The Failed Approach to Juvenile Justice
Laurence Steinberg is the Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at Temple University. An internationally renowned expert on psychological development during adolescence, he is the author of more than 250 articles and essays on growth and development during the teenage years, nd the author or editor of eleven books, including including Adolescence the leading college textbook on adolescent development. A graduate of Vassar College and Cornell University, he was named as the first recipient of the Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize in 2009, one of the largest prizes ever awarded to a social scientist, for his contributions to improving the lives of young people and their families.
Question: Has the American juvenile justice system become more punitive over the last couple decades?
Laurence Steinberg: Sure. I mean, in virtually every state across the country, provisions have been made to get tougher on kids. That means being tougher on how they're sentenced in the juvenile system. It also means sentencing more than in the adult system, where they serve time often in adult facilities.
Question: What factors have contributed to this trend?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, the trend really began about 10 or 15 years ago, and it was in response to a dramatic increase in crime. Now, the increase was not just among teenagers; it was also among adults. But many politicians began spouting a kind of get-tough rhetoric, saying that the juvenile justice system was not sanctioning kids severely enough and that we needed to take stronger measures in order to prevent kids from offending.
Question: Does this approach to juvenile justice reflect a misunderstanding of adolescent psychology?
Laurence Steinberg: I think it does, in a couple of ways. The first is that it assumes that kids are going to be deterred by harsh punishments. And surprisingly, they're not. So studies show that kids coming out of adult prisons are just as likely, in fact even more likely, to reoffend than kids who have committed comparable crimes but are coming out of juvenile facilities. In our own research we have found that incarcerating kids for longer periods of time gains you no benefit over incarcerating them for shorter periods of time. So kids are different from adults in some very important ways, and we need to think about how to hold them accountable and punish them and rehabilitate them in ways that are different than we would do with adults.
Question: What's the chief cognitive difference between the brains of adolescents and adults?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, the brain undergoes significant maturation during the adolescent years, and there's two main features that are important here. The first is that adolescents have a much more active reward system than adults do, so things feel better to them, and that makes them more likely to engage in sensation seeking and novelty seeking. I often joke and say that things will never feel as good again during adulthood as they did when we were teenagers, which is sort of a sad thing, I guess. But this is what propels lots of kids into risky and reckless behavior -- that focus on what reward am I going to get from doing this? So that's one important difference. The second important difference has to do with what we might think of as the braking system of the brain, the region and system of the brain that's important for things like impulse control, for planning ahead, for weighing the costs and benefits of a decision. That is still undergoing significant maturation during adolescence, and it doesn't really reach adult maturity until the mid-20s.
Questions: Can we speak of criminal intent in an adolescent?
Laurence Steinberg: Sure, we can speak of criminal intent in an adolescent. So the question really, when an adolescent commits a crime, is never did he know right from wrong? Learning right from wrong is something that occurs very, very early in life. I mean, my dogs know the difference between right and wrong. So that's a pretty primitive thing. The issue really has to do with adolescents' ability to control their behavior in a way that's consistent with their understanding of what's right and wrong. A lot of adolescent criminal behavior is impulsive; it's not premeditate. It's done in a group; our own research has focused a lot on how group dynamics change decision making and risk taking during adolescence. And it's often sort of a spontaneous behavior, not something that's planned out and thought through.
Over the last several years, teenagers have been subject to increasingly severe sentencing. A psychologist explains why this justice system reflects a major misunderstanding of the adolescent brain.
The Flynn effect shows people have gotten smarter, but some research claims those IQ gains are regressing. Can both be right?
- Many countries made incredible gains in IQ scores during the 20th century, averaging three IQ points per decade.
- Studies out of Europe have shown a reversal of this trend.
- Such declines are not universal, and researchers remain unsure of what is causing them.
They'll reportedly last for thousands of years. This technology may someday power spacecraft, satellites, high-flying drones, and pacemakers.
Nuclear energy is carbon free, which makes it an attractive and practical alternative to fossil fuels, as it doesn't contribute to global warming. We also have the infrastructure for it already in place. It's nuclear waste that makes fission bad for the environment. And it lasts for so long, some isotopes for thousands of years. Nuclear fuel is comprised of ceramic pellets of uranium-235 placed within metal rods. After fission takes place, two radioactive isotopes are left over: cesium-137 and strontium-90.
New research shows that a healthy supply of locally-sourced beer helped maintain Wari civilization for 500 years.
- A new analysis of an ancient Wari brewery suggests chicha helped maintain the civilization's social capital for hundreds of years.
- Civilizations throughout the ancient world used alcoholic drinks to signify kinship, hospitality, and social cohesion.
- The researchers hope their findings will remind us of the importance in reaffirming social institutions and sharing cultural practices — even if over coffee or tea.
Beer is history's happiest accident. Though the discovery probably happened much earlier, our earliest evidence for beer dates back roughly 13,000 years ago. Around this time, the people of the Fertile Crescent had begun to gather grains as a food source and learned that if they moistened them, they could release their sweetness to create a gruel much tastier than the grains themselves.
One day a curious — or perhaps tightfisted — hunter-gatherer hid his gruel away for a safekeeping. When he returned, he found the bowl giving off a tangy odor. Not one to waste a meal, he ate it anyway and enjoyed an unexpected, though not unpleasant, sensation of ease. By pure happenstance, this ancestor stumbled upon brewing.
That's one possible origin story, but we know that our ancestors learned to control the process, and beer took a central role in Fertile Crescent civilizations — so central that Professor Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that beer, not bread, incentivized hunter-gatherers to relinquish their nomadic ways.
