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Some Youth Incompetent to Stand Trial Due to Cognitive Impairments and Immaturity

Posted on October 13, 2011

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A study published in September’s issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law found that many youth in the juvenile justice system are determined as incompetent to stand trial due to cognitive impairments and an inability to understand the long-term consequences of their actions.The authors attribute the high rate of incompetency to stand trial in adolescents, especially those under fourteen, to a “myopic temporal perspective” which leads them to misunderstand or underestimate the consequences of their actions.

The researchers used the MacArthur Competence Assessment Tool-Criminal Adjudication (MacCAT-CA), the Judgement in Legal Contexts (JILC) instrument, the Welchsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI) and the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument-Second Version (MAYSI-2) to evaluate competence, future orientation, intellectual ability and psychopathy in 453 detained youth and 474 youth in the community who were not involved in the juvenile justice system. They found that competency was strongly associated with both intelligence and age. Additionally, youth with psychiatric symptoms were less competent than youth without psychiatric symptoms.

The authors note the importance of these findings in the juvenile justice system, as not all states require a consideration of maturity in evaluating juvenile defendant’s competence. Aaron Kivisto, the lead author of the article, states, “When we’re teenagers, we’re focused on short-term consequences. Teens think about what might happen later today if they do something. Because courts can impose consequences that can affect someone’s life for years, it appears that adolescents approach these longer-term and very serious implications blindly.”

Gabriella Celeste, Child Policy Director, spoke with Faculty Associate Patrick Kanary and Marcia Egbert of the George Gund Foundation on October 11, 2011 about recent reforms to juvenile justice programs in Ohio. These reforms will result in more youth remaining in their communities in evidence-based programs who would have previously been incarcerated. Learn more about their talk.

A number of Schubert Center Faculty Associates study child development, including:

Click here to read the article.

Page last modified: March 13, 2014