Two Approaches to Juvenile Crime
Recent debate in the Missouri Senate shows why efforts to change the juvenile justice system must be handled with care. Crimes like the murder of Christine Smetzer at McCluer North High School have increased public concern about how much information is available about youths who commit violent offenses and about who has access to that information. Present restrictions may be too tight, but juveniles in the justice system still need special attention.
Sen. Emory Melton, a Cassville Republican, doesn't seem to worry much about special treatment. He wanted all hearings in juvenile court open to the public, so young defendants would be identified for everyone to see and shamed back onto the straight and narrow. He said open hearings would also strengthen the public's faith in the juvenile-justice system. His view lost by only one vote.
Instead, the Senate adopted a provision to let a judge keep hearings closed in some cases. Such discretion is vital. Sen. Joe Moseley of Columbia, who is sponsoring the changes in the juvenile court system, worried about branding youngsters for the rest of their lives. A former prosecutor, Mr. Moseley realizes that juvenile courts were set up to help prevent young offenders from continuing their life of crime later on. …