More secrecy on agenda for Senate bill 471 on juvenile criminal history

The state Senate will consider a proposal Tuesday, Oct. 1, that would hide from the public the criminal records of juveniles. The Michigan Coalition for Open Government opposes this legislation that further bars the disclosure of relevant information that could be vitally important to the public safety and welfare of Michigan’s citizens.

It codifies a policy decision by the Michigan State Police to hide what previously were public records from public disclosure.

Former Detroit Free Press staff writer Jack Kresnak, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, regularly used juvenile records in his stories – stories that exposed problems, corruption, errors and malfeasance within the criminal juvenile justice system. Kresnak’s stories held Michigan’s child welfare system accountable, saving lives, changing laws and making Michigan a better, safer place for all of its citizens.

If this bill had been law then, those stories could never have been told. The losers would be Michigan citizens, both children and adults.

This proposed legislation, SB 471, may be intended to be a way of letting juvenile offenders escape their past, but there is a functioning law already in existence in Michigan. Expanding the Holmes Youthful Training Act (MCL 762.11) is a better, established approach to dealing with criminal violations by juveniles.

Hiding from the citizens of Michigan what has historically been public information is a mistake and potentially threatens the public safety, health and welfare of the people of this state.

The bill was proposed by Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw. Senate Judiciary Committee members who can vote to table this bill are Chairman Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge; Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton; Sen. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights; and Sen. Steve Bieda, R-Warren.

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