Expungements prove elusive for juveniles

Expungements prove elusive for juveniles

For many Illinoisians arrested when they were juveniles, the novelist William Faulkner's dictum that, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past," rings frustratingly true.

Last year, WBEZ examined the state's juvenile justice system. One set of stories featured young people who couldn't access jobs as adults because they had been arrested years before.

Take the case of a Chicago resident named Franklin, arrested because he brought a knife to school with him at age 11. Franklin didn't use the knife, and he never went to court for any kind of hearing about the matter.

But by the time he was 20 and seeking a $15-per-hour position with the U.S. Census Bureau, the incident haunted him out of a job. "By the time Franklin could trace the red flag on his record to his arrest at 11--an arrest for which he never went to court--it was too late," WBEZ's Linda Paul wrote. He didn't get the job.

There is a path in place whereby people with juvenile arrest records can petition to have their records expunged. The vast majority of youth in the area don't take these steps, however. From Paul's report.

Over 25,000 kids are arrested in Cook County each year. Twenty-five thousand. And many of those are eligible for expungement. But the number of people in the county who've actually managed to get their juvenile records expunged?

Here's what WBEZ has learned: 58 juvenile record expungements in 2008 and 95 in 2009.

For one perspective on how the expungement process works--or doesn't--read through a series of posts written by Mariame Kaba, the director of a youth advocacy group in Chicago called Project NIA.

Kaba, in blogging about the situation her friend Mariah is facing, criticizes the juvenile expungement process as "difficult, costly, and tedious."

Mariah recently passed her nursing boards and sought licensing approval from the state. She didn't get it. There was a hitch, according to Kaba's posts--an arrest that happened years ago, when Mariah was 13 years old:

Mariah’s so-called arrest occurred when she was in the 8th grade. She and a friend got into a physical fight at school. The police were called, and both young women were taken to the local precinct. They stayed there for less than an hour until their parents could pick them up. They were promptly released. Mariah had forgotten about this incident until she received the letter from the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation today. The case never went to juvenile court, and Mariah didn’t even know that she had been actually arrested. Mariah’s situation is by no means unique.

In part two of her series, she and Mariah retrieve Mariah's juvenile arrest record from the Chicago Police Department and then travel to the Cook County juvenile court to secure a letter from the the Clerk of the Court stating there were no court records related to Mariah's case. In part three, Kaba and Mariah are back in court, working with pro bono attorneys. A hearing ab0ut the situation is set for Sept. 30.

There was at least one piece of legislation introduced to the Illinois General Assembly during the last legislative session that would rework the expungement process. The synopsis of House Bill 2841 is below. Note that it calls for automatic expungement in certain circumstances:

Amends the Criminal Identification Act. Eliminates the provision that policing bodies must submit fingerprint and descriptions of minors 10 and older who are arrested on charges that are classified as felonies and Class A and Class B misdemeanors. Provides that such information shall be submitted if the person is over the age of 18. Amends the Juvenile Court Act of 1987. Provides for the automatic expungement of law enforcement records of a minor who has been arrested if: (1) the minor had been arrested but no delinquency petition was filed with the clerk of the circuit court; (2) the minor has attained the age of 18; and (3) since the date of the minor's most recent arrest, at least 2 years have elapsed without an additional arrest. Provides for expungement of minor's law enforcement records in other cases. Repeals provision relating to expungement review by the Court. Amends the Unified Code of Corrections. Increases from $10 to $15 the additional fine imposed for expungement of juvenile records. Amends the Illinois Human Rights Act. Provides that it is a civil rights violation for an employer to use records expunged under the Juvenile Courts Act of 1987 as a basis to make employment decisions.

The bill was routed back to the Rules Committee during the spring legislative session.

Photo courtesy of Vector Portal.

© Community Renewal Society 2011

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