California bills will help young offenders leave the past behind

Filed Under: California Criminal Records

Sealed RecordsRight now in California, Democrat Governor Jerry Brown is carrying with him a couple of interesting bills that will no doubt come to a vote in the house within the next couple of months. The first, and the one with the most potential for impact, is SB1198, and it’s aimed at helping youth who commit crimes move on from their old ways.

As it stands, many youth who commit crimes can be tried and punished as adults, with sentences that can carry them well into their actual adulthood before dumping them back into society. In other cases for more minor offenses, crimes committed as youths might not carry heavy jail sentences, or any at all, but they do get placed on an individual’s permanent criminal record. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice is a California non-profit that is backing the bill, with representatives urging the state legislature to recognize the increased ability of youth to reform. Because youth are still developing and learning when they commit juvenile offenses, it is argued that the quicker they can get out of the mindset of “being a criminal” the quicker they can stop behaving like one and develop into productive, normally functioning members of society.

So what does the bill do? The bill itself would allow for offenses committed as a youth to be automatically sealed once the subject had completed probation. Sealed records cannot be accessed or seen by background check services, meaning that potential employers wouldn’t be notified of an applicant’s criminal record, and therefore wouldn’t hold it against them; currently, many job applications and CV’s are tossed out as soon as an employer sees that a criminal record is in the equation, regardless of what the offense was for.

Opponents to the bill are few and far between, but some argue that employers have the right to know about past offenses when considering who they hire. To help ease these fears, about 30 serious offenses, including murder, sexual assault, rape, and armed assaults are excluded from the bill, meaning that these items would not have their sentences mitigated nor any surrounding records sealed.

The crimes left, then, are largely misdemeanors and don’t have a long lasting or far reaching impact after the fact. For these reasons, young perpetrators of such crimes aren’t seen as an ongoing threat to society, especially if they’ve served their sentence. Repaying a debt is one thing, being unable to find employment at 30 because you stole a candy bar at 15 is another beast altogether.

The second bill the Governor hopes to get passed is more specific, but has the same intent of keeping at risk youth out of a dangerous spiral. The bill is faced at truancy, and would seek to remove the penalty of jail time from youth who violate a court order telling them to attend school. The bill argues that causing a child to miss more school and fall further behind in work is counterproductive, and other disciplinary measures can be applied instead.

While a few senators have expressed concern or stated that they will vote against the two bills, support on both sides of the aisle is overwhelming, and they are expected to pass without much trouble.