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Should Private Juvenile Crime Records Be Public Record?

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Teen criminals are locked up behind barbed wire, but will their records also remained locked up?
RALEIGH — It's a battle between protecting the juvenile and protecting thecommunity, a fight between the right to privacy and the right to know.A system that protects juveniles by keeping their past criminal recordsconfidential was not a problem when those crimes were not serious.

But as more and more juvenile crimes are serious, many wonder if it's timeto at least let police officers see a juvenile's criminal history.

Murderers, drug dealers, and rapists. They're all juveniles behind bars, all kids committing adult crimes. But, once they get out, no one willknow what they served time for, not even law enforcement officers. That'sthe law.

James Williams, now 17, is serving time for second degree murder. Williams says the group he hung around was always in trouble with the law.

"We was young," Williams says. "We still were children, you know. At thetime I was still a child. I became a man in here. When I was in thatworld, I was still a child."

Children whose past run-ins with police remain secret. District Court Judge Micheal Morgan hears juvenile cases every week in Wake County. Overthe past two years, Morgan has seen a huge increase in violent juvenilecrimes. He sees benefits in opening juvenile records.

"Law enforcement, by and large, would be more empowered and more capableto protect themselves as well as society and innocent citizens in terms of having more information at their disposal," Morgan believes.

Both accused killers Kevin and Tilman Golphin had prior records. We don'tknow what they are. Marcia Morey with the Governor's Commission onJuvenile Crime says that raises some important questions.

"Is it important to open up records?" asks Morey. "Could those officers have checked their computer printout if there had been a serious violentjuvenile offender? Thatis one of the questions and issues that we'll be focusing on."

The Department of Justice just completed a study of the confidentialityof juvenile records. Many states are looking to open up more. Noofficial move has been made yet in North Carolina.

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