A question from Carla Wilson, Portsmouth, NH:
A new slate
I am concerned about maintaining conviction records of youths who commit crimes.
Don't these kids deserve the chance to improve themselves? Why stigmatize a 25-year-old for something that happened when they were 13?
Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. responds:
I share your concern, Carla, about stigmatizing youth offenders and preventing them from moving on from ealier transgressions. While we must never coddle those who break the law, we must also protect the right of our citizens to pay their debt to society and start over.
The recent juvenile justice bill that passed the House addressed this issue directly. It expands the use of juvenile records, but only for law enforcement purposes. Only those connected to the legal system will have increased access to the records of a youth offender. These records will not be any more available to the public than they are today.
We believe one way to avoid stigmatizing offenders is to implement graduated sentences for youth offenders. By making the punishment tougher for each offense, we provide those who break the law with an opportunity for rehabilitation. This is important because our ultimate goal with youth offenders should not only be punishment, but also helping them become contributing members of society.
Congressman John Sununu responds:
Individuals, of all ages, must recognize that their actions can and will have consequences for themselves and others for the rest of their lives. Teenagers that commit serious crimes should receive punishment that is direct and consistent. The decisions regarding this process, however, are made and implemented at the local level. This includes decisions regarding the maintenance of criminal records of youth offenders as well.
On to the next question...