Many young people worry that their criminal past will follow them throughout their lives. As soon as a high-risk teen comes into contact with law enforcement, a criminal record is opened on them, and this report will contain every single document that is created by the police department, court, district attorney, and probation department in relation to the youth’s criminal activity. A common misconception about minors’ records is the belief that once a juvenile turns a certain age (e.g. 18), the record disappears; this, however, is often not the case, and a juvenile criminal record can create serious obstacles in adulthood. It can prevent a young person from receiving financial aid to assist with college tuition, harm their ability to get a job or join the military, and impede licensure eligibility for certain professions. It can also affect eligibility for public housing, not only for the adolescent but also for the family with whom they are residing. In recent years, some states have added laws to try and keep juvenile records from haunting adults, but not all states have such safeguards in place.
Sealing vs. Expunging Records
Sealing and expunging are two distinctly different options in the legal world, though states often only allow one or the other. Having court records sealed refers to closing the records to the public, but still leaving them accessible to a limited number of court or law enforcement personnel that are connected to a juvenile’s case. In many states, this means that once a juvenile record is sealed, no information contained in that record may be disclosed to any private citizen or company, including potential employers, licensing agencies, landlords, or educational institutions. The record does remain accessible to law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and sentencing judges, in instances in which they are investigating or prosecuting a future crime in which the high-risk youth is accused of being involved. Expungement, on the other hand, involves treating the criminal record as though it never existed. It is physically and digitally destroyed. All documents about the juvenile’s arrest, detention, sentencing, and probation must be permanently deleted from the archives of the court, law enforcement, and any other person or agency that provided services to a child under a court order.
All states have some sort of legal process an adult can go through to have their juvenile records sealed or expunged, but it is often complicated and requires the person to be able to hire a lawyer, which isn’t always a feasible option for people who are living on a limited income. Frequently, a young person is never even notified if, when, or how they can have their record expunged. And in some states, the sealing or expungement process can only be initiated at the direction of the prosecutor or judge.
In recent years, many state legislatures have been trying to make it easier for young people by automatically sealing or expunging all high-risk youth records. This means that records are sealed or expunged without any action required on the part of the juvenile. Currently, there are at least 15 states which already have laws in place that automatically seal or expunge juvenile records under certain circumstances — Alaska, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Montana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Within each location, the law varies widely regarding whether records are automatically sealed or expunged, and when the process occurs. In Montana, juvenile court records are sealed, and youth probation records are destroyed when the juvenile turns 18. In Alaska, court records of some of the juvenile proceedings are automatically sealed within 30 days of an offender’s 18th birthday, but law enforcement records—like arrest records and warrants—remain public. New Mexico law, on the other hand, requires that all of a juvenile’s criminal record be automatically sealed when the case is discharged.
In 2015, Illinois passed legislation to address the issue of juvenile criminal records. The new law requires Illinois State Police to automatically expunge law enforcement records once offenders reach age 18, as long as the crime that was committed was a low-level offense, and the youth has not been rearrested within the last six months.
Orbis Partners’ Approach to High-Risk Youth
Orbis Partners provides solutions for criminal justice and human services systems, specializing in designing and implementing services for at-risk client groups. Orbis offers a unique blend of programs and services including innovative case management software applications, evidence-based interventions, and effective risk, needs, and strengths assessment tools. Orbis helps organizations that are on a mission to help improve human services, juvenile justice, and criminal justice systems. To learn more about the products and services Orbis offers, visit our Resources webpage.
Orbis Partners provides solutions for criminal justice and human services systems, specializing in designing and implementing services for at-risk client groups. For more information about Orbis’ mission and scope of work, click here.