sentence at issue in that case, life without parole. The Supreme Court found that retribution was
an acceptable basis for punishment for juvenile offenders. However, because retribution is based
on the personal culpability of the offender, life without parole was too severe a consequence for a
non-homicide case. The Supreme Court reached similar conclusions in regard to deterrence and
incapacitation as bases for punishment. The Supreme Court has only defined cruel and unusual
punishment in regard to juveniles at the most extreme end of the juvenile justice system, and leaves
a lot of gray area for punishment of less serious crimes.
Presently, this ruling has not been extended to cases of disciplining by schools, but many
school punishments would be permissible under the ruling if it were. Schools still have broad
discretion to discipline students who threaten the safety of the school environment, and school
administrators may rely on theories of retribution, incapacitation, or deterrence to justify long
suspensions or expulsions based on the Graham ruling. Some teachers and administrators believe
that suspension is a valuable disciplinary tool to remove disruptions and keep other students safe.
None of the schools’ available punishments rise to the standard considered in Graham.
III. COMPLETE OVERHAUL- “DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE” INTERVENTIONS
The Supreme Court has consistently expanded their consideration of social science
research on juvenile offenders. This is evident not only in Roper, where the court eliminated the
death penalty for minors, but in subsequent cases where they eliminated sentences for life without
parole both for homicide and non-homicide offenses. There is a large body of social science
research indicating that juvenile offenders are more amenable to rehabilitative tactics, and many
people believe that juveniles’ decreased culpability makes them worthier of such interventions.
This acknowledgement of lowered culpability indicates a broader shift towards crafting
appropriate and effective punishments for juvenile offenders and school misconduct.
Critics of zero-tolerance based policies argue for a more extreme overhaul of the system,
and advocate for a complete replacement of zero tolerance policies with rehabilitative programs.
They argue that policy changes to school discipline should take reform a step further, and embrace
a more restorative, developmentally informed stance. To start, transfer to juvenile court should be
reserved for only the most serious offenses. Some argue that the current Supreme Court
jurisprudence for Eighth Amendment cases regarding juveniles asserts a right to rehabilitation.
This right prevents transfer from juvenile court to the adult criminal justice system. The same
principle can be applied to school discipline cases. Suspending a student or referring them to the
juvenile justice system for criminal sanctions deprives them of their opportunity to reform. A
rehabilitative perspective would still demand accountability from the offender, but it is responsive
to the needs of the offender rather than to the offense. This approach is informed by adolescent
development, which indicates that young people have not developed good decision making skills.
Youth decision-making skills can be further impaired by external factors such as an absence of
parental guidance, long-term poverty, or a history of trauma. These external issues are not
adequately addressed in a punitive model, and typically persist after punishment.
The “replace” approach allows for greater involvement of other systems that youth
regularly interact with. At-risk youth might need counseling for various issues, including problems
at home or at school, or mental health problems. Some schools have done away with zero tolerance