The panel of experts discussed alternatives to the use of life without the possibility of parole sentences for children during the opening plenary.
Noting that the United States has not always relied on the adult criminal justice system and extreme sentences to hold children accountable for serious crimes, panelists discussed the ground-breaking work that is being undertaken to develop and implement strategies for holding children accountable in age-appropriate ways that focus on their capacity for change and rehabilitation.
Among the panelists was Dr. Gregory Van Rybroek, director of the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, Wisconsin. The Institute includes a secure correctional facility for juveniles, providing intensive mental health interventions and behavior modification. The program has been documented to have lower rates of recidivism and lower long-term costs that traditional prison programs.
Other panelists were:
Elizabeth Calvin, senior advocate in the Children Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, who has been a leader in successful efforts to pass Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 260 in California, which reform the ways that youth are held accountable.
Joan Goldfrank, former magistrate judge in the Superior Court in the District of Columbia, who implemented an innovative juvenile mental health diversion court.
Arlene Lee of the National Academy of Sciences.
Senator Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, Texas, vice chairman of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee and an advocate for meaningful reform of juvenile sentencing laws.