A Mere Youthful Indescretion?
T. Markus Funk
Government of the United States of America - Department of Justice
University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Vol. 29, No. 4 (1996).
Recent studies by the U.S. Department of Justice have found that, while adult violent crime rates continue to drop, today's juvenile offenders are the fastest growing segment among violent criminals. Moreover, the unprecedented increase in juvenile criminality is expected to result in a dramatic increase in the overall rate of violent crime as these juveniles approach majority. This article argues that most states have not adapted to the troubling reality that the juvenile offenders of today are not the hubcap-stealing youths of days gone by and that chronic adult criminality is virtually predicated on violent and repeated acts of juvenile delinquency. Most jurisdictions retain statutory provisions that allow for--or even mandate--the expungement of juvenile crime records once the juvenile approaches majority; while the records are sometimes merely sealed, most laws require that they actually be physically destroyed.The stated goal of this policy is to allow the juvenile offender to enter adulthood with a "clean slate," thereby shielding him or her from the negative effects of having a criminal record. The article conducts the first exhaustive analysis and critique of this policy, examining its philosophical origins, the "rehabilitative ideal" that it is premised on, and the consequences to the courts, employers, and law enforcement--both theoretical and practical--that flow from it. The article concludes that, even if one accepts the notion that those who have committed a juvenile indiscretion will outgrow their reckless behavior, it remains necessary to differentiate between those who in fact can be rehabilitated and those whose rehabilitative potential is negligible--a task not accomplished by most contemporary expungement statutes. Contemporary research on juvenile delinquency and the flaws in current expungement schemes provide the basis for a list of characteristics that any effective and just expungement scheme should incorporate.
JEL Classification: K14
Date posted: November 22, 1996
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