Bill Sealing Washington State Juvenile Records Moves Closer to Law

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The Washington state House of Representatives unanimously passed a proposal Wednesday that would effectively seal most juvenile records from public view.

House Bill 1651 reverses an almost four-decades-old state law that keeps most of Washington’s juvenile records open. Exceptions, however, are included for individuals found guilty of some sex offenses, arson and serious violent offenses, the Tacoma News Tribunes reported.

Under the current law, juvenile offenders may petition the court to have their records sealed, but few requests are approved.

If the new bill were to become a law, only judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys would have full access to juvenile records. Juvenile justice or state care agencies would only have access to the records of young people during investigations or with offender supervision. Even then, those seeking to unseal a juvenile record would need to “demonstrate a compelling reason” for doing so.

In 2011 alone, approximately 2,000 juvenile cases in Washington included requests for sealed files.

Rep. Ruth Kagi, the bill’s primary sponsor, said the proposal is meant to help individuals whose juvenile records serve as barriers to employment and other opportunities.

“Our juvenile justice system is founded on the core principle of rehabilitation when children or youth make serious mistakes,” she told the News Tribune. “Unfortunately, we are one of only eight states that has all juvenile arrest and conviction records published.”

Photo by Flickr user ivoryelephantphotography

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