Why Public Safety Officials Must Understand the Adolescent Brain (VIDEO)
Lee Seale, Chief of the Sacramento Probation Department
April 29, 2016
Good morning. On behalf of the Sacramento County Probation Department, I welcome you to Inside the Adolescent Brain – our one-day learning summit. Today we bring together researchers and scholars who are experts in adolescent brain development and connect them with you all – leaders and practitioners in a wide array of fields from all over the state and nation. I am thrilled to welcome you all.
Among us today we have representatives from:
- probation departments
- behavioral health departments
- child welfare departments
- Education departments and school districts
- Sheriff's Departments
- Police Departments
- District Attorney's Offices
- Public Defender's Offices
- Advocacy groups
- Youth groups
- Church groups
- Community providers
- The Board of State and Community Corrections
- The State Prison system
- And The State Division of Juvenile Justice
If you are here today, it is because we share an openness to listen to, and be informed by, the latest research. We want to be guided by science and by facts, and not simply rest on how we may have done things when we all started our careers. We are all committed to doing better ourselves.
We also are here because we share a desire to see young people thrive. We want them to succeed. We want them to do well in school, to succeed in employment, to find meaningful relationships in their lives.
And what we'll learn today is that perhaps the single most important trait to help young people realize that success isn't talent. It isn't intelligence.
Rather it is the ability to exercise self-control: to regulate one's thinking and actions; to plan ahead, delay gratification and make sound decisions.
But it is precisely this ability to exercise self-control, to practice internal self-regulation, that young people so often lack. It is this absence that leads to poor decision-making and, sometimes, it is this absence that leads young people into the criminal justice system. We know that young people show high rates of risk-taking and poor decision-making and in fact the highest rates of recidivism once in the criminal justice system. So our challenge is great.
But there is good news. What we'll learn today is that this important period of adolescence – lasting from the teenage years up to as late as 25 or 26 years of age – is an incredible opportunity, as one expert describes it, to help young people develop the tools to succeed. Because it is during this period that the brain is extremely receptive to learning and development. We can mold the adolescent brain, shape it and influence it. The adolescent brain is not yet fully formed.
So if we are to take seriously our role in the justice system to prevent crime and to reduce recidivism, then we must seize this opportunity to engage the adolescent brain. We must understand that public safety requires that we do things to help young people develop self-control and good decision-making and internal self-regulation. If we take seriously the prevention of crime then our approach to juvenile justice must be developmental.
Too often we have let ourselves off the hook by thinking that punishment alone, or sanctions, or deprivation or restrictions of various kinds will accomplish this. But they won't. We must undertake the harder work, the more serious work, the more skilled work of helping young people to develop the skills that will make them thrive and keep them out of the justice system, or, for many of us, keep them from returning to the justice system. This requires positive engagement with young people, forming appropriate mentoring relationships with them.
I tell my team that we look to hire teachers, parents, mentors, coaches – all experts in positive youth development – because they innately believe in behavior change and they understand how to talk to kids. They are experts in creating behavior change.
Today we learn why it is so important that we do this work well. How we can better serve public safety and produce healthy, thriving young people. So I welcome you and invite us all to go together inside the Adolescent Brain.