Ban the other box – Suspension and expulsion shouldn’t be a bar to college

University application form

The following piece was originally published by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focused on the US criminal justice system.  Even though criminal records and school disciplinary records are entirely distinct, they both pose similar, often unjust, obstacles to higher education.  Consideration of both types of records in the admissions process can have the troubling effect of excluding qualified and motivated young people — particularly those from minority communities — from America’s colleges and universities because of past mistakes that have little to do with academic potential or the protection of public safety.

The story is familiar: a high school student grabs another student’s iPhone at lunch and tries to sell it. He is caught, arrested, and booked into juvenile hall. He is also suspended. If universities and colleges follow the recent recommendation of the Obama administration, colleges will not consider the student’s criminal record in the initial stages of the admissions process. These recommendations, contained in a recently released “Dear Colleague” letter by Education Secretary John B. King, represent a significant step in removing barriers to education for people with criminal records. And just this week, over a dozen colleges and universities signed on to the White House’s Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge.

Unfortunately, the letter and the pledge are silent about another common question on college applications: Have you ever been suspended or expelled from school? For the teenager who stole the phone, this means that while his criminal record may not ruin his chance to be admitted to college, his school disciplinary record just might.

More than 3 million students are either suspended or expelled from schools each year and when they are, a discipline record is generated. While the barriers created by criminal records have begun to receive much-needed attention, the barriers created by school discipline records have been largely overlooked. The Department of Education report that accompanies King’s letter mentions school records only in passing, without taking a firm position. Like criminal records, school discipline records can, and do, jeopardize young people’s chances to succeed. Like criminal records, school records are a scarlet letter.

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Second chance for some youthful sex offenders

On April 6, Arizona became the latest state to offer early relief from sex offender registration obligations to young people convicted of consensual sex offenses and sentenced to probation.  The law, HB 2539, allows individuals convicted before reaching age 22 of sexual conduct with a minor between the ages of 15 and 17 (so-called “Romeo and Juliet” offenders), to petition the court for relief from registration after completing probation.  If a petitioner meets all applicable criteria, the court must grant the petition unless it finds that a “denial is in the best interests of justice or tends to ensure the safety of the public.”  Similar laws authorizing early termination from registration for those convicted of youthful consensual offenses are in effect in ten other states, including Florida, Oregon, and Michigan.

Laws requiring young people to register have come under increased scrutiny thanks to recent media coverage of their harsh effects and flimsy justifications — notably an article by Sarah Stillman published last month in the New Yorker (“The List”).   Much of the attention to registry of juveniles has been driven by mobilization around the issue by advocacy groups like Reform Sex Offender Laws (RSOL) and the Center on Youth Registration Reform (CYRR).  In 2013, Human Rights Watch issued a ground-breaking report on the issue, Raised on the Registry.

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“Future Interrupted”: The collateral damage of juvenile adjudications

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1.5 million children are arrested each year. At some point in each of these children’s lives, the record of their arrest or court involvement will impose barriers to education and employment.  At least two-thirds of post-secondary institutions conduct background checks of prospective students. More than 90% of employers conduct background checks. And, many licensed occupations and professions require FBI background checks. Yet, the reality is, these background checks are often incomplete or inaccurate and they are always stigmatizing.

The justice system has long recognized that children are different from adults, and historically the public had little or no access to the records of juvenile adjudications. That is no longer the case.  The effect of juvenile records now punish kids well into adulthood.

Juvenile Law Center’s recent policy paper, Future Interrupted, urges that children must be free to grow up unfettered by their childhood mistakes—to have their court involvement remain in the past so they can move forward with their lives. This paper explores how various background check systems disseminate juvenile record information, using real-life stories from youth to illustrate the devastating effects of record retention and dissemination.

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Connecticut’s trail-blazing Gov. Dannel Malloy

The New York Times published a terrific editorial today describing in detail the extraordinary work being done by Governor Dannel Malloy and others in Connecticut to reform the system of criminal punishment, and to assist those with a criminal record get jobs and qualify for other benefits and opportunities.  Rather than try to summarize all of Connecticut’s trail-blazing accomplishments under Governor Malloy, we are reprinting the editorial in its entirely here.

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Wisconsin considering redacting youthful dismissed charges

As part of budget deliberations, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Commitment approved a provision that would allow courts to remove records of certain dismissed charges from the computerized statewide records system.

Under current law, although certain conviction records of youthful defendants may be expunged, anomalously dismissed charges remain accessible.  The new provision would allow a judge to order removal of a record from the internet site if all charges have been dismissed; all charges carried a maximum penalty not exceeding six years of imprisonment; none of the charges were classified as violent crimes; and the charges were filed before the defendant attained age 25.  These are the same criteria that apply to expungement of youthful convictions. 

