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.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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