November 6, 2003

Round Two, Reno Returns to Campus

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In the wake of the trial for teenager Lee Boyd Malvo, one of the alleged Beltway snipers, the University is hosting a symposium starting today entitled “Rethinking the Criminalization of Youth.” Among those participating in this two day event is Janet Reno ’60, former U.S. Attorney General and a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 University Professor.

Planning for the event started in spring of this year according to organizer Prof. Joan Jacobs Brumberg, human development and feminist, gender and sexuality studies. Brumberg said that the symposium is a result of research in addition to conversations with Reno last year.

“When she was here last time, we talked about the fact that Cornell is an outstanding place in terms of research on developmental psychology, particularly on adolescents,” Brumberg said. “She was interested in how we could better inform students and the public about the kind of mesh between developmental psychology and social policy.”

The symposium will tackle issues such as the historical and current use of the juvenile death penalty, research concerning the punishment of adolescent offenders and ways in which the law should deal with these individuals. In addition, students will have the opportunity to observe a professional forum said co-organizer Jane Powers ’85, senior research associate at the Family Life Development Center (FLDC).

“This is [about] undergraduates really having an important educational experience of what a conference is like,” Powers said. “All of the presenters are aware that the audience does not have background experience [in this area]. The event is geared to make a lively and intellectual environment for undergraduate students and law students.”

To kick off the symposium, Brumberg will give a presentation at Mann Library today at 4 p.m. about her book, Kansas Charley: The Story of a 19th Century Boy Murderer. The non-fiction novel is about a German immigrant orphan who commits a murder in the 19th century at the age of 15 and is hanged two years later.

“I look at that case for what it tells us about today and also what it tells us about the 19th century,” Brumberg said.

The event continues tomorrow morning with a 9:30 a.m. lecture in the Barnes Hall Auditorium by Laurence Steinberg ’77, distinguished university professor at Temple University. Steinberg’s lecture entitled, “Less Guilty by Reason of Adolescence,” will relate to his work in finding the most suitable practices for dealing with youthful offenders.

Following Steinberg’s lecture, the first of two panel discussions will take place. A variety of speakers from different universities and organizations will be on hand in this discussion focusing on the treatment of violent youth including David Kaczynski, a member of the New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty and brother of the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski.

“The conference will have people who are pro-death penalty as well as some who are anti-death penalty,” Brumberg said.

In the afternoon at the Moot Court Room in the Cornell Law School, Prof. Victor L. Streib, author of The Juvenile Death Penalty in America, will provide a presentation concerning the history and the future of juvenile executions.

Following Streib’s lecture will be the second panel discussion, “The Juvenile Death Penalty: Where we are now?” Reno, who will present closing comments at the seminar will be joined by three University law professors, Steve Harper, director of the Juvenile Death Penalty Initiative and Robert Blecker, a criminal law and death penalty expert at the New York Law School.

One of the panelists, Prof. Muna Ndulo, law, will focus on the question of juveniles and the death penalty by focusing on international law and whether U.S. norms compare to practices around the world. Ndulo said the issue is likely to generate a great deal of discussion.

“It’s an important issue to resolve because I think the use of the death penalty on juveniles by the U.S. has been very controversial,” Ndulo said. “It’s a matter that should be somehow addressed.”

Although Powers said that the timing of the symposium was “somewhat deliberate” in regards to the upcoming Malvo case, Blumberg said that this was more a coincidence than anything else.

“We started thinking about it in spring 2003, so it was post-Washington sniper case but we had no way of knowing when Lee Boyd Malvo would go to trial,” Brumberg said.

Organizers advertised the event by putting up posters and sending e-mails to 17 different law groups on campus according to Rachel Ammirati ’04, student employee/research assistant at the FLDC. Ammirati said that she received high feedback from many undergraduate law societies — one professor is even offering students extra credit for attending some of the events.

“I think that we are expecting a good turnout not just from campus, but the community as well,” Powers said. “It’s a great program with really exciting speakers. I think that will be a big draw.”

Brumberg said that Reno was aware of the plans for the symposium and was willing to partake in discussions about the criminalization of youth. As a former U.S. Attorney General, Reno cares deeply about these issues and “had a real record in advocacy of children and youth,” Brumberg said.

Ammirati said that the issues which will be discussed in the conference are particularly complex because of the difficult distinctions between adolescent treatment and adult treatment. Brumberg said that these topics will be especially important in light of the Malvo case.

“[The Malvo trial] means we are again facing in 2003 the kind of national discussion about the juvenile death penalty: should Lee Boyd Malvo live or die? That’s exactly the kind of discussion that I researched in my book, only it [took place in] 1892. The question for me is have we progressed any? I’m not sure we have,” Brumberg said.

Archived article by Brian Tsao