There aren’t many kids who pass through childhood without pulling a juvenile prank like toilet papering a house or throwing a water balloon at a passing car. A generation ago, Florida kids caught performing such acts would have been brought to the attention of their parents, rather than the juvenile justice system.
Today, it’s a different story. What happens in juvenile court doesn’t always stay in juvenile court. As a result, thousands of Florida young people have had the stigma of their juvenile record dog them well into adulthood. The Children’s Campaign has heard from many of these individuals, and some have allowed us to share their stories publicly in an effort to bring forth much-needed change.
Open Access to Juvenile Records Closes Many Doors
While a juvenile arrest isn’t equal to an adult conviction, it is often treated like one. Contrary to popular belief, a Florida youth’s juvenile record does not disappear when a child becomes an adult. And it can affect a child’s opportunities for the rest of his or her life.
Many employers require job applicants to submit to criminal background checks. If a juvenile’s fingerprints are on file, the record may come up. Sometimes, a juvenile record affects eligibility for dormitory and public housing, educational opportunities, professional certifications and licensing, and may even disqualify a person from serving in the military.
Senator Nancy Detert (R-Venice) knows first-hand how a juvenile record can follow kids into adulthood. When her son was five, he was arrested, booked and fingerprinted for riding his bike over three sheets of drywall. When he applied for his first job, his arrest from his Kindergarten days was brought up.
“We presumed if you did a childhood prank that it fell off your record when you became an adult,” explained Sen. Detert. “But it does not.”
Currently, most juvenile records aren’t expunged until age 24 or 26.
New Legislation Offers More and Earlier Protection
Sen. Detert’s bill will expunge certain non-violent juvenile offenders’ records at age 21, and will allow others to apply to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for an earlier expunction beginning at age 18 under certain circumstances. The bill does not apply to minors who are classified as serious or habitual juvenile offenders, or to minors who have been committed to a juvenile correctional facility or prison. The legislation recently passed both chambers and has been sent to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.
When a juvenile record is expunged, all identifying documents related to an individual’s arrest, detention, indictment, and the disposition are destroyed. Most importantly, an individual’s record will no longer be a public record in the state of Florida. As a result, individuals, in most cases, can lawfully deny the arrest occurred.
Rep. Chris Latvala (R-Clearwater), who sponsored companion legislation in the House along with Rep. Sharon Pritchett (D-Miramar), agrees that giving these kids a second chance is the right thing to do.
“There’s a big difference between being a hardened criminal and an individual who pulls a youthful prank as a kid,” Latvala said. “Kids who make mistakes like throwing an egg out a car window or rolling a house with toilet paper deserve a second shot at becoming productive citizens.”
Championed by Many
Numerous advocacy, youth-serving and public policy organizations backed the measure including The Children’s Campaign, Florida Juvenile Justice Association, James Madison Institute and others. For a complete list, please click here.
“Persistence really paid off,” explained The Children’s Campaign President Roy Miller, in describing the multi-year advocacy effort to get the bipartisan measure passed. “Everyone really pulled together to do the right thing so kids who make youthful mistakes are protected from long-term damage to their future prospects.”
Another Promising Way to Give Kids a Second Chance
Another measure that recently cleared the House (114 yeas & 2 nays) and has gone over to the Senate would keep non-felony juvenile records from being available to the public. Championed by Sen. Darren Soto (D- Orlando) and Rep. Sharon Pritchett (D-Miami Gardens), this measure will further ensure the confidentiality of juvenile records.
It will also give law enforcement agencies discretion to refrain from placing juvenile booking photos online. Law enforcement agencies and agencies that work with vulnerable populations, however, would still be able to view certain records.
“In this modern internet age, juvenile records follow our youth for the rest of their lives. This bill recognizes that juveniles need a second chance, should they continue to be law abiding citizens throughout the remainder of their lives,” said Senator Soto
Many youth do not have the financial means to pay an attorney to expunge their records earlier, so this legislation will help them have a better chance at obtaining gainful employment or a college education
Since Florida laws don’t change as fast as technology, juvenile arrest records can currently be found online, even after a record is expunged or if the child was not convicted. This flies in the face of the juvenile justice system’s core tenet of protecting youth from stigmatizing consequences and giving them a second chance to develop into productive citizens as adults.
“Although the juvenile justice system is far from a perfect institution, much progress has been made over the years to protect kids from falling deeper into the system and to help give them a fresh start,” said Miller. “Both bills are great examples of that.”
This Top Story brought to you by Karen Bonsignori, Roy Miller and Colleen Mackin
With online support from Tiffany McGlinchey
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