Jumpstarting Juvenile Justice Reform


January 23, 2017 11:09AM

To the surprise and intrigue of many, Beacon recently announced a partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union, not an organization we often align with on public policy. But there is one pressing issue that both the Left and Right are coming together to support, and that is criminal justice reform.

We formed the Coalition for Sensible Justice along with the ACLU, Goodwill, and Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce to advocate for reforms to our criminal justice system. We aren’t advocating for reducing sentences or letting more people out of prison. Instead, our focus is on the “bookends” of the system. How are we handling people on the front end, such as juveniles, and what are we doing to ensure that those leaving prison don’t return.

On the latter, we are looking at eliminating barriers that prevent those exiting prison from becoming productive members of society. The harder it is for them to get a job and get back on their feet, the more likely it is that they fall back into a life of crime, create more victims, and cost taxpayers even more money. More on what we are doing about that to come in a later post.

On the front end, we also need to make sure we aren’t turning kids into lifelong criminals by shoving them into the adult system. Sometimes teenagers slip up, but if they are prepared and ready to change their ways, we should support that. Unfortunately, a juvenile record can haunt someone for years and even keep him from advancing his education or career, again increasing the odds that he turns to crime.

Our 2017 goals include reforming how we treat juvenile expungement, or the ability of youth offenders to clear their record. And we are only focused on “status offenders,” or those who commit minor infractions such as delinquency or truancy. If the juvenile could be tried as an adult for a much more serious crime, these reforms would not apply.

The first reform would simply be to have judges provide notice to juveniles when they are eligible for expungement, so they have every opportunity to clear their record and get on with their lives. The second would lower the age at which a juvenile status offender becomes eligible for expungement from 18 to 17.

Having to wait until 18 to clear their record of minor infractions causes some kids to forego opportunities to enter college or trade schools, apply for scholarships, or get jobs because of their prior record. This reform would give them the opportunity to clear their record earlier, so as to boost their ability to improve their lives.
These reforms may sound minor, but they are important to our efforts to ensure juveniles who shouldn’t enter the criminal justice system in the first place are set on a better and brighter path. To stay updated on our progress, sign up here.