Applying the Lessons of Developmental Psychology to the Study of Juvenile Interrogations: New Directions for Research, Policy, and Practice

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Abstract

Police interrogation of criminal suspects is a core function of the American justice system that involves numerous cognitive, social, and other psychological processes. While a robust psycholegal literature on police interrogation has emerged, the subset of that literature focusing on adolescent suspects is less cohesive, despite substantial and well-known developmental differences between adult and juvenile suspects. With a few notable exceptions, the current juvenile interrogation literature has not systematically leveraged the many lessons of normative adolescent development that have emerged from basic scientific research. Developmental psychology has much to offer the study of juvenile interrogation, and as police–youth interactions increasingly capture the public’s attention and raise important questions about how police handle juveniles, now is the time to adopt a more explicitly developmental approach. This article highlights key features of adolescent psychosocial, neurobiological, and social development that are directly relevant to the police interrogation context. It argues that an explicit recognition of developmental principles is vital to juvenile suspects’ due process rights and to the future of juvenile interrogation research. The article outlines specific directions for future research on juvenile interrogation, including recommendations for interdisciplinary collaborations, laboratory research, and field studies. It then discusses implications of several key recommendations for interrogation policy and practice as they apply specifically to juvenile suspects.

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