Legislation to ease and expand the expungement of juvenile arrest records was announced today by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, and state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Orland Hills.
The Youth Opportunity and Fairness Act (HB 3817/SB 2021) would combat unlawful and overly broad sharing of juvenile records in Illinois and bring 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 one thousand — .29 percent — of juvenile records were expunged in Illinois due to procedural hurdles in place preventing 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.
“It’s time we recognize that the arrest records of young people who have made mistakes can serve as impediments to their future growth and development, and even create obstacles to such basics as finding housing and employment as they get older,” 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 by Nekritz and Hastings 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, 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 unlawful sharing of juvenile records (Class B misdemeanor resulting in a $1,000 fine and any actual damages).
"We need our laws to recognize that youth can make mistakes, sometimes even serious ones, but can turn their lives around and achieve great things,” Rep. Nekritz said. “By removing this barrier in these cases, we will be sending a strong message that Illinois wants its citizens to strive for better, rather than be held back and left behind.”
“We need to be working toward rehabilitating children caught in our court system to give them a chance to succeed, not crippling them with the mistakes of their past,” said Senator Michael E. Hastings.
Preckwinkle and the lawmakers were joined today in the announcement at Northwestern’s Bluhm Legal Clinic by juvenile justice advocates and youths impacted by the current state of juvenile records expungement.
"By strengthening confidentiality protections for juvenile records and creating greater access to the expungement process, the Act brings our laws in line with best practices recently set forth by the American Bar Association,” said Professor Carolyn Frazier of Northwestern University’s Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Children and Family Justice Center. “This Act will help thousands of young people in Illinois each year by making it easier for them to find a job, obtain housing, and pursue an education, it will also improve public safety."
The legislation is the latest in a series of juvenile justice reforms championed by President Preckwinkle. In 2015 she successfully advocated for the reform of the Automatic Transfer statute, preventing the widespread use of automatic transfer of juveniles into the adult court system, and last year’s bill to reduce or eliminate mandatory five-year probation sentences for juveniles and reduce commitments to juvenile prison for drug crimes.
The President thanks Rep. Nekritz for sponsorship and advocacy of both these and other previous efforts.