Over one million cases involving youth are heard by our juvenile courts annually. Records are created at each stage as youth move through the system, from arrest through charging, adjudication and disposition. While some youth will have their charges dropped, be diverted from the justice system, or acquitted of the charges against them, the records of their even limited involvement with the justice system will remain, creating long-term barriers to their successful participation in their communities.
As any parent knows, children and teenagers naturally mature over time. The likelihood that youth in the justice system will re-offend diminishes markedly with this maturation, with most youth posing little to no risk of future offending by their mid-twenties. Youth should be held accountable for their actions in developmentally appropriate ways, but juvenile records punish youth beyond the point of rehabilitation, by preventing them from getting jobs, attending college, and finding housing. Juvenile records impose long-term consequences that impede young people’s chances for healthy growth and productive engagement in society.
Records Perpetuate Racism And Poverty
Juvenile records also reinforce the pervasive racism in our justice system. Black youth are five times more likely to be arrested and incarcerated than white youth. Over-policing of communities of color, increased police presence in schools, and historical and structural bias at every point in the justice system all contribute to persistent racial disparities. Juvenile records limit future opportunities, perpetuate mass incarceration of people of color, and sustain cycles of poverty.
"Justice By Geography" Isn't Real Justice
Laws governing juvenile records — access, confidentiality and expungement — differ from state to state. Where one lives may determine the long-term effects of juvenile records, creating an unacceptable “justice by geography.”
Juvenile Law Center advocates for the confidentiality of juvenile records during court proceedings and for prompt, affordable expungement of juvenile records once the child’s court case is closed. We fight to end the long-term and punitive consequences records create for youth, long after the court has deemed them rehabilitated and ready to reenter the community.
Juvenile Law Center serves as a resource for policymakers, public defenders, and young people working to end the harmful consequences of juvenile records.