A child who makes a mistake shouldn’t have to pay for that error the rest of his life. I think we could all agree with that. Most of us have done something stupid on our way to adulthood.

Tens of thousands of youngsters are arrested in Illinois each year and in many of those cases, charges are never brought. Yet, many of those teenagers later discover their records follow them throughout their adult lives and can prevent them from getting jobs.

OPINION

In fact, there are private businesses that make money by providing juvenile arrest records to employers and others who want them.

Some of the abuses of this information were so harmful that the Illinois General Assembly in 2014 asked the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission in 2014 to study the confidentiality of juvenile records and the state expungement law, which allows for the elimination of court and criminal records.

After studying the issue, the Justice Commission issued a report and found that despite the potentially devastating harm of improper juvenile record sharing, Illinois imposes no punishments on those who illegally disclose records.

In addition, the Commission found that juvenile record expungement is rare in Illinois. In most of the state, the practice is virtually nonexistent. Statewide, less than one-third of one percent – 0.29 percent – of Illinois juvenile arrests were expunged in the past decade.

The report concluded that Illinois confidentiality and expungement laws impede young peoples ability to transition to productive adulthood.

Working with the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, the commission compiled a list of recommended reforms.

As a result, the state Legislature passed House Bill 3817 this spring, which has been supported by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and was sponsored by state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, in the House and state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Tinley Park, in the Senate.

That bill now sits on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature.

It creates a policy of automatic expungement in Illinois for juvenile arrests that do not result in charges being filed as long as one year has passed since the arrest and six months have passed since any subsequent arrest was made or charges were filed.

Records would also be expunged in juvenile cases that result in a finding of not delinquent, or result in an order of supervision that is later successfully terminated.

The court could also order automatic expungement in certain misdemeanor cases that do not contain an element of violence, or threat of violence, as long as two years have passed since the case was closed, no case is pending and the individual hasn’t had any subsequent finding of guilt in juvenile or adult court.

The proposed law would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to access a minor’s law enforcement and court records and also create penalties for sharing these records beyond the bounds permitted by law. A person violating the law could also be liable for damages.

For the first time there would be a penalty for distributing an expunged juvenile record and fines of $1,000 per instance. If the sharing was done for financial gain, an individual could face a felony prosecution (and job loss if that person was a member of a government agency).

There are fears that since the state Legislature’s override of the governor’s budget veto, Bruce Rauner has turned to the more conservative elements of his Republican base for support and that could jeopardize these sensible juvenile justice reforms.

The Juvenile Justice Commission notes that 95.5 percent of juvenile arrests nationwide are for nonviolent offenses, and for the majority of juveniles, this arrest marks their only formal interaction with law enforcement.

Everyone deserves a second chance, especially children. And how can we expect people to become productive citizens if we continually punish them for arrests that didn’t even result in criminal charges being filed? 

Email: philkadner@gmail.com

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