America’s experiment with harsh punishment of nonviolent offenders has proved self-defeating. Rather than lessening crime, the policies promote recidivism when such offenders can’t find jobs, fall into poverty, and return to crime.
A bill sponsored by two unlikely political allies — Sens. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) and Cory Booker (D., N.J.), would right some wrongs in the law. Their legislation would give states incentives to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18, automatically expunge and seal the records of nonviolent juvenile offenders, and nearly eliminate the practice of placing juveniles in solitary confinement.
The follies of youth should not follow nonviolent teens into their adult lives and keep 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. And 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.
Courts differentiate between adults and juveniles in the belief that young people have a high chance of rehabilitation and social re-entry. Rather than being branded for life, nonviolent young offenders should get a second chance.