Beer may also be proof of a God who wants us to be happy (Dionysus?), because the beverage* would be independently rediscovered by peoples across the ancient world, including those in China and South America.
One such peoples, the pre-Inca Wari Civilization, made beer, specifically chicha de molle, a critical component in their religious and cultural ceremonies. In fact, a study published in Sustainability in April argues that the role was so important that beer helped keep Wari civilization intact for 500 years.
Brewing social capital
Twenty years ago, a team of archaeologists with the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, discovered a brewery in Cerro Baúl, a mesa in southern Peru that served as an ancient Wari outpost. The brewery contained original equipment, clay storage vessels, and compartments for milling, boiling, and fermentation.
The team recently analyzed these on-site vessels to uncover the secrets of the Wari brewing process. Removing tiny amounts of material found in the spaces between the clay, they were able to reconstruct the molecules of the thousand-year-old drink. They then worked alongside Peruvian brewers to recreate the original brewing process.**
Their molecular analysis revealed several key features of the beer: The clay used to make the vessels came from a nearby site; many of the beer's ingredients, such as molle berries, are drought resistant; and though alcoholic, the beer only kept for about a week.
These details suggest that Cerro Baúl maintained a steady supply of chicha, limited by neither trade nor fair weather, and became a central hub for anyone wishing to partake. The Wari would likely make such trips during times of festivals and religious ceremonies. Social elites would consume chicha in vessels shaped like Wari gods and leaders as part of rituals attesting to social norms and a shared cultural mythology and heritage.
"People would have come into this site, in these festive moments, in order to recreate and reaffirm their affiliation with these Wari lords and maybe bring tribute and pledge loyalty to the Wari state," Ryan Williams, lead author and head of anthropology at the Field Museum, said in a release. "We think these institutions of brewing and then serving the beer really formed a unity among these populations. It kept people together."
The Wari civilization was spread over a vast area of rain forests and highlands. In a time when news traveled at the speed of a llama, such distinct and distant geography could easily have fractured the Wari civilization into competing locales.
Instead, the researchers argue, these festive gatherings (aided by the promise of beer) strengthened social capital enough to maintain a healthy national unity. This helped the Wari civilization last from 600 to 1100 CE, an impressive run for a historic civilization.
Bringing people together (since 10,000 BCE)
A Mesopotamian cylinder seal shows people drinking beer through long reed straws. Image source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Of course, the Wari weren't the first civilization to use beer to reaffirm bonds and maintain their social fabric. Returning to the Fertile Crescent, Sumerians regarded beer as a hallmark of their civilization.
The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh tells of the adventures of the titular hero and his friend Enkidu. Enkidu beings as a savage living in the wilderness, but a young woman introduces him to the ways of civilization. That orientation begins with food and beer:
"They placed food in front of him,
They placed beer in front of him,
Enkidu knew nothing about eating bread for food,
And of drinking beer he had not been taught.
The young woman spoke Enkidu, saying:
"Eat the food, Enkidu, it is the way one lives.
Drink the beer, as is the custom of the land."
Enkidu ate the food until he was sated,
He drank the beer — seven jugs! — and became expansive
and sang with joy.
He was elated and his face glowed.
He splashed his shaggy body with water
and rubbed himself with oil, and turned into a human."
Tom Standage, who recounts this scene in his History of the World in 6 Glasses, writes: "The Mesopotamians regarded the consumption of bread and beer as one of the things that distinguished them from savages and made them fully human." Such civilized staples not only demarcated their orderly life from that of hunter-gatherers, they also served a key role in their culture's unifying mythology.
Furthermore, Standage notes, Sumerian iconography often shows two people sipping from waist-high jars through reed straws. The earliest beers were consumed in a similar fashion because technological limitations prevented baking individual cups or filtering the beverage. But the Sumerians had the pottery skills to make such cups and filter the dregs. That they kept the tradition suggests that they valued the camaraderie brought by the experience, a sign of communal hospitality and kinship.
The ancient Greek's similarly used alcohol as a means of maintaining social and political relationships — though their drink of choice was wine.
During symposiums, upper-class Greek men would gather for a night of drinking, entertainment, and social bonding. In Alcohol: A history, Rod Phillips notes that symposiums were serious affairs where art, politics, and philosophy were discussed throughout the night and could serve as rites of passage for young men. (Though, music, drinking games, and sex with prostitutes may also be found on the itinerary.)
Of course, we can amass social capital without resorting to alcohol, which has been known to damage social relationships as much as improve them.
In the 17th century, London's coffeehouses stimulated the minds of thinkers with their caffeine-laden drinks, but also served as social hubs. Unlike the examples we've explored already, these coffeehouses brought together people of different backgrounds and expertise, unifying them in their pursuit of ideas and truths. Thus, coffeehouses can be seen as the nurseries of the Enlightenment.
Relearning ancient lessons
The Field Museum archaeologists hope their research can help remind us the importance social institutions and cultural practices have in creating our common bonds, whether such institutions are BYOB or not.
"This research is important because it helps us understand how institutions create the binds that tie together people from very diverse constituencies and very different backgrounds," Williams said. "Without them, large political entities begin to fragment and break up into much smaller things. Brexit is an example of this fragmentation in the European Union today. We need to understand the social constructs that underpin these unifying features if we want to be able to maintain political unity in society."
So, grab a beer or coffee or tea, spend some time together, and raise a glass. Just try not focus too much on whether your friend ordered Budweiser's swill or an overpriced, virtue-signaling microbrew IPA.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.