The Criminal Prosecution of Juveniles: A Philosophical Reappraisal of Adolescent Agency

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Rhodes, Kristin
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Lethbridge Undergraduate Research Journal
This paper examines the implications of contemporary advancements in neuroscience for our understanding of agency, particularly in assessing the criminal responsibility of juvenile offenders. I argue that the increasingly sophisticated knowledge of adolescent brain development challenges conventional notions of juvenile accountability. Central to our usual notion of accountability is agency -- our sense that an individual must be capable of navigating his or her own life and of making decisions for which he or she in significant part is responsible. In order to defend a modified version of agency for juvenile offenders, I elaborate on Daniel Dennett's model of the brain, a model that redefines metaphysical conceptions of free will and defends a naturalist conception that is more compatible with advancements in neuroscience. This revised conception of free will challenges conventional notions of legal guilt and accountability; it illuminates new ways of thinking about the complex and difficult questions of juvenile agency. I argue that such rethinking of juvenile agency will deepen our capacity to respond wisely and justly to juvenile crime and affirm a cherished but reconceived agency in young offenders.
Juvenile delinquency