A bill introduced this week by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) would automatically seal or expunge the records of certain juveniles and limit the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities.
The REDEEM Act – short for Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act of 2014 – is aimed at lowering the employment barriers created by criminal and juvenile records.
“Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration,” said Paul, in a statement announcing the legislation. “Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if non-violent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment.”
The bill would amend the federal criminal procedure code to require the expungement of records for three groups of juveniles:
- Those who are adjudicated for a nonviolent offense before the age of 15
- Any juvenile whose arrest did not result in further action
- Any juvenile whose case was dismissed
The act would also require courts to automatically seal the records of any juveniles who have been adjudicated for a nonviolent offense after three years.
The requirement is only applicable if the offender has completed the terms of his or her probation and has not been adjudicated for another offense.
The bill would also subject anyone who disclosed sealed juvenile records to a fine and up to one year in prison. This makes it very difficult for criminal records aggregation sites on the Internet to include juvenile records without risking federal penalties.
The REDEEM Act also amends criminal procedure code to prohibit the use of solitary confinement at juvenile facilities for any reason other than to protect the safety of people in the facility. Even in that scenario, the act sets a time limit of three hours.
Sens. Paul and Booker would also use the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants as a modest incentive for reform. A state could receive preferential consideration for COPS grants, funded at $214 million in fiscal year 2014, if it had a law establishing that:
“Adult criminal court may not have original jurisdiction over an individual who was less than 18 years of age when the individual committed an offense.”
That caveat would diminish the prospects of COPS grants for the ten states that currently do not have 18 as the age of jurisdiction. Eight of those ten set the upper age of the juvenile system at 17; only North Carolina and New York cap the juvenile system at 16.
“This sends countless kids into the unforgiving adult criminal system,” Paul and Booker wrote in a statement announcing the legislation.
The bill appears to protect states that generally use the age of 18, but have laws authorizing the transfer of juveniles who commit specified offenses.
State laws on juvenile solitary confinement are also grounds for preferential COPS treatment in the legislation. The law needs to set limits on the practice that are as strict, or stricter, than the REDEEM Act itself.
John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.