I haven’t paid much attention to the case of Josh Duggar.
I never watched the cable reality show that brought his family to fame. I am neither a fan nor a hater of this family. They just aren’t on my radar.
When Josh Duggar’s juvenile records were revealed, my mind was elsewhere. I was vaguely aware that the situation surrounding Mr Duggar had developed into another round of the culture wars, but nothing more.
Then, I realized that, based on what I’d read, Mr Duggar did not receive the legal protection that he was entitled to as a minor offender. That made the situation interesting to me.
Here’s what little I know.
Josh Duggar, who is a member of a large family that has a successful reality tv show, evidently engaged in some sort of sexual touching of young females when he was 14 years old. His father subsequently filed a report with the police about this behavior. There is no reported history of repeat offense.
Josh Duggar is now an adult. He is married and has children of his own. The police report from his past has surfaced. This police report has become a means of attacking the philosophy and religion of his family. This has led to a media feeding frenzy.
My questions about this do not concern the treatment Mr Duggar is receiving from the media. I am wondering why, since he was a minor at the time these things occurred, his records were made public in the first place.
There is a reason for sealing the judicial and criminal records of minors. That reason is simply that minors can and often do commit criminal acts and then never do it again. Adolescent offenders are actually likely to go on to lead productive lives.
I personally know people who committed crimes when they were minors and who have lived long productive lives as successful members of the community. I grew up with these people. Their actions as youthful offenders in no way represents who they are now. They, quite literally, grew out of their violent adolescence and went on to live productive and respectable lives.
Our juvenile justice system is based in part on the understanding that minors, in particular adolescents, have an enormous capacity for positive growth. They are in fact and in truth, children. Their ways are not fixed. With proper intervention and with love, they can and they often do, change entirely.
That is why we do not put minors in adult prisons and do not, with a few exceptions for specific violent crimes, try them as adults. It is also why we seal their records.
The reasoning behind sealing the records of adolescents who commit crimes or who have various problems is that adolescents are not fully formed adults. They are not culpable for their actions in the same way that an adult would be. They also have a much greater potential for successful and life-long reform than an adult would have.
Sealing an adolescents’ records is a way of giving them a second chance. When they grow up to be productive adults who do not repeat the behaviors that got them into trouble, it is considered that they have demonstrated successful reform. Sealing their records, or even expunging their records, is a way our legal system has of giving minors a second chance at life.
My question in the Duggar situation is why wasn’t this done with his records?
I understand that he and his situation are being used as a weapon in the culture wars. I also understand that these culture wars are ruthless. Josh Duggar’s past is a tactical weapon. It will be used as a tactical weapon. The law does not enter into that.
However, the law still exists. Josh Duggar was a minor at the time of these offenses. So far as I know, there is no record of a repeat offense. Why was the law not applied to Josh Duggar as it is to other juvenile offenders?
His records should have been sealed. In fact, they probably should have been expunged.
Culture wars aside, the legal protections that are available to minor offenders were, for some reason, denied Josh Duggar.
There are a lot of other questions I could ask about this, but I’m not so sure they’re pertinent. I honestly don’t want to know the details of what he did that got him into this situation. I also don’t care if his family’s television show stays on the air or not.
What concerns me is that he was himself a minor child when these events took place and his rights as a minor offender were, for reasons unknown, denied him. As I said, there is a purpose for these laws, and it is a good purpose.
Contrary to prevailing perceptions, most adolescent offenders actually do grow out of their problems. A recent PBS documentary claimed that as high as 80% of youthful offenders never repeat their crimes.
Actors Steven McQueen, Marc Wahlberg, Robert Mitchum and Merle Haggard are all entertainment industry examples of juvenile offenders who reformed. I’ve seen many adolescent offenders grow up and live productive lives.
The culture wars’ feeding frenzy notwithstanding, I have a question as to whether or not Mr Duggar’s legal rights as a minor offender were violated. So far as I know, we are dealing with a police report rather than a conviction, and this police report concerns the actions of a 14-year-old offender. If there are extenuating circumstances which required that his records not be sealed, I do not know about them.
This situation raises questions about youthful offenders and how they are treated generally. Most youthful offenders will not repeat their offenses. As Mr Duggar’s situation illustrates, youthful offenders who later become prominent citizens may in fact be facing a kind of social and cultural life sentence for their offenses if we do not seal their records.
Do we want to allow youthful offenders second chances, or do we want to treat them the same as we do adults?
That’s a question we need to consider. The situation with Josh Duggar illustrates just how serious it can become.