What happens to adults with juvenile records?
Adolescence is a challenging time for most people. Teenagers undergo significant developmental, physical, psychological, and social changes during a condensed decade of time. We have all done embarrassing things as adolescents; however, we are comforted by our coming of age and the slow regression of those memories. According to a recent study, while 1 in 3 Americans have some contact with the juvenile justice system – most are cited for infractions. Youth who commit crime are in the minority (never more so than now), and even then, the infrequent contact they have is typically for a low-level misdemeanor (such as petty theft or vandalism) that often results in a community-based remedy and the dissolution of their delinquent record upon reaching adulthood.
But what of the teenagers who embark on more serious delinquent careers? An October 2011 blog by the Criminal Justice Degrees Guide, catalogues 8 different celebrities with juvenile records who have a successful and illustrious adult life. These celebrities include among others: Mark Wahlberg, Allen Iverson, Danny Trejo, all of whom where arrested for serious violent offenses as youth. In addition, both Merle Haggard and Danny Trejo served time as adolescents in California’s notorious Youth Authority (the state’s institutional system for juvenile offenders).
While most juvenile offenders do not continue on to an adult life of crime, including even the most serious offenders (as above), there can still be real-life consequences for adults with juvenile records. In California, for example, a juvenile court record is not automatically sealed upon reaching age 18. In fact, to have your juvenile court records sealed you must affirmatively file a petition with the juvenile court in the county where the conviction occurred. But not all juvenile records are sealable. Since the passage of Proposition 21 (2000), certain serious juvenile offenses committed by a 14-year-old or older are barred from sealing.
This means adults could face collateral consequences for their delinquency as teenagers. For example, although juvenile records are confidential, any job that requires a live scan (such as teaching, law-related positions, trade jobs, and some hospital positions) could reveal your criminal history. This may severely limit one’s ability to locate and maintain gainful employment.
While California is in the midst of groundbreaking reforms through realignment both at the adult and juvenile level, it is interesting to explore these types of collateral consequences that obstruct individuals from participation in lawful society. While many low-level offenders are returning to their counties and eventually their communities, many will struggle to re-enter successfully despite their best efforts if these barriers continue to exist.
The post above is reprinted with permission from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.
Selena Teji is the Communications Specialist for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. She has a Juris Doctorate specializing in international law from UC Hastings, and has expertise in juvenile justice community-based services and state youth correctional facilities.
*Photo by Flickr User The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas