Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Ohio Judicial College Examines Science & the Law

Vassar College Professor and neuroscientist Abigail Baird told a roomful of Ohio judges how science can explain why teenagers end up in trouble — and in the Ohio court system.

The forum was sponsored by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Judicial College.

While adults can lean on life experiences to know the difference between right and wrong, it’s not that easy for children, Baird said.

“When you really look at children in adolescence, they don’t just know things. They have to learn things,” Baird said. “It’s not just a matter of being patient with the behavior. It’s about being patient with the way their brain is developing.”

Neuroscience tells us the brain is still maturing into the mid-20s, in parts of the brain that control planning, reasoning, and emotional control, she said.

“It makes me think twice on how I interact with children,” said Montgomery County Juvenile Judge Tony Capizzi. “I have to remember their life experience is different than ours. When we think about things, we think very quickly. We decide not to do something. Children don’t have that stop mechanism in their brain.”

In February, a retired Missouri judge told the Washington Post that if she would have known this information when she was on the bench years ago, she would have been more sympathetic in sentencing teenage offenders.

Cuyahoga County Judge Diane Palos said the presentation made her think, too.

“It’s going to help me slow down and think about the issues in a different way,” Judge Palos said. “I think it will help me if I do interviews with the thought process and how to ask questions better and to really understand how they are getting to the place they were getting to and that’s why it makes sense for them. It’s been really helpful.”

Judge Capizzi said although teenagers need to be held accountable, there needs to be some realization about why they make wrong decisions.

“Ask the question, ok, why did they do this? (Don’t say) that was stupid,” Capizzi said. “Just say, why did you do this? That’s a big difference.”