Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed a measure that would have required police to withhold from the public the identity of juvenile offenders under the age of 20 unless or until they are charged with a felony.
In a veto letter to lawmakers, the second-term Republican expressed concern that a policy of automatically raising the age of accountability for crimes would afford young adults protections that are meant for juveniles “without adequate tools or systems in place.”
Scott noted that three years ago, he signed a bill giving young adults who had become involved in the criminal justice system certain protections meant for juveniles. “At the time, I was assured that, prior to the automatic increases in age prescribed in the bill, plans would be in place to provide access to the rehabilitation, services, housing and other supports needed to both hold these young adults accountable and help them stay out of the criminal justice system in the future,” he wrote. So far, many of those services and supports are still not in place.
The governor also expressed concern about reports that drug dealers and other older criminals recruit young adults to do their dirty work because they face reduced risk of being locked up, “potentially putting the young people we are trying to protect deeper into the criminal culture and at greater risk.”
He suggested that Vermont “take a step back” and consider the state’s “raise the age” policy as a whole and think about how to fill the service gaps and the “unintended consequences of a piecemeal approach on the health and safety of our communities, victims and the offenders we are attempting to help.”
The veto drew praise from the Vermont Press Association, which argued that withholding the names of adult arrestees violates the principle of government transparency — a point echoed by Scott.
Lawmakers have scheduled an override session for June 23.
The measure does include a few exceptions to the general confidentiality for young adult juvenile offenders. Police could release the name “to protect the health and safety of any person.” The victim of the alleged crime would be given the name if the arrestee is ruled a “delinquent child” whose actions would have been a felony if committed as an adult.
The idea behind confidentiality for juvenile offenders is to protect them from having a public record that might dog them for life, to give them a second chance to mature and make better choices.