Rating the States: Giving Kids A Second Chance

Many people assume that one of the key differences between the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems is that juveniles are able to get their records sealed or expunged once adjudicated. The thing is, very often that doesn’t happen.

There are many reasons that we have separate systems for juveniles and adults. It is very important to keep juveniles accountable for their decisions and mistakes. Lack of consequences for dangerous behavior would be extremely detrimental to all children’s safety. But it is also important to remember that these decisions and mistakes don’t have the same indicative quality that they have when made by adults. A juvenile that commits a low-level property crime is still very likely to move on and become a contributing adult instead of an imprisoned offender on the government’s dime.

But a criminal record is something that makes this extremely difficult to do. A non-sealed juvenile record prevents admittance to many medical schools and is a potential bar to law schools as well as military service. And even without express bars, many employers do background checks and are more likely to refuse employment to someone with a record. Such a bleak future makes it much more difficult to push oneself through an education and into a career.

Very recently the Juvenile Law Center, a nonprofit law firm, released a scorecard for the nation, looking at the protections offered to juveniles in all fifty states and rating them based on the availability of confidentiality and expungement. What they found was startling.

Expungement and/or sealing makes such a beneficial action much more likely. But, the Juvenile Law Center shows, the majority of states make that difficult for most juveniles. New Mexico was rated the highest and given four stars. A few other states also managed to reach that number. Texas and California were among them. But the vast majority of the states were rated well below that.

And now, once you separate out the results, it becomes clear that many states have few confidentiality provisions at all. Arrest records and court records are not protected in lots of states, like Georgia and Michigan. And quite a few states actively make these available to the public on online databases or through individual requests. And even states that do have protections often don’t have sanctions for the violation of those protections.

These protections are there or a reason. Giving youth a second chance often provides them with an opportunity to get an education, a job, and provide for families. But failing to do this often results in unemployment and increased likelihood of recidivism. This compromises public safety and increases government spending in corrections. Providing for confidentiality and enforcing it is critical to the successes that have occurring in several states criminal justice systems. Other states should take note and make sure they aren’t neglecting to take advantage of these opportunities.

 

Study Finds Idaho Last in Protecting Juvenile Records

Geoffrey Talmon of the Idaho Freedom Foundation reviews the recent Juvenile Law Center survey of how America’s states protect the records of juvenile offenders in their criminal justice systems. As the the survey notes, “Idaho receives the lowest score because there are no confidentiality protections for juvenile records and very few records are eligible for sealing.” Talmon writes:

Concerning expungement of records, Idaho scored only slightly better against the eight criteria that were considered (availability of sealing or expungement, which records are available for sealing or expungement, which offenses are excluded from sealing or expungement, degree of automation in sealing or expungement, notification of availability of sealing or expungement, timing of sealing or expungement fees for sealing or expungement and sanctions for failure to comply with sealing or expungement laws). On these measures, Idaho received 14 out of 50 possible points, earning a two-star rating.

As Idaho continues to reform its criminal justice system and to build on the momentum established in passing the Justice Reinvestment Act during the 2014 legislative session, the Legislature should take a close look at this study and think about the way we treat juvenile offenders.

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Levin featured in Federalist Society debate on Criminal Sentencing Reform

Although prison populations at the federal level have very recently declined for the first time in decades, prisoner population at the state level rose. The cost of crime, some that can be measured and some that are impossible to measure, is undoubtedly high, but so too is the cost of incarceration. Are we striking the right balance in length of sentences? And what is the proper balance between latitude and sentencing guidelines for judges? Do the answers to these questions differ for the state versus the federal criminal justice system?

The Federalist Society’s Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group presented this panel on “Criminal Sentencing Reform: A Conversation among Conservatives” on Friday, November 14, during the 2014 National Lawyers Convention.

  • Mr. Marc A. Levin, Director, Center for Effective Justice, Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • John G. Malcolm, Director and Ed Gilbertson and Sherry Lindberg Gilbertson Senior Legal Fellow, Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation
  • Hon. Michael B. Mukasey, Partner, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and former U.S. Attorney General
  • Prof. William G. Otis, Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center
  • Moderator: Hon. William H. Pryor, Jr., U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

Criminal Sentencing Reform: A Conversation among Conservatives

Right on Crime’s Policy Director, Marc Levin, participates in a panel discussion at the Federalist Society National Lawyers Convention last week. The panel, titled Criminal Law: Criminal Sentencing Reform: A Conversation Among Conservatives, included  John Malcolm of The Heritage Foundation, former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Georgetown Law Adjunct Professor Bill Otis, and was moderated by the Honorable William H. Pryor, Jr., U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

Creeping Overcriminalization Threatens Ordinary Citizens

fishermanA fisherman is currently facing trial with the possibility of twenty years in prison for losing three fish. This type of rampant expansion of criminality endangers all people, and neglects a long honored judicial doctrine, the rule of lenity. This ensures that if there is a statute with two reasonable readings, the one that can be construed more leniently for the defendant must be chosen. This is a key protection of citizens’ rights in the criminal court, and ignoring it sets a dangerous precedent.

These days, calls for criminal justice reform are loudest on the political right. Corrections reform has advanced rapidly in conservative states like Texas and Georgia; Republicans like Mike Lee and Rand Paul are vocal advocates for reforming mandatory minimum sentencing; and Koch Industries is involved in a major project to improve indigent defense.

There are many reasons conservatives are engaging so deeply with criminal justice. One notable reason is that they tend to notice creeping “overcriminalization,” causing them to reflect more broadly upon the entire justice system.

 

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