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.

 

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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.

Continue reading…

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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.

 

Continue Reading at The Federalist

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Overcriminalization Goes to the Supreme Court

Ahead of oral arguments in U.S. v. Yates, legal experts demand an end to the proliferation of thousands of capricious federal statutory crimes

Austin, TX— In the run-up to the Supreme Court’s hearing of oral arguments in U.S. v. Yates, Right on Crime, the nationally recognized conservative criminal justice reform organization, will convene a briefing on over-criminalization and prosecutorial overreach.

In this case, a Florida law enforcement officer (deputized as a federal officer by the National Marine Fisheries Service) boarded the ship of a commercial fisherman, John Yates, for an inspection of his catch of more than 3,000 fish. The officer accused Yates of catching 72 undersized red grouper. Upon second count, however, the officer only found 69 groupers. He accused Yates of throwing fish overboard, and for this alleged disposal of evidence, a federal prosecutor criminally charged Yates with violating the “anti-document-shredding” provision of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was passed in the wake of the 2001 Enron accounting scandal. The violation is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The assembled legal experts will discuss solutions to prosecutorial overreach of this sort, such as strengthening mens rea protections in statutes and eliminating certain crimes altogether.

Right On Crime’s parent organization, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, signed an amicus brief in Yates observing that the prosecutorial overreach in the case is part of a larger trend of over-criminalization in America. Modern federal criminal law provides for almost 5,000 crimes. Historically, “crime” was a term restricted to morally blameworthy actions, but today, many ordinary activities are captured by the term. Individuals have been threatened with prosecution (and in some cases served prison time) for importing lobsters in the wrong container, mislabeling paperwork on orchids, and helping injured animals.
 
Press Briefing on Over-criminalization and U.S. v. Yates, featuring:

  • Marc Levin, Policy Director, Right on Crime
  • Vikrant P. Reddy, Senior Policy Analyst, Right on Crime
  • Adeel Bashir, Counsel for Mr. John Yates
  • William Shepherd, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • Paul J. Larkin, Jr., The Heritage Foundation
  • Pat Nolan, The American Conservative Union

 

Monday, November 3, 2014 at 1:30 PM

American Conservative Union
1331 H Street, NW |  Suite 500
Washington, DC

This event is sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the American Conservative Union, the Heritage Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Kevin McVicker with Shirley & Banister Public Affairs at (703) 739-5920 or [email protected].

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Cutting Costs and Crime: Levin Quoted in New York Times

People across the country are beginning to wonder whether or not we are incarcerating ourselves out of an economy. After massive crackdowns on crime in the 90’s created hosts of stringent crimes and punishments, now millions of individuals find it almost impossible to get work. Criminal records, even for low-level non-violent offenses, can mean a life-time of rejection letters and welfare. But both sides of the table are beginning to realize this and are taking steps to mitigate it in the future. Right on Crime policy director Marc Levin was quoted in a New York Times article about the growth of conservatives’ awareness of the subject:

“There’s been a shift in people away from wanting to get even,” said Marc A. Levin, the policy director for Right on Crime, a conservative anti-crime group in Texas. “People are focused now on getting results. It really is a great benefit to public safety if ex-offenders are able to get jobs, find places to live and get occupational licenses — whether it’s from the perspective of the ex-offender or those of us who are going to live next to them.”

Read the article at the New York Times.

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