Juvenile Records: A National Review of State Laws on Confidentiality, Sealing and Expungement

Riya Saha Shah, Esq., Juvenile Law Center; Lauren Fine, Esq. with Jamie Gullen, Esq., Community Legal Services of Philadelphia,
Screenshot of cover.

Public access to records of juvenile arrests, court proceedings and dispositions can impede successful transitions to adulthood for many youth, especially when these records remain available long after the youth’s involvement with the juvenile justice system has ended. These records can create obstacles for youth seeking employment, education, housing and other opportunities. These are just a few of many reasons why protecting juvenile record confidentiality and making the record sealing and expungement process more accessible are so important.

The common belief that juvenile records are confidential because of the juvenile justice system’s historic goal of protecting children from the traditional consequences of criminal behavior is false. Many states disclose information about youth involvement with the juvenile justice system and fail to provide opportunities for sealing or expungement. Sealing refers to closing records to the public but keeping them accessible to a limited number of court or law enforcement personnel connected to a child’s case, while expungement involves the physical destruction and erasure of a juvenile record.

A growing number of states no longer limit access to records or prohibit the use of juvenile adjudications in subsequent proceedings. In this National Review, we provide an overview of state laws and policies on confidentiality, sealing and expungement, and note how many of these state laws and policies fail to adequately protect children. Our Review is guided by certain Core Principles, which are essential to advancing youths’ opportunities for successful transitions to adulthood. 

For a complete state-by-state analysis and to see how each policy area was scored, visit www.jlc.org/juvenilerecords