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Plan to pardon some youthful offenders will help them get their lives in order

In keeping with the holiday spirit, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced that he would pardon thousands of people who were convicted of nonviolent crimes as teenagers and have stayed out of trouble since being released.

It is a good decision.

People usually deserve a second chance, especially if they have spent a lifetime attempting to make up for a mistake made in their youth.

The executive pardon will affect as many as 10,000 offenders, as state government officials address a backlog of eligible individuals. Going forward, about 350 more will be eligible for such pardons each year.

The harsh system that has held people responsible for a mistake they made decades earlier will finally get due consideration. Getting a second look will be teenagers who committed a nonviolent felony: larceny, fraud or a drug offense. Sex crime offenders or those currently in arrears on their taxes need not apply.

The governor’s pardon could mean the difference between getting a job or not. At the very least, it might make the difference in keeping an ex-offender under consideration for a job. It won’t expunge a person’s criminal record, but it will provide relief for those barred by law from certain occupations. The list includes jobs in schools, the construction industry, nursing homes, real estate brokerages and security companies.

Applicants would continue to check “yes” to the box asking if the person has been convicted of a crime.

Executive branch officials will evaluate applicants and presumably give close consideration to those who are in school, working or trying to find work.

The pardon comes with requirements, notably a crime-free life for 10 or more years. And it is a conditional pardon, so that if a person “defies the odds and is reconvicted,” as the governor’s office stated, the pardon will be withdrawn.

Cuomo’s pardon plan is one of several steps he has tried aimed at easing the way young criminals are treated.

Last summer, Cuomo announced executive actions to remove minors from adult state correctional facilities, where the likelihood they could be victimized increases and where they might also learn to be “better criminals.”

His “Raise the Age” campaign was blocked by the State Legislature, leaving New York one of just two states treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults when it comes to the criminal justice system. He will continue to urge passage of the “Raise the Age” legislative package, which includes provisions to seal crimes committed at what his office called “a young age” after a person has remained “crime-free” for a period of time.

Cuomo is trying to reform a system that often seems more interested in punishment than rehabilitation of youthful, nonviolent offenders. He will make this an especially happy new year for thousands of New Yorkers.