Peter Lanza’s new house, on a secluded private road in Fairfield County, Connecticut, is an attic room overflowing with shipping crates of what he calls “the stuff.” Since the day in December, 2012, when his son Adam killed his own mother, himself, and twenty-six people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, strangers from across the world have sent thousands upon thousands of letters and other keepsakes: prayer shawls, Bibles, Teddy bears, homemade toys; stories with titles such as “My First Christmas in Heaven”; crosses, including one made by prison inmates. People sent candy, too, and when I visited Peter, last fall, he showed me a bag of year-old caramels. He had not wanted to throw away anything that people sent. But he said, “I was wary about eating anything,” and he didn’t let Shelley Lanza—his second wife—eat any of the candy, either. There was no way to be sure it wasn’t poisoned. Downstairs, in Peter’s home office, I spotted a box of family photographs. He used to display them, he told me, but now he couldn’t look at Adam, and it seemed strange to put up photos of his older son, Ryan, without Adam’s. “I’m not dealing with it,” he said. Later, he added, “You can’t mourn for the little boy he once was. You can’t fool yourself.”
WASHINGTON — A majority of the Supreme Court seemed skeptical on Monday of how Florida decides who is eligible to be spared the death penalty on account of intellectual disabilities. The state uses an I.Q. of 70 as a rigid cutoff, and several justices suggested that it should take account of a standard margin of error or consider additional factors.
Other justices seemed inclined to allow Florida and other states to decide for themselves how to determine who is “mentally retarded” and so ineligible for execution under the court’s 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia.
The Atkins decision gave states substantial discretion and only general guidance. It said a finding of intellectual disability requires proof of three things: “subaverage intellectual functioning,” meaning low I.Q. scores; a lack of fundamental social and practical skills; and the presence of both conditions before age 18. The court said I.Q. scores under “approximately 70” typically indicate intellectual disability.
As Monday’s argument progressed, it became clear that what divided the two groups of justices was more than the particular case. Their disagreement was a larger one about the role of scholarly and professional expertise in the resolution of legal disputes.
Read the full article, Justices Hear Florida Case on Measuring Inmates’ Mental Disabilities, in New York Times. By Adam Liptak, March 3, 2014. See more coverage of this issue in the article, With Death Penalty, How Should States Define Mental Disability?, on NPR. By Nina Totenburg, March 3, 2014.
By Jeff Bostic, Lisa Thurau, Mona Potter, and Stacy Drury | February 2014 | Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
More than 100 years after the creation of the juvenile court, state juvenile justice policies still promote adult approaches, despite consistent neurobiological evidence that the adolescent brain processes, perceives, and responds differently than adult brains. Although frequently the first responders in youth cases, police officers rarely receive adequate training in effective communication and interaction strategies with youth. Strategies for Youth found that most police academies contacted devote less than 1% of training to interactions with adolescents,1 yet 20% to 40% of juvenile arrests are for “contempt of cop” offenses, such as questioning or “disrespecting” an officer.2 Incarceration of adolescents fails to decrease recidivism and compounds the negative impacts on the 60% to 70%3 of youth in correctional facilities who have significant untreated mental health problems.4 We found that police officer training in neurodevelopmentally sensitive techniques markedly decreased teen arrests and improved police–teen interactions in diverse American communities. Continue reading »
Three decades ago, Edward Palmariello, 17, and his 21-year-old friend Bruce Chambers were arrested in the murder of Edward’s mother, Marion. Then a defense attorney, I represented Edward at trial. The jury found both men guilty and the sentence was mandatory — life in prison without any possibility of parole.
In most countries, Edward’s sentence would have been impossible. Juvenile life without parole is prohibited by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child , a measure that has been ratified by every UN nation except the United States and Somalia (Somalia announced in November that it will ratify). Edward has spent the past 32 years in jail. He had no hope, no future. Perhaps, until now.
Violence is a natural, human behavior, key to both our evolution as a species and to the reproductive success for many an individual vying for scarce food or mating opportunities. And yet in our modern society, violence is often an unnatural, senseless act, borne out of impulsive aggression — without consideration for the future consequences — or at times, due to gross distortions of reality as can occur for individuals with severe mental illness.
While mental illness is a rare cause of violence, accounting for 3-5% of the violence that reaches our courts, it nonetheless figures prominently in the cultural understanding of violence, particularly since several recent high-profile mass killings involved individuals with clear suggestions of brewing or established psychotic illness.
A year after the Sandy Hook massacre, the world seems no closer to understanding why such a horrific act occurred in the case of Adam Lanza, who committed suicide and left few traces of his motives. It’s no surprise that parents of victims are so desperate for answers and solution that they would entertain imposing routine brain check-ups through a functional MRI scan for those at risk for violence. Their motives are clear and noble: they want to understand the root causes of violence and find ways that society can protect other children and families from having to undergo the same unimaginable pain and loss they continue to experience every day. And yet, such a measure would almost certainly represent a violation of several constitutional rights, not to mention being impractical, well beyond the capabilities of the science, and probably by most peoples’ standards, a swing of the pendulum well beyond our comfort zone in the ongoing balance of individual autonomy and public safety.