Precedent as a policy map: What Miller v. Alabama tells us about emerging adults and the direction of contemporary youth services


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Important court decisions alter legal policies and reflect the political, context in which those decisions were made. Legal scholarship typically focuses on the interpretation of precedent – the cases from which a new decision draws its support or departs – and how a decision might change the trajectory of developing legal doctrine. This Article takes a somewhat different approach, examining what Miller v. Alabama reveals about the state of juvenile offender policy in the United States and how the decision may influence the path taken by advocates, policymakers, and practitioners. The Article also explores what Miller will mean for issues beyond the sentencing of juveniles for serious violent crimes.To illuminate the role that Miller plays with regard to the wider realm of youth policy, I will employ the analytic approach of Professor John Kingdon, whose influential book Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies (Agendas) provides a framework for understanding how ideas move from mere proposals to effectuated policy. His approach emerges from the pluralist tradition, which emphasizes government processes and the role of political influence in affecting policy choices. In posing Kingdon’s central question –“How does an idea’s time come?”– to the Miller decision, this Article employs Kingdon’s theoretical framework in two ways. First, Kingdon’s framework is used to identify the factors, both political and scientific, that helped set the stage for the decision. Second, the Article explores how the, identification and articulation of those factors will influence how we understand and deal with young offenders and disadvantaged emerging adults in, the coming years.

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