the governor I would want to know how long has this facility been in this shape prior to patting anyone on the back.

Anonymous said...

I've heard an Ombudsman report was the factor behind the raid.

Unknown said...

Well, let's see: nobody is really responsible for getting fat; it's all genetic. And drugs make you crazy; ask any DEA spokesperson why we should keep certain drugs illegal - despite the total lack of scientific studies ever attempted. Certain people are genetically prone to addiction and behavioral problems associated with using certain drugs.

Despite the fact that 90% of drug users can use responsibly with few problems or anti social behavior we have to restrict access to protect the 2-5% who are genetically predisposed to not being able to handle use of these drugs. As long as we use taxpayer dollars to peddle the dangerous drugs mythology to justify drug prohibition and draconian attacks on basic freedom and the constitution the concept of personal responsibility will always go down the toilet. I find it amazing that schleppes like Limbaugh can rant hysterically about personal responsibility and then espouse the dangerous drugs mythology with impunity. Where does personal responsibility end and the government's right to inflict punishment and control begin? With Rush and company it all depends on whose freedoms are being scrod.w

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with treatment in juvenile corrections but for treatment to work in corrections you must have control. TYC has none at this time not in the institutions nor on parole.
In addition you seem to forget that only a very small percentage of juvenile offenders ever get to TYC and those are the ones that treatment and other methods of attempting to deal with behavior have not worked in the past however many times it was tried. What I persoanlly believe needs to be done is a more correctional system with treatment being done withing the setting. I am doubtful this will ever occur but one can always hope. Until the youth are taught that action have outcomes that mean something to them (unpleasant) then there behavior will continue. After all TYC has been treatment for a long time even if everyone beileves it was not and most of our youths just progres to the adult system once they reach 17 due to new crimes.

Anonymous said...

Being locked up is both punishment and control. Why wouldn't you want to try to work with these kids. They are going to get out. And historically the basis for punishment and control has had a lot to do with age...It used to be 7 and they used to lock up the 7 year olds as adults. Makes tons of sense. Lets do it again.

ng2000 said...

Valuable resource of juvenile crime news summaries: