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Editorial: Dohrn is on the board! Horrors!

Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers walk hand-in-hand through Union Park before a march to Federal Plaza in commemoration of May Day Tuesday, May 1, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

For years, this page has championed alternatives to prison for most kids and teens who break the law, convinced by a wealth of research that locking them up just makes them worse and costs a fortune.

We generally favor, then, efforts to promote this goal, including a recent decision by the U.S. Justice Department to give $400,000 to a San Francisco group, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, for programs to reduce the number of minority young offenders sent to prison.

And it would be a shame if cheap election-year politics – like dredging up the radical past of one of the institute’s board members – sullied that important work. But that is what Obama administration critics are trying to do.

Bernardine Dohrn, the board member, is a former member of the Weather Underground, the radical 1960s group that planted bombs and is responsible for the deaths of at least three innocent people. Her actions were reprehensible.

But after a brief stint in prison, Dohrn worked for the decidedly nonradical law firm of Sidley Austin. And since 1991 she has been on the faculty of the Northwestern University School of Law, where she founded the school’s Children and Family Justice Center.

To pretend that any school or group today, including the W. Haywood Burns Institute, is unforgivably tainted by an association with Dohrn is simply disingenuous.