Governor Lamont seems to have joined those who think justice requires concealing criminal records.
According to The Day of New London, the governor has proposed legislation requiring the state Office of Policy and Management to compile and post on the internet each year a list of all criminal defendants and convicts, including their age, race, ethnicity, gender, and town, as well as details of the charges against them and their sentences.
But while law-enforcement officials would have access to the list’s names of the accused and convicted, the public would not.
The criminal-records project arises from the murder of three members of the Petit family in their home in Cheshire in 2007 by two career criminals on parole about whose records the parole board claimed to be inadequately informed.
Presumably there will be no more such excuses if all arrest, prosecution, conviction, and sentencing information is in one place. Then everyone employed in the criminal-justice system can be held more accountable within the system itself.
But there will be no accountability to the public if the names of the accused and the convicted are concealed outside the criminal-justice system.
Indeed, journalistic investigation of the negligence of the parole system in the Cheshire case might not have been possible if the identities of the killers had been redacted from the public portion of their criminal records as the governor’s legislation proposes.
The governor’s legislation follows proposals by urban Democrats in the General Assembly to erase or conceal criminal records of people whose offenses were not violent and who have gone some years without offending again. Supporters of the proposals argue that former offenders won’t be able to obtain jobs and housing if the public has access to their criminal records.
Yes, criminal convictions impose some handicaps on offenders, but then they should. Otherwise there is no point to the criminal law.
If drug-dealing convictions are unfair, as many people now believe, the drug laws should be repealed, as Connecticut seems about to repeal its law against marijuana.
But criminal convictions are the smaller part of the handicaps suffered by drug offenders in employment and housing, since most of these offenders are also uneducated and unskilled, which is why they went into drug dealing in the first place.
A law suppressing their criminal records won’t improve their qualifications as employees and tenants. Indeed, such a law probably won’t conceal many criminal records at all, since reports of many arrests and convictions will remain posted at the internet sites of news organizations, as they should remain posted to protect the public.
The proposals to conceal criminal records are typical of state legislators - mere posturing to look concerned about a problem without incurring expense to solve it. The solution here would be to make sure that offenders gain an education and job skills before they leave prison so they might become good employees and tenants.
Sandy Hook Propaganda: Desirable as federal background checks for gun buyers may be, calling the background check legislation recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives the “Sandy Hook” gun law is silly propaganda.
For background checks would not have prevented the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in 2012, as the guns used were legally purchased by a woman whose background contained nothing disqualifying.
The guns were stolen by the killer, her disturbed son, who killed her first. She should have known better but no law would have helped that situation.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.