I didn't follow the Steubenville rape trial, but it was the first thing that came to mind recently when I read that the Federal government has a brilliant new idea - it's going to offer Face Forward grants to fund municipalities and programming that "expunge" juvenile criminal records and provide "diversions" that keep juvenile offenders out of the official criminal justice system. Ostensibly, their goal is to show compassion; criminal records can make it hard for juvenile offenders to integrate into college and career options, and expunging their records gives them a clean slate and a second chance.
Good intentions or not, I can't help but think their decision is fundamentally flawed. Consequences are healthy.
Certainly there's a place for second chances - but that place is among repentant, remorseful
individuals who are looking for a second chance and willing to work hard to make the most of it. Not amongst arrogant, rebellious teenagers who got into their current situation through an unhealthy lack of respect for valid consequences in the first place.
As the Steubenville trial made abundantly clear (as if it wasn't already painted across the news every day), an alarming number of modern youth lack any appreciation of the reality the actions have consequences - sometimes very unpleasant ones. This is not entirely their fault; we've all but erased the possibility of serious failure and life-impacting choices for children. It's practically impossible to fail a grade in school, and behavioral standards have been adjusted down so far that many students graduate completely unemployable - they simply don't have the basic functioning skills needed to get hired or last in a work environment. (Don't believe me? Check out the rise in "soft skills" courses at colleges and employment centers nationwide.)
Juvenile courts and sentences give youth offenders their last chance (and in some cases their first) to get slapped with a reality check sharp enough to change their direction in life. It may be ugly, and they will certainly have to work twice as hard to succeed in college or the work world, but it is nothing compared to what will happen if they are let off soft and don't get that reality check until they're deep in the adult criminal world and serious prison time (if they even live that long).
Moreover, brain science has proved that letting offenders off at this stage makes them more likely to continue offending! (More on that in another post.)
So congratulations Uncle Sam. You're spending money you don't have (sequestration anyone?) on programs that are fundamentally flawed and only make things worse for everyone. I wish I could say I was surprised.