Honors Theses

Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2022

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis


Public Policy Leadership

First Advisor

William W. Berry III

Second Advisor

Stefan Schulenberg

Third Advisor

Rebekah Smith

Relational Format



This thesis will discuss Juvenile Life Without Parole sentencing (JLWOP) from three perspectives: (1) the evolving standard of decency as developed through relevant U.S. Supreme Court cases; (2) the cognitive and psychosocial development of adolescents that creates reduced culpability in juvenile offenders; and (3) the justifications and implications of punishment as-applied to juvenile offenders. In my fourth chapter, I argue that JLWOP sentencing disregards the humanity and transformable nature of juvenile offenders. I will then draw a parallel between the implications of a juvenile offender's underdeveloped cognitive functions on their decision-making processes and the implications of a trial judge's underdeveloped capacity for empathy to expose the dangers of leaving JLWOP sentencing to the judge's discretion as demonstrated by the most recent JLWOP Supreme Court case, Jones v. Mississippi. Lastly, I will propose a plan to reduce the use of JLWOP by educating decision-makers on the developmental level of adolescents and how this effects the proportionality and experience of punishments. This proposal aims to grow empathy and rationality in decision-makers so that they will begin to sentence juvenile offenders more justly.

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