States should do more to protect the confidentiality of juvenile records to ensure young adults are able to access education and employment, a new report says.
The Juvenile Law Center report traces how records are shared publicly and the problems that result.
The authors call for stricter laws that limit record sharing to ensure records do not linger long after a juvenile is out of the justice system. If confidentiality isn’t protected upfront, even record sealing and expungement may not protect a young person from losing an opportunity because a background check reveals private or inaccurate information, they said.
“It’s so difficult to recall that information and move past it. It’s always going to be there as a weight on them,” said Riya Saha Shah, senior supervising attorney at the center and co-author of the report.
In 2014, the center released a scorecard that tracked states’ juvenile records policies. Shah said that since then a few states, including Texas, Idaho and Iowa, have made some inroads to protect juvenile records.
But overall, states’ record policies can cause problems for those with juvenile records, especially in education and employment. Some college campuses bar admission to applicants with juvenile records. Students who are accepted can be barred from federal financial aid. Employers may decide not to hire a young adult with a record.
Nationally, 10 states keep juvenile records confidential, 33 states and the District of Columbia make certain juvenile records publicly available, and seven make all juvenile records public with a few exceptions.
The records can move between government agencies or even be collected by private companies, ending up in databases with inaccuracies and outdated information that may not reflect sealing or expungement. Because so many of the databases are online, information can spread quickly and widely.
The center’s review found private background check companies have less information about juveniles with records than the researchers originally anticipated. But there’s nothing in state law to stop them from gathering more information, Shah said.
“We’re kind of at a critical point because the technology exists to mine this information, but we have an opportunity to make better laws,” she said.
The report also said that “ban-the-box” provisions that prevent potential employers from asking about juvenile or criminal offenses upfront are not enough to protect young people seeking jobs. If an applicant’s record shows up in a background check later in the hiring process, it still can be a strike against him or her.
Shah said that if the juvenile justice system is supposed to be about rehabilitation and ensuring juveniles get the treatment they need to be productive adults, their records should not prevent them from moving forward.
“By imposing these barriers by having their records so unprotected or using their records as a strike against them, we’re not doing that. We’re not fulfilling the promise of the second chances that we offer,” she said.
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