States Are Failing to Protect Juvenile Records, Study Shows

States Are Failing to Protect Juvenile Records, Study Shows by Lynne Anderson

To read this article on the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange website, click here.

The records of juvenile offenders are not nearly as confidential as they should be, and the records are also not easily sealed or expunged, a report shows.

The first such report, issued Thursday in the form of a report card by the Juvenile Law Center, shows that many states fail to protect the records to begin with. Other states fail to seal or expunge the records later. Some states do both.

No states received the highest rating of five stars. New Mexico scored highest in protecting the records and reputations of youthful offenders; Idaho scored lowest.

The consequences are serious, according to the center, which conducted the nearly 18-month study with funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Youthful offenders are being denied college admission, military service and jobs because of the too-free sharing of information about crimes they committed as children or teenagers.

The study, released Thursday as a scorecard of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., looked at states’ performance records in two key areas: confidentiality during and after juvenile proceedings and the ease of sealing or expungement afterward. The report found a high degree of variability in how and when states expunge records, Shah said.

“Some make you wait until you’re 18, others until you’re 21, and some for five years” from the time of the offense, [Riya Saha] Shah explained. “But the kids don’t know this until something happens, like not being hired.”

The Juvenile Law Center has 10 recommendations for states to prevent a juvenile record from following a juvenile offender into adulthood:

  • Records should not be widely available online.
  • Records should be sealed to the public before they are expunged.
  • Records should be automatically sealed and expunged.
  • Expungement should include physical destruction and electronic deletion.
  • Expungement eligibility should begin once a case is closed.
  • All offenses should be eligible for expungement.
  • One entity should be designated to inform youth about the expungement.
  • Forms for expungement should be youth-friendly.
  • Filing for expungement should be free.
  • There should be sanctions for failure to comply.

In addition, the Juvenile Law Center calls for policymakers to review juvenile record laws and protections and for state and city governments to enact provisions to limit barriers to housing, education and employment for youthful offenders.

To see the full report and map of states and their scores, visit