On March 20, the Brookings Institute convened a panel of experts to assess the state of play on juvenile criminal justice records policy. While the juvenile justice system has recently undergone a wave of progressive reforms focused on creating pathways to re-entry, there remains an uneven treatment of juvenile records that make it difficult for returning youth to rebound from their involvement with the justice system. State policies that govern the public access and permanency of a child’s criminal history well into adulthood are diverse and leave loopholes that hinder their educational and employment prospects, as well as their ability to reintegrate successfully into society.
Panelists included Seema Gajwani, Office of the Attorney General, District of Columbia, Kelly Murphy, Child Trends, Ismael Nazario, a prison reform advocate, Joy Radice, University of Tennessee College of Law, and moderated by Camille Busette, Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative, the Brookings Institute.
These experts examined how policies surrounding the confidentiality and retention of records have deviated from both their historical domestic principles and from international norms rooted in rehabilitative justice. The panel also debated which remedies can yield the most effective safeguards to protect both children’s welfare and public safety.
Policies on protecting and removing juvenile criminal records vary across the country. In the District of Columbia, most juvenile records are confidential except for serious offenses that are not eligible stated Gajwani. She also shared how cases of sexual harm or assault require many children to register as sex offenders and can be listed for up to ten years. Even with the research and data on adolescent brain development, protective and promotive factors, and improvement of tough on crime practices there is still more work to be done. Busette posed the notion to Kelly, “do we now think differently about juveniles as oppose to adults?” Kelly shared how youth development and research-driven reform has helped decrease the number of arrests nationally; however, there is an increase in lower level arrest primarily known as status offenses. Research shows that any contact with the justice system like an arrest is detrimental to the behaviors and outcomes of youth.
Nazario was delighted to hear another panelist refer to juveniles as kids and he remarked that we must remember that we are kids. Radice shared how the myth that juvenile records are sealed needs national attention. The discrepancy between states with expungement and sealing does not do enough to protect juveniles especially after they have completed the terms of their case. She mentioned how juvenile records create barriers for young people to go to college, get a job, and access governmental assistance and services.
Protecting juvenile record confidentiality and the ability to make record sealing and expungement process seamless across the nation is critical to the success and well-being of youth and young adults. Although the goal should be to stop kids from coming into the system in the first place emphasized Kelly. As we all work towards better juvenile justice reform, a best practice addressing juvenile delinquency records is the American Bar Association model statute – the Model Act. Radice highlighted that the Model Act provisions had been adopted by some states that would allow for automatic expungement of juvenile records.
To watch the event, click here.