Bipartisan Support for Juvenile Record Protections

With the Texas Legislature now in session, bipartisan cooperation is key to legislative successes.

State Rep. James White, R-Tyler, vice chairman of the Corrections Committee, has proposed an advisory committee, HB431, to explore the protections provided for juvenile records. He specifies that the committee will consist of stakeholders in the issue, such as juvenile prosecutors and defenders, probation officers, representatives from the Department of Family and Protective Services, as well as members of the general public. This group is intended to protect young offenders from harm resulting from unauthorized use or disclosure of confidential records, while ensuring public safety and due process rights.

Simultaneously, state Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston, has filed a bill, HB263, that also moves toward sealing juvenile records, after a significant period of good behavior. This would only be available for juveniles who committed delinquent acts, or conduct in need of supervision — not juveniles deemed violent offenders.

These bills acknowledge the strong incentives that taxpayers and communities must provide in order to help those who make mistakes in their youth to start anew. Both bills focus on offenders who committed nonviolent crimes, and stress rehabilitation and opportunities, instead of a repeated cycle of criminal offenses and expenses.

Juveniles are a unique opportunity for the criminal justice system. Once someone has had contact with the system, there is a risk for a cycle of criminality. However, juveniles present the system with a great opportunity to end this cycle before it can get started. This is because juveniles are at a significant and critical time of life. If a juvenile offender takes their life in the right direction, they still have valuable educational and vocational choices still ahead of them. If they take advantage of these opportunities, they may never see the inside of a corrections facility again. Instead, they can become hard-working, contributing members of society.

However, this possibility is strongly affected by the record that follows the individual. If they are unable to get a job, or be accepted at schools that will prepare them for a successful, contributory life, then they are more likely to resort to crime again, and in an escalating fashion. Such a cycle creates new victims and raises the amount of public monies spent on this juvenile.

Both bills agree that low-risk, nonviolent juvenile offenders who have proven their desire to turn their lives around should have the opportunity to do so without forever being branded a criminal. Providing protections around their records makes it more likely that this will be the case.

There are serious considerations to be weighed when dealing with criminal records. Judicial discretion is important, and the ability for a judge to look into the specifics of a case is invaluable. However, dangerous youths who are a high-risk are very different from juveniles who have missed a few days of school or engaged in minor vandalism. There are always public safety questions at play but these bills work to increase public safety and save taxpayer money.

Such bipartisan collaboration shows a public tired of funding a prison system that cycles criminals through without addressing safety or costs. It also offers opportunity and redemption to youth across Texas.

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House Rule May Bring Changes to Criminal Justice in Texas

House Rule May Bring Changes to Criminal Justice in Texas

The newly proposed H.R. No. 4 brings two very interesting things to the table in the criminal justice arena. One of these changes is a required notation on bills if they create new criminal offenses. This is a clear improvement that will alert legislators to the significant ramifications their vote will have. The other, the creation of a new Juvenile Justice Committee, has the potential to breathe new life into criminal justice reforms, but alternatively could bring many useful innovations to a screeching halt.

In an age of overcriminalization, where criminal offenses are multiplying like rabbits, a simple notation that lets those involved realize when this occurs could – and should – cut back on the amount of government intervention. Legislators need to be aware that a new bill, which could be about something as minor as an interior design permit, creates a criminal offense that will add to the burden on the criminal justice system, as well as present serious consequences for the convicted individual.

Juvenile justice is a very important issue, one that definitely deserves a committee solely dedicated to it alone. Juveniles present the criminal justice system with an opportunity to get ahead of the cycle of criminality. A juvenile has a higher likelihood of being affected by treatment, educational or vocational training, or simply the fact that they are in trouble. This creates opportunities for the system to put them on a track to a more successful life, outside of corrections.

The new committee will have more time and be able to focus on juveniles as differentiated from adults. If this is used to find smarter and more efficient methods of decreasing recidivism, this could be a boon to Texas’ strained criminal justice system. If this is used instead to hammer juveniles with purposelessly heavy and expensive sentences or to spend excess money on non-evidence-based programming that compromises public safety, then this could complicate matters further.

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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.

 

Continue Reading on MikeKleinOnline.com

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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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