People who would benefit from the change include people whose only contact with the criminal justice system was a case that was ultimately dismissed after they went through deferred prosecution or a first offenders program.
The new law would apply retroactively, thus allowing individuals to apply for removal from the website of charges dismissed before the effective date of the provision.  The redaction of records would apparently apply only to records accessible on the website, not to court records accessible through the local clerk of court, nor to arrest records accessible through law enforcement agencies.

The state budget still awaits approval by both houses of the Legislature and by the Governor, who has broad authority for line-item vetoes.

Dissecting the REDEEM Act

The REDEEM Act, introduced in the US Senate in March by Senators Corey Booker (D–NJ) and Rand Paul (R–KY), seeks to expand employment opportunities for those with federal criminal records by giving federal courts sealing authority. Because courts have generally held they do not have inherent authority to seal records — at least where an arrest or conviction is valid — the Act would open an entirely new avenue of relief from many of the collateral consequences that result from a federal arrest or conviction. While in the past similar bills have not made it out of committee, the attention that criminal justice reform is currently receiving on the national political stage and the REDEEM Act’s bipartisan support could give the Act a fighting chance.

The Act, as introduced, is not without its flaws. Chief among them are its vague definition of what crimes are eligible for relief, the broad discretion courts would have to deny relief for eligible offenses, the significant exceptions to the confidentiality of sealed records, and the uncertain effect of sealing on collateral consequences. The good news is that the Act’s defects are not structural and can be easily remedied through the legislative process.

This post contains a nuts and bolts overview of the Act. In subsequent posts, we will take a closer look at ways the Act could be improved.  Since the procedures and eligibility criteria applicable to adult and juvenile offenses differ in significant ways, we look at each in turn. Read more

Wisconsin attorneys volunteer to help students facing expulsion

raceclassExpulsion or suspension from school, not surprisingly, does not bode well for academic success.  Students are much less likely to graduate when they miss significant time in school or have to change schools because they have been suspended or expelled.

Incidents at school can have other serious and lasting consequences.  In Wisconsin, because 17-year-olds are considered adults when charged with criminal violations, high school students can face probation, jail, or prison, as well as all the adverse collateral consequences associated with a criminal record.  One serious consequence unique to students is that alleged misconduct in school can also result in a suspension or expulsion from school.

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State courts question mandatory lifetime sex offender registration

Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decisions in Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe, 538 U.S. 1 (2003) and Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 (2003), state courts are coming to different conclusions under their own constitutions about whether sex offender registration and notification laws constitute punishment for purposes of due process and ex post facto analysis.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the most recent to invalidate mandatory registration requirements imposed on juveniles, but several state supreme courts have limited the retroactive application of registration requirements to adults under an ex post facto analysis.

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Minnesota’s sweeping new expungement law takes effect

1932MinnesotaSnowScene640Beginning January 1st, 2015, many Minnesotans will have a meaningful shot at a second chance through criminal records expungement. For decades, many individuals have relied upon (and often languished under) a court’s inherent authority to expunge (or seal) criminal records, but recent Minnesota Supreme Court decisions effectively eviscerated that remedy. Without a legislative act expressly granting judicial authority to seal records held within executive branch agencies, the majority of petitioners were granted orders sealing only court records—leaving numerous publicly accessible criminal records untouched.

The new law, passed with bipartisan support and building upon momentum gained with last year’s Ban the Box for private employers, changes that.   It provides new authority for expunging (sealing) both criminal and juvenile records held by executive branch agencies; requires data mining companies to observe expungements, protects employers and landlords hiring and renting to individuals with expunged records, addresses victimization and housing evictions, and clarifies a number of procedural issues.  The standard for granting expungement remains that under current law, requiring the court to balance private and public interests.

While by no means a silver bullet, this new legislation will help a significant number of Minnesotans currently locked out of employment, housing, licensure, education, and countless other of life opportunities, by providing a true opportunity for a second chance.

Here is an explanation of the new law’s specific provisions. 

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Criminal records and the Obama immigration initiative

The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center have published a practice advisory for criminal defense lawyers representing non-citizens seeking relief under the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program announced by President Obama on November 20, 2014. DHS simultaneously announced new priorities for enforcement that will bar eligibility for the new program, many of which are based on criminal conduct or convictions. The nine-page practice advisory provides technical assistance to criminal defense practitioners seeking to navigate the eligibility shoals of the new program for clients facing criminal charges.

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