Legislation introduced in the House and Senate recommends programs to erase juvenile records and tougher discretion in obtaining those records. The legislation, known as the Youth Opportunity and Fairness Act, was recently introduced by Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, and Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Buffalo Grove.
The Fairness Act would automatically eradicate records of juvenile arrests in cases where there is no finding of delinquency. According to the bill, when applying for a job, applicants are not obligated to divulge their expunged juvenile record. The proposal also intends to toughen confidentiality for juvenile records by imposing a penalty for the unlawful dissemination of those records, including a class B misdemeanor and a $1,000 fine.
Ali Abid, program coordinator for the Cook County Justice Advisory Council, spoke in favor of the proposal. In an interview, Abid commented on the negative aspects of an adult with a juvenile record that is not expunged. “Currently there is widespread sharing of juvenile records that have not been expunged, both inadvertent and, at times, unlawful,” Abid said. “These records eventually are accessible to employers, schools and the public.” He later stated that by denying or constraining expungement of records, reoffending rates increase, further limiting the life options of juveniles. “Without expungement, individuals with juvenile records are often denied access to education, employment and housing,” he said. “Some feel discouraged to even apply, knowing that they will likely be asked about criminal or juvenile records.”
The proposals are part of a rising wave of legislation designed to initiate juvenile prison reform. HB 2619 proposes to raise the age of detention from 10 to 13, while HB 3645 pledges to end automatic adult prosecution of children. Supporters of the Fairness Act argue that the current expungement process is oppressive and unfair to juveniles. A fact sheet cites the state’s eligibility criteria for juvenile delinquents as one of the most restrictive in the country, as the minimum age of juveniles in detention is 10 rather than the national average of 13, in addition to high fees and long waiting periods.
Abid said an April 2016 report by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission spurred lawmakers into action. “A group of organizations who serve youth or conduct research in this area worked with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Sen. Hastings and Rep. Nekritz to help develop legislation that would carry out the recommendations of the report,” Abid said. “Since then, the bill has added several cosponsors and we’ve had productive discussions with agencies throughout the state.”
According to the report, for every 1,000 juvenile arrests in the state, only three records are expunged, or erased completely. (See Burdened for Life: the Myth of Juvenile Record Confidentiality and Expungement in Illinois, Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, April 2014.) At least 50 percent of the state’s counties said in the report that from 2004 to 2014, not one juvenile record was expunged. Overall, 87 percent of counties expunged less than one juvenile record during that time.
“As noted in the report, Illinois’ eligibility criteria are among the most restrictive in the country, imposing long waiting periods, high minimum age limits and several automatic impediments to eligibility,” Abid said. “Furthermore, high fees, a complicated process and the report’s finding that a majority of employers fail to follow through on their duty of notifying young people of their eligibility to expunge records – all represent major obstacles to expungement.”
Alex Camp is an editorial intern at Illinois Times. He is pursuing his master’s degree at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org