We recently featured a post on the topic of sentencing in juvenile cases. In the post, author Ashley Nellis from The Sentencing Project writes that, “Changing public sentiment regarding the wisdom of sending young people to adult prisons has led policymakers in many states to revise misguided policies in this area.”
She notes that “… lengthy terms of imprisonment stand to violate the spirit if not the letter of the recent court rulings. They also conflict with recent recommendations of The American Law Institute, a respected body of legal scholars and law practitioners that proposes a review after 10 years for any juveniles sentenced to terms longer than this.”
In follow up to Ms. Nellis’ post, we wanted to share the recommendations on juvenile sentencing from Article 6 of the most recent draft of Model Penal Code: Sentencing, which has been approved by members of ALI.
ARTICLE 6. AUTHORIZED SANCTIONS AND DISPOSITIONS
§ 6.14. Sentencing of Offenders Under the Age of 18. 1
The following provisions shall apply to the sentencing of offenders under the age of 18 at the time of commission of their offenses:
(1) When assessing an offender’s blameworthiness under § 1.02(2)(a)(i), the offender’s age shall be a mitigating factor, to be assigned greater weight for offenders of younger ages. (Black letter of § 1.02 is included in the post below.)
(2) Priority shall be given to the purposes of offender rehabilitation and reintegration into the law-abiding community among the utilitarian purposes of sentencing in § 1.02(2)(a)(ii), except as provided in subsection (3).
(3) When an offender has been convicted of a serious violent offense, and there is a reliable basis for belief that the offender presents a high risk of serious violent offending in the future, priority may be given to the goal of incapacitation among the utilitarian purposes of sentencing in § 1.02(2)(a)(ii).
(4) Rather than sentencing the offender as an adult under this Code, the court may impose any disposition that would have been available if the offender had been adjudicated a delinquent for the same conduct in the juvenile court. Alternatively, the court may impose a juvenile-court disposition while reserving power to impose an adult sentence if the offender violates the conditions of the juvenile-court disposition.
(5) The court shall impose a juvenile-court disposition in the following circumstances:
(a) The offender’s conviction is for any offense other than [a felony of the first or second degree];
(b) The case would have been adjudicated in the juvenile court but for the existence of a specific charge, and that charge did not result in conviction;
(c) There is a reliable basis for belief that the offender presents a low risk of serious violent offending in the future, and the offender has been convicted of an offense other than [murder]; or
(d) The offender was an accomplice who played a minor role in the criminal conduct of one or more other persons.
(6) The court shall have authority to impose a sentence that deviates from any mandatory-minimum term of incarceration under state law.
(7) No sentence of incarceration longer than  years may be imposed for any offense or combination of offenses. For offenders under the age of 16 at the time of commission of their offenses, no sentence of incarceration longer than  years may be imposed. For offenders under the age of 14 at the time of commission of their offenses, no sentence of incarceration longer than  years may be imposed.
(8) Offenders shall be eligible for sentence modification under § 11.02 after serving  years of incarceration. The court may order that eligibility under § 11.02 shall occur at an earlier date, if warranted by the circumstances of an individual case.
(9) The sentencing commission shall develop guidelines for the sentencing of offenders under this Section.
(10) No person under the age of 18 shall be housed in any adult correctional facility.
[(11) The court may apply this Section when sentencing offenders above the age of 17 but under the age of 21 at the time of commission of their offenses, when substantial circumstances establish that this will best effectuate the purposes of sentencing in
§ 1.02(2)(a). Subsections (4), (5), and (8) shall not apply in such cases.]
1 This Section was numbered § 6.11A during the pre-approval drafting process. Subsections (1) through (11) were originally designated (a) through (k); subsections (5)(a) through (5)(d) were shown as (e)(i) through (e)(iv). For the Comment and Reporters’ Note prepared for this Section during the drafting process, see Proposed Final Draft (approved May 24, 2017), at 216-231.
PART I. GENERAL PROVISIONS
ARTICLE 1. PRELIMINARY
§ 1.02(2). Purposes of Sentencing and the Sentencing System.
(2) The general purposes of the provisions on sentencing, applicable to all official actors in the sentencing system, are:
(a) in decisions affecting the sentencing of individual offenders:
(i) to render sentences in all cases within a range of severity proportionate to the gravity of offenses, the harms done to crime victims, and the blameworthiness of offenders;
(ii) when reasonably feasible, to achieve offender rehabilitation, general deterrence, incapacitation of dangerous offenders, restitution to crime victims, preservation of families, and reintegration of offenders into the law-abiding community, provided these goals are pursued within the boundaries of proportionality in subsection (a)(i);
(iii) to render sentences no more severe than necessary to achieve the applicable purposes in subsections (a)(i) and (a)(ii); and
(iv) to avoid the use of sanctions that increase the likelihood offenders will engage in future criminal conduct.
(b) in matters affecting the administration of the sentencing system:
(i) to preserve judicial discretion to individualize sentences within a framework of law;
(ii) to produce sentences that are uniform in their reasoned pursuit of the purposes in subsection (2)(a);
(iii) to eliminate inequities in sentencing across population groups;
(iv) to ensure that adequate resources are available for carrying out sentences imposed and that rational priorities are established for the use of those resources;
(v) to ensure that all criminal sanctions are administered in a humane fashion;
(vi) to promote research on sentencing policy and practices, including the effects of criminal sanctions on families and communities; and
(vii) to increase the transparency of the sentencing and corrections system, its accountability to the public, and the legitimacy of its operations as perceived by all affected communities.