Lifetime Punishments for Mentally Ill Juvenile Rampage School Shooters: No Hope for the Future?

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International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology

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This study examines the roles of age and mental health in the processing of 10 adolescent rampage school shooters who had shown signs of mental instability prior to their rampage, but were tried and convicted as adults and sentenced to life or almost life in prison. Findings from court transcripts show that expert witnesses for the defense provided evidence of mental illness in all cases; however, the court determined that the diagnoses failed to meet the insanity standard or did not qualify as a significant mitigating circumstance. The reality of the boys' actual guilt, the low competency standard, and the transfer of jurisdiction from Juvenile Court to criminal court all worked against their defense. Although in recent years the Supreme Court has ruled that because of the lesser development of children, life sentences for juveniles constitute cruel and unusual punishment, appeals on behalf of these boys have been routinely denied. Cross-national comparisons reveal the rarity of school shootings outside the United States and suggest that juvenile justice processing in many countries is far less punitive than that in the United States.


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