“Future Interrupted”: The collateral damage of juvenile adjudications


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.

It also makes the case for expanding and strengthening laws that render juvenile records confidential at the outset, and for prohibiting consideration of those records in employment, licensing, and education decisions.  Any period of public availability can limit access to opportunities long into adulthood, even if expungement is available on the back-end.  Ban-the-box policies can be helpful, but they only postpone the inevitable rejection if not accompanied by laws restricting the consideration of youths’ records.

This paper follows two national resources by Juvenile Law Center on juvenile record confidentiality and expungement—a National Review of state records laws and a National Scorecard rating the states’ treatment of juvenile records. All three resources can be found at www.jlc.org/juvenilerecords.

Riya Shah

Riya is a senior supervising attorney at Juvenile Law Center. She leads the organization’s Second Chances initiative, focusing her efforts on juvenile record confidentiality and expungement and sex offender registration and notification laws. She has written extensively on collateral consequences, expungement, and the right to counsel. Riya was instrumental in Pennsylvania’s successful challenge to the imposition of harsh registration laws for youth charged with sexual offenses.

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