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Earning the right to move on from juvenile offenses

Many scholars, civil rights advocates, members of the media and countless others are concerned about the long-term impacts of the juvenile justice system and what becomes of those convicted of juvenile crimes. Once a minor has paid for his or her crime, are the lifelong ramifications which follow justifiable?

In our society, it is difficult for anyone with a criminal record to truly leave any crime behind, even after their debt to society has been paid. A criminal record can affect employment opportunities, the ability to volunteer among certain populations, and the right to obtain public benefits.

When the crimes that incur these consequences are committed by juveniles, the ramifications can be felt for the entirety of their adult lives. Given the rising percentage of Americans who are arrested before they reach adulthood, many feel that it is time to reexamine the ways in which we treat juvenile offenders after their punishment has played out.

Due in part to crackdowns on domestic violence and drug offenses, nearly a third of Americans will have been arrested by the time that they reach age 23. In many states, these young people will be subject to "forever laws," which will impair their ability to do any number of things for the rest of their lives, due to their youthful indiscretions.

While no large-scale legislation is currently being considered to roll back these kinds of consequences, many are pushing for reform one issue at a time. For example, some states are choosing to make criminal records available to potential employers and general search only for a certain number of years, unless an additional crime is committed.

In addition, other restrictions are being loosened based on the severity of the crime committed and the length of time which has passed since an individual was convicted. These steps are all positive, though more action is certainly necessary to ensure the rights of young citizens who have paid their debt to society and have earned the right to move on.

Source: The New York Times, "Paying a price, long after the crime," Alfred Blumstein and Kiminori Nakamura, Jan. 9, 2012

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