Georgia Targets Huge Gap with Juvenile Justice Databank Project

For discussion purposes, let’s imagine you are a juvenile court judge somewhere in Georgia. A young man and his attorney are standing before you, pleading the boy’s case. Within minutes you will decide whether the boy is sentenced to detention or a community-based program.

Something about how the young man tells his story makes you question, what else is going on here?  Has this kid been kicking around without a family, without role models, without direction and what he needs is help or, is this one of those kids who really needs to be off the streets?  Is this kid about to hurt himself or someone else?  What is the right decision here?

So knowing that these questions must be answered you log onto the state’s massive juvenile justice databank that contains everything you need. The young man’s entire legal record is there, all his previous interactions with the juvenile justice system, a record of every arrest, all previous court decisions, outstanding warrants for other alleged crimes committed in any county statewide.

It’s all there, everything you need to decide between detention and a treatment program.

 

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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.

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Giving Kids Adult Records: Cohen and Fowler in the Dallas Morning News

The Dallas Morning News published a piece by Right on Crime policy analyst Derek Cohen and Deborah Fowler, deputy director for Texas Appleseed. They write that, despite large criminal justice reform waves sweeping across Texas, there is still one area where government over reach and inefficiency is apparent. Truancy, previously a minor misbehavior dealt with by parents and teachers, is today a crime that can earn a child an adult record. This process hurts the child, damages families, and has stunts economic growth. Handing out criminal records for behavior like truancy lowers the likelihood of the child getting a job and raises the likelihood of future welfare support.

Texas is one of only two states (the other is Wyoming) that employ the criminal justice system to punish truancy. The Texas Education Code — the body of law that regulates the activity of all educational institutions in the state — empowers school districts to file a criminal complaint against a child as young as 10 who has missed three days of school. After 10 missed days within a six-month period, however, the district’s discretion is removed and it is required to file against the child.

This is known as “Failure to Attend School,” or FTAS, a Class C misdemeanor that can carry up to $500 in fines and leave an indelible mark on the child’s criminal record. These fines are levied all too often on low-income families who don’t have the savings to pay them. If a child or parent is unable to pay the $500, or if the child misses one more day after adjudication, he or she can face jail time for the violation of a valid court order. In addition to the burden this places on families, the criminalization of truancy is a drain on limited court resources.

In addition, NBC News affiliate KXAN-Austin interviewed Cohen on the issue of truancy in Texas schools. Watch the clip below.

 

 

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New York Violence Against Youths

Very few states charge 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, but New York is one of them. And now these much younger individuals are learning violence from those already proven to be proficient. A report shows that constitutional rights have been routinely violated on Rikers Island, with high violence levels showing that these youths are not safe and are unlikely to be released in better condition.

New York City lawmakers holding an oversight hearing Wednesday plan to ask correction officials about conditions for 16- and 17-year-old inmates on Rikers Island in the wake of a U.S. Justice Department review that found their constitutional rights were routinely violated.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who chairs the committee on fire and criminal justice, said the questioning will center primarily on what’s being done to embrace the more than 80 recommendations made in the federal report released in August. Among them, the department recommended removing adolescents entirely off of Rikers, the city’s giant 10-facility jail complex on the 400-acre island near LaGuardia Airport.

“That report was really alarming and it depicted the levels of violence,” she said. “While we wait for the state to raise the age of criminality, we must make sure our inmates on Rikers Island are safe.”

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