The passage of a law to ease and expand the expungement of juvenile arrest records was celebrated today as a major step toward a more equitable criminal justice system by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the chief legislative sponsors, state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, and state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Orland Hills.
The Youth Opportunity and Fairness Act (Public Act 100-0285) combats unlawful and overly broad sharing of juvenile records in Illinois and brings the state’s current law in line with the ABA’s model guidelines on such records.
Data show that Illinois has tracked well below these guidelines. In the past decade, less than three in 1,000 — .29 percent — of juvenile records were expunged in Illinois due to procedural hurdles in place that prevented expungement petitions from being filed. Half of the state’s counties did not grant a single juvenile expungement in the past decade.
Meanwhile, research shows that juvenile records place obstacles in the way of vulnerable youth trying to build productive lives, increasing their risk of returning to criminal activity.
“This new law provides youth who have made minor mistakes with a second chance. It addresses the problem that arrest records serve as impediments to the growth and development of young people by creating obstacles to housing and employment as these youth grow,” Preckwinkle said. “I am grateful to Rep. Nekritz and Sen. Hastings for their advocacy on this measure, which continues our efforts at reforming antiquated and damaging juvenile justice laws.”
The bill sponsored does two major things:
- It automatically expunges the records of juvenile arrests that do not result in charges. For cases that result in findings of delinquency, it expunges records two years after the youth’s case is closed for all but the most serious offenses, but only if the youth does not pick up a new finding of delinquency during that two-year period.
- It strengthens confidentiality rules and establishes a penalty for willful unlawful sharing of juvenile records (Class C misdemeanor resulting in a $1,000 fine and any actual damages).
"This legislation is another step forward to aligning our laws and policies with the goal of rehabilitating youthful offenders," Rep. Nekritz said. "I am thrilled to have joined President Preckwinkle, Sen. Hastings and so many great advocates to get this proposal enacted in to law."
“I believe in second chances and investing in the young people of our state,” Sen. Hastings said “This law will give our youth who make mistakes early in life a chance to succeed. I think everybody can get behind that."
Also present was Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, a co-sponsor of the legislation, juvenile justice advocates and youths impacted by the current state of juvenile records expungement.
“Our clients have had to endure the stigma of a criminal record well into their mid-20’s – with all of the accompanying barriers to work and education -- even though they had been arrest-free for over 10 years,” said Professor Carolyn Frazier of Northwestern University’s Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Children and Family Justice Center. “Speaking from the front lines as a youth advocate, I can tell you what a difference this Act would have made on the trajectory of these young people’s lives – and what a tremendous difference it will make in the lives of literally thousands of young people going forward.”
“Our nearly 10 years of work on juvenile expungements has taught us that the confidentiality of juvenile records has become a myth,” said Richard Cozzola, Director of the Children and Families Practice Group at LAF. “Clients have not gotten jobs and professional licenses because confidential records leaked to persons not authorized to have them. The new law makes this kind of disclosure illegal, and gives people the right to sue those who illegally disseminate expunged records and use expunged records to make employment and other important decisions.
This Act is the latest in a series of juvenile justice reforms championed by President Preckwinkle. Other measures included:
- Raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds charged with felonies – a reform advocated to promote rehabilitation, public safety, fairness and fiscal responsibility.
- Reducing mandatory five-year probation sentences for juveniles.
- And successfully advocating for changes in the Automatic Transfer law that forced too many juveniles into the adult system.