Study Regarding Sharing and Expunging Juvenile Records
The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission released a study last month addressing the expungement and sharing of juvenile criminal records in the state. In its report, the Commission found that in Illinois, juvenile record sharing and loose expungement laws have proven to be an obstacle to Illinois residents in obtaining an education, jobs and housing.
The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission was formed by lawmakers to report to the governor and legislature about juvenile justice issues. The Commission released a study in April, entitled "Burdened for Life: The Myth of Juvenile Record Confidentiality and Expungement in Illinois." Tens of thousands of juveniles are arrested each year in Illinois, most for minor, non-violent offenses. However, the sharing of their records and the difficulty of getting records expunged often causes a permanent obstacle to rehabilitation.
The Commission’s study found that it is common to share a minor’s criminal record, even when sharing is against the law. Further, Illinois does not punish unlawful record sharing. The Commission also asked the legislature to change current law, because there are too many legal ways to share private information.
Under current law, juvenile law enforcement records can be legally shared with as many as 20 unique parties, and court records may be shared with as many as 30 individuals or groups. Some have a legitimate need to know in order to help the youth, but the list also includes potential employers and the general public. Further, illegal sharing is rampant. Law enforcement and those with access to juvenile record databases share records improperly with schools, employers, landlords, and others.
Sharing juvenile records inhibits a youth’s efforts at rehabilitation. Moving past a criminal history and becoming a productive member of society can be difficult, if not impossible, when a youth is denied housing, education, or job opportunities because of record sharing, whether legal or illegal, with schools, landlords, or employers.
In Illinois, some juvenile records may be expunged, or destroyed. The point of expungement is to allow youths to enter adulthood with a fresh start, and that youthful mistakes should not burden a person for life. However, the Commission’s report revealed that from 2004 to 2014, an average of only three out of every 1,000 juvenile arrest records were expunged.
Illinois has strict rules for eligibility for expungement, and expungement fees can run as high as $230 per arrest. First degree murder, serious sex offenses, and convictions after turning 18 are not eligible for expungement. Further, individuals can only apply for expungement after turning 18. A House bill sponsored by Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, would allow those under 18 to petition for expungement for certain offenses.
Law enforcement, corrections facilities, and the military can still see an individual’s juvenile criminal record, even if it has been sealed or expunged. Additionally, in some cases, records have been broadly shared despite expungement.
In its report, the Commission made several recommendations to protect privacy and facilitate a juvenile’s rehabilitation, and include:
- Eliminate record sharing with the general public and limit access to those with a need to know the information;
- Clarify language on record sealing to ensure that records remain sealed;
- Penalize violations of existing prohibitions against sharing juvenile records with unauthorized parties by imposing fines on violators and allowing juveniles to recover money damages from those who illegally shared their records;
- Expand automatic expungement and reduce waiting periods and age minimums for cases not resulting in the juvenile being adjudicated delinquent;
- Remove absolute bars to expungement and rather let a judge decide whether expungement would best serve the juvenile and general society;
- Get rid of expungement fees; and
- Increase training for court clerks and law enforcement officers on laws regarding confidentiality, sealing and expungement.
If you or a loved one has a juvenile criminal record that may pose a block to educational or professional opportunities, please contact the Naperville criminal defense attorneys at Law Office of Glenn M. Sowa, LLC for a free initial consultation.