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Second chance for youthful offenders

The arguments against allowing people who were sentenced to life without parole before they turned 18 to become eligible for parole now are flawed and misleading ("Allow children sentenced to life a second chance," March 6).

Critics say proposed legislation permitting parole for such people breaks a promise the state made to victims' families. But while our hearts go out to victims' families, crimes are not private or civil matters. They are an offense to the entire community. The public safety commitment of our criminal justice system is not to certain individuals but to us all.

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Inherent in that promise is the opportunity for even individuals convicted of serious crimes to be re-integrated into the community after rehabilitation. Under Senate Bill 366 and House Bill 377, release would not be automatic, nor would it be guaranteed.

The bills would simply allow individuals convicted in their youth to demonstrate that they are no longer a danger to the public, that they are aware of the harm they caused and that they are eager to make amends.

The tragic consequences of a youthful offender's actions should never be minimized. But we must design policies that focus on the ultimate goals of the criminal justice system: maintaining a community that is safe and offering second chances in a way that does not compromise that safety.

Giving youth the opportunity to earn parole will serve this purpose.

Diana Morris, Baltimore

The writer is director of the Open Society Institute-Baltimore.

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