Court record secrecy may be dangerous

Published on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 19:32
Written by Chris Powell

Governor Dannel Malloy is making one more attempt to require concealment of the crimes of young adults, proposing again to extend to 18-21-year-olds the secrecy of juvenile court and “youthful offender” status so they can avoid any hint of criminal records when the courts are done with them.

The governor’s proposals are more retrograde than ever, in part because of what has been learned from the massacre at the high school in Parkland, Florida.

The first problem here remains the age of majority. If the law deems people mature enough to vote and make contracts at 18, they should be mature enough to understand and obey the criminal law.

If they’re not, the age of majority should be raised to 21, and the voting age with it.

Second, the secrecy of juvenile justice conceals its failures and child neglect and abuse and makes correcting those failures almost impossible, which is how those who run the system like it.

Third, the state Constitution requires courts to be open, though the secrecy of juvenile court violates that requirement.

But fourth, and more compelling now, the Parkland high school massacre was probably facilitated by the very principles the governor wants to put into law.

That is, as the Washington Post has reported, in recent years schools in Broward County, where Parkland is located, have followed a national policy trend of not making arrests of violent and disruptive students but instead referring them to various forms of social work.

While the perpetrator of the Parkland massacre long was notorious for violence, disruption, and being mentally disturbed at school, he was never arrested, prosecuted, or imprisoned even as the social work performed on him failed utterly. Eventually he was expelled from school but without a criminal record that would have disqualified him from legally acquiring the gun with which he murdered 17 students and teachers.

The bigger policy problem with the governor’s proposals is that once again he would address mere symptoms to avoid confronting the underlying causes of misconduct by young people, particularly bad parenting and the child neglect, abuse, and fatherlessness generated by the welfare system.

Yes, once young people get caught in the criminal-justice system, their lives can be ruined quickly. But that’s not because the system is so bad.

The system strives so much to avoid sending people to jail that many chronic offenders are neither healed nor imprisoned until their 20th or even 40th conviction, by which time they have done serious harm.

The governor has not seemed to notice that the “second-chance society” he advocates was overtaken long ago by the umpteenth-chance society. Merely concealing more of criminal justice won’t solve troublemaking by young people any more than concealing audits will solve corruption in government.

So where’s the money?

Obliviousness triumphed at the state Capitol the other day as the governor and legislators approved a contract with improved compensation for private-sector home-care workers whose work is financed largely by the government.

The better compensation is deserved but no one can say how the $20 million in added expense over the next two years is to be funded. For the governor and General Assembly have not yet resolved the $250 million deficit in the current state budget, even as they keep deciding to spend more money.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Editorials on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 19:32. Updated: Tuesday, 3 April 2018 19:35.