Rehabilitate the Community by Rehabilitating its Youth—
How Cognitive Science, Incarceration, and Jurisprudence Relate to the
Criminal Justice System’s Treatment of Juveniles
“I’ve got thoughts of determination in the midst of hard times.
Hard facts of life replace nursery rhymes in the hearts and minds of our city’s youth.”*
By Jacob L. Zerkle**
Juvenile delinquency came to the forefront of the public mind in the 1980s and early 1990s
with violent juvenile crime on the rise.1 Unsure of how to react, but knowing that action needed to
be taken, the legal community adopted a “get tough on crime” motto that corresponded to its
response to adult violent crime.2 The result? The United States has a higher incarceration rate of
adults and juveniles than any other country in the world.3 And it is no secret that America’s prisons
do not rehabilitate; on the contrary, a study of prisoners released from thirty states in 2005 showed
*Romona Parks, Hard Times (spoken word performance given at Lawndale Christian Legal Center’s First Annual
Benefit, Nov. 9, 2012).
**Jacob L. Zerkle is an attorney in the Exempt Organization Tax Services group at Ernst & Young’s Chicago office.
In the past, he volunteered at the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, and he currently enjoys volunteering with Cabrini
Green Legal Aid and Holy Trinity Church. He is a graduate of Valparaiso University Law School, where he served as
the Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily
reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP or any of its members.
1 PRESTON ELROD & R. SCOTT RYDER, JUVENILE JUSTICE: A SOCIAL, HISTORICAL, AND LEGAL PERSPECTIVE 391 (3d
2 Ellie D. Shefi, Note, Waiving Goodbye: Incarcerating Waived Juveniles in Adult Correctional Facilities Will Not
Reduce Crime, 36 U. MICH. J.L. REFORM 653, 660–61 (2003). During the 1990s, state legislatures became more
favorable to the transfer of juveniles into adult court. Id. at 661. The harsher political attitude towards juveniles was
due, at least in part, to the “increased media attention on violent juvenile crime, particularly gang violence, which lead
to greater community outrage and fear, and increased political pressure on community representatives.” Id. at 661
n.63. Today, juveniles may be waived into the adult system in three different ways: (1) a juvenile court judge may
exercise her discretion, waiving jurisdiction over a juvenile offender after a hearing usually at the request of the
prosecutor after the judge takes into consideration criteria set out in Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541 (1966) or
some analogous criteria; (2) a prosecutor may determine whether to file charges in a juvenile or criminal court, based
on the age and offense criteria, and this decision is not subject to judicial review; or (3) the legislature may pass a
statute, excluding certain offenses from juvenile court jurisdiction based on the age, type of offense, and/or prior
record of the juvenile. Id. at 662 n.70.
3 Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Yes, U.S. Locks People Up at a Higher Rate than any Other Country, THE WASH. POST (July
7, 2015), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/07/07/yes-u-s-locks-people-up-at-a-higher-
rate-than-any-other-country/; see also Adam Liptak, U.S. Prison Population Dwarfs that of Other Nations, N.Y.
TIMES (Apr. 23, 2008), http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/world/americas/23iht-
23prison.12253738.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. Infra note 45 (providing more detailed statistics on juvenile
incarceration rates in the United States).