Professor at University of California Irvine, Elizabeth Cauffman, describes the focus of her research into what gets kids out of crime. Her research has not only delved into this subject but has also impacted legislation dealing with the death penalty and life without parole of juvenile defenders.
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Elizabeth Cauffman, Ph.D. Professor - Department of Psychology and Social Behavior - Department of Education
My name is Elizabeth Cauffman I'm in the psychology and social behavior department in the school of social ecology.
The main focus of my research is on adolescent development and how kids change and how they develop over time and that really informs or provides the court with a foundation for better understanding of how to treat kids within the system. So a lot of my work is on when should kids be tried as adults, are they competent to stand trial, what are the right responses the justice system should have to kids during this developmental time period. So a lot of my research centers on if adolescents are so smart, why do they do such stupid things. A lot of kids end up making very immature decisions and better trying to understand what that disconnect is, so recent advances in neuroscience have shown that the brain is continuing to develop up until the age of 25 and that is particularly in the area of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for impulse control, planning, future orientation. Given that this is the last part of the brain to develop, it's not surprising that kids are more impulsive, don't think through their actions. And this is important cause in the research we've been doing, we've found that kids are much more responsive to rewards than they are to punishments. For instance, we've been following kids for the past seven years, these are serious offenders, these are offenders who've committed very heinous crimes. And a lot of people think that if you've committed a serious crime you must be a serious offender, and that life is over, this is a person that cannot be rehabilitated. And what we want to do is look at what predicts who stops offending, who desists from criminal activity. A lot of people look at the predictors of what gets kids into crime, very few people look at what gets kids out of crime. One of the things we know from our findings is that as kids mature the more likely they are to stop offending.
The most exciting way that I have seen my research impact policy is having the supreme court take up the issue of the death penalty for juvenile offenders. It's hard to believe that the United States is one of the last countries to still execute their children. So my research not only impacted the abolishment of the juvenile death penalty, but it was also involved in the recent 2010 abolishment of life without the possibility of parole for non homicide cases for juvenile offenders and to know that my research had an impact on the policies of this country is very exciting.
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