Nearly 700,000 children were arrested in 2019, and juvenile courts across the country hear nearly 800,000 cases each year. When a child is arrested or charged in juvenile court, a juvenile record is created that will follow them for years—regardless of the outcome of their case.
Access to juvenile records by schools, colleges, and employers can severely limit a young person’s future opportunities. The unintended consequences of a record—including increased risk of homelessness—can stall a child’s healthy growth and limit opportunities throughout their lives.
Juvenile Law Center is a national leader on records issues. We work with public defenders, prosecutors, policymakers, and other stakeholders to eliminate the harms caused by juvenile records—because when children thrive, communities thrive.
Juvenile Records: Unfair, Unjust, and Unending
Parents, teachers, and anyone who spends time with youth know that teenagers naturally mature over time. Research and common sense confirm this and demonstrate that youth are unlikely to re-offend as they mature.
While the juvenile justice system’s purpose is rehabilitation, juvenile records undermine that goal and penalize children long after they have been held accountable for their actions or were found to have done nothing wrong. This endless punishment is unfair and unjust.
In addition, depending on where young people live, laws governing juvenile records offer different levels of protection and impose a range of collateral consequences. “Justice by geography” isn’t real justice.
Records—and their consequences—also perpetuate racial inequity. Black youth are five times more likely to be arrested and incarcerated than their white peers. Juvenile records perpetuate the mass incarceration of people of color and can trap youth, families, and communities in cycles of poverty.
Our work to promote the confidentiality and expungement of juvenile records is aimed at disrupting these cycles and limiting the enduring harm that can follow the release of juvenile records information.
Time for Change: State & Federal Legislative Reform
Juvenile records are not necessarily confidential. Some states keep records out of public view, while other states have no protections and allow anyone to access a juvenile record. In addition, most states don’t automatically expunge (destroy or erase) juvenile records, and juvenile records do not automatically disappear when a child turns 18.
We advocate for urgent state and national reforms to keep records confidential; eliminate or erase records through expungement; and ensure record expungement is quick, accessible, and affordable.
Juvenile Law Center studied each state’s policies on juvenile record confidentiality and expungement. Our findings show how the nation fails to protect youth from the harmful effects of juvenile records.