Follies of youth: Young nonviolent offenders deserve a second chance

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America’s experiment with harsh punishment for nonviolent offenders has proved to be self-defeating. Rather than lessening crime, these policies promote recidivism when nonviolent offenders are unable to find employment, fall into poverty and return to crime.

A bill co-sponsored by two unlikely political allies, Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., would right some wrongs in the law. The legislation would incentivize states to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 by offering preferential treatment on certain federal grants; automatically expunge and seal the records of nonviolent juvenile offenders; and nearly eliminate the practice of placing juveniles in solitary confinement.

There’s no reason that the follies of youth should follow nonviolent teens into their adult lives and blackball them from employment. These are not hardened criminals.

Continuing these policies costs taxpayers billions of dollars in lost productivity and needless legal and corrections expenses. Also, the disproportionate impact of “tough on crime” laws and the war on drugs falls on minority communities, reinforcing cycles of chronic poverty, unemployment and incarceration.

The very reason that courts differentiate between adults and juveniles is the belief that young people have a high chance of rehabilitation and re-entry into society. Rather than being branded for life, nonviolent young offenders should be given a second chance.

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