Juvenile records bill is overkill and harmful

Sunshine Week coincides with the start of the Louisiana Legislature’s three-month regular lawmaking session.
If you’re not familiar, Sunshine Week is a nonpartisan collaboration among journalists, educators, government offices and the private sector that places an emphasis on open government and unhindered access to public records.
In Louisiana, we find ourselves at an interesting juncture where the zeal for open records, usually a good thing, may have gone a bit too far.
Case in point: A new law passed in the recent special session on crime provides public access to certain juvenile court records. It created the Truth and Transparency in the Louisiana Criminal Justice System Program.
The problem this legislation seeks to address is indeed real. Victims are too often left out of the loop when it comes to how the juvenile court system handles perpetrators. But instead of seeking accountability from prosecutors, court clerks and judges, the Legislature took the sledgehammer approach.
Lawmakers gave everyone access to the juvenile court records, regardless of the severity of the offense. So anyone arrested, not just the convicted, becomes shackled with a permanent record of their youthful mistakes — even those who are arrested but never charged and those who are charged but ultimately found innocent of the crime. How long do you think it will be before parents start to use the new access to unfairly shame other people’s children? Yep, not long at all.
There clearly were less draconian ways to address the issue, such as making records available only when a juvenile is charged with a violent felony or when the juvenile is a habitual offender.
Any gains in transparency this law provides are clouded over with the failure to address ineffective communication between victims and the criminal justice system. There’s a good chance people will still be left uninformed.

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Thomas FieldsThomas “Tuffy” Fields is an author and regular contributor to The Gazette. He can …

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