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  • Extending the Logic of the Juvenile Justice System to a Separate Justice System for Mentally Ill Offenders

    In this paper, I will begin by briefly visiting the history of the juvenile justice system, and discussing some of the reasons for its foundation, focusing on the personality characteristics of juveniles that helped propel the reform. Next, I will explain how empirical research in the 20th century has provided psychological and neuroscientific evidence to support the behavioral observations that served as the basis of legal reform for juveniles, and how these findings (along with the original observations) are still used to support the notion that adolescents are fundamentally different from adults and should thus be legally treated as such. Then, I will examine the reasons why a similar system has not been implemented for individuals with severe mental illness who enter the justice system. I will delve into the difficulty of diagnosing mental illness, as well as the stigma that still accompanies the label, and how these two issues hinder reform. I will also discuss the lack of understanding of mental illness and the biology behind the disorders, which contributes to the problem of stigma. I will then borrow from the logic of the juvenile justice system to argue for a separate justice system for severely mentally ill offenders. This last section will discuss the characteristics of severely mentally ill offenders that deem them as significantly different from healthy offenders, using recent evidence to support a biological foundation for neurological dysfunction that support classic behavioral observations. Further, I will touch upon the detrimental effects that incarceration has on the mentally ill mind. Lastly, from a practical standpoint, I will argue that the criminal justice system does itself no favors with its current methods as the methods do not reduce recidivism since incarceration is not a cure.

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