In Diatchenko v. District Attorney for Suffolk District, 1 N.E.3d 270 (Mass. 2013) the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court sparked significant juvenile sentencing reform in the state. Previously an outlier for its harsh treatment of juveniles, the Commonwealth now prohibits the imposition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders. This crucial step forward in juvenile justice is dually rooted in neuroscience advancements and society’s ever-evolving standards of decency. The premise is simply that children are different. Children are categorically impulsive, more susceptible to negative environmental influences, and their malleable character is less persuasive evidence of irretrievable depravity that would otherwise justify a sentence to die behind bars. Based on these accepted differences, the court holds that juvenile offenders, being the most apt for change, should thus be afforded a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate rehabilitation. Unfortunately, this significant step towards reform rings hollow given the current state of the Commonwealth’s correctional system and its want for consistent rehabilitative services.

This Note examines: a history of case law and scientific developments leading up to the reform; competing theories of punishment and rehabilitation; social science regarding the outcomes of previously incarcerated juveniles; and the state of incarceration, rehabilitation, and paroling in Massachusetts. Ultimately, this Note argues that there are a multitude of legal sources from which the Commonwealth should find a freestanding, actionable right to rehabilitation for those arrested as juveniles and incarcerated into adulthood, thus making Diatchenko more than mere aspiration.