Juvenile Court Records: Is a Lack of Protection Harming Teens’ Future Success?

juvenilerecordsThe Juvenile Law Center, a public interest law firm in Philadelphia, issued a “report card” this week demonstrating that the records of juvenile offenders are more easily available to the public than they should be, creating obstacles to future success for many teens.

Juvenile records contain details about a child’s family, social history, mental health history, substance abuse history, education, and involvement with the law. According to the Juvenile Law Center’s new national scorecard, the majority of states lack the protections necessary to keep this information confidential. Instead, many states allow these records to be accessed by the media, employers, government agencies and victims, which can create future barriers to housing, education and employment for teen offenders.

Failed Policies, Forfeited Futures: A Nationwide Scorecard on Juvenile Records is the first comprehensive evaluation of state policies that govern the confidentiality and expungement of juvenile court records. No state earned the maximum five-star rating, and the national average was three out of the possible five stars.

These records often remain open to allow courts, correction officials and juvenile agencies to plan a course of treatment and rehabilitation; however, few states have systems that prohibit the public from accessing these records later on.

“There is a misperception that juvenile records are confidential and automatically destroyed when a youth is no longer under court supervision,” said Riya Saha Shah, an attorney at the Juvenile Law Center and architect of the study. “Permanent open records are like a ball and chain that prevent young people from becoming productive adults.”

Of the many teens arrested in the U.S. each year, 95 percent are for nonviolent offenses, meaning these young people were never a threat to public safety and often do not have further trouble with the law. Yet, these nonviolent records can negatively impact the rest of their adult life when viewed by potential employers, landlords or college admissions offices.

To prevent these negative impacts, the Juvenile Law Center has 10 recommendations to help keep juvenile records from affecting teens’ adult life:

  • Records should not be widely available online.
  • Records should be sealed to the public before they are expunged.
  • Records should be automatically sealed and expunged.
  • Expungement should include physical destruction and electronic deletion.
  • Expungement eligibility should begin once a case is closed.
  • All offenses should be eligible for expungement.
  • One entity should be designated to inform youth about the expungement.
  • Forms for expungement should be youth-friendly.
  • Filing for expungement should be free.
  • There should be sanctions for failure to comply.

The Juvenile Law Center also encouraged policymakers, states, attorneys, and court personnel to review juvenile record laws and protections and look for ways to improve them.

Image from The Juvenile Law Center

Updated: February 08 2018