Time to open up juvenile justice system

Published:

Since the Kentucky Press Association filed suit in federal court to open juvenile courts and their records to the public and press, there has been a lively debate statewide over the issue of the effectiveness of confidentiality involving juvenile offenders.

Supporters of the closed juvenile court system argue that the secrecy provides for rehabilitation of juvenile offenders without the public stigma within the community of being an offender.

Even though that argument has prevailed in Kentucky for many years, there is no hard evidence that it has been successful in reducing juvenile crime, in particular serious or violent juvenile crimes.

And the closed system as it has been for so many years makes it virtually impossible for the public to know how well or how poorly the juvenile justice system itself is doing its important job.

Legislation was introduced in the General Assembly this week that would open juvenile courts and records when the offenses indeed are serious or violent.

It deserves to pass and become law with the governors signature.

Were not talking about a teenager arrested for shoplifting a CD or even possessing marijuana. The bill requires that juvenile court proceedings of teens older that 12 be open when they involve homicides, assaults, burglaries, sexual crimes or crimes in which weapons are used.

And the justification for open juvenile courts when serious crimes are involved is entirely apt: The community deserves to know.

Lt. Gov. Steve Pence, a supporter of the legislation, said Tuesday, We should know about those individuals if they live in our neighborhoods. Their records should not be sacrosanct. Their privacy should not rise above the safety of our children.

Nor should it rise above the communitys right to know how an important part of the states judicial system is operating.

The secret juvenile court system has not worked. Its time to shine the light of public scrutiny inside that system.

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