“Some of the best workers are those with lived experience, so nobody should ever be taken out of an equation because of a past record.”- Dawn Trimarco, Project Manager for HIRED and Disrupting with Purpose panelist.
As part of its Disrupting with Purpose Series, Youthprise convened subject matter experts – both practitioners and individuals with lived experience – for its Clean Slate or Scarlet Letter? Removing Barriers to Success through Expungement learning session. Facilitated by Lissa Jones-Lofgren host of KMOJ’s “Urban Agenda,” the webinar served as a virtual platform to discuss an issue fraught with complexity: expungement of juvenile justice records.
As presenters delved into the impact of Extended Juvenile Jurisdiction (EJJ) and the collateral consequences of failing to receive expungement, several themes emerged.
1. There is a need for education around expungement versus sealing a record, as well as dispelling the myth that records disappear once systems-involved youth reach a certain age or post-probation standing. The sealing of records is not equivalent to expungement. A sealed record can still show up on criminal background checks, potentially impacting employment, including licensing for certain professions. It can also present a barrier to housing, particularly if sponsored by the government; post-secondary education; immigration; and military opportunities.
2. The process of seeking expungement is arduous and requires advocacy to navigate a cumbersome system. Panelist Emmanuel Williams from the Legal Rights Center explained, “Expungement is just hard,” emotionally, mentally, and potentially financially in the absence of a waiver to pay for this process.
3. Expungement should be an automated process once the youth has completed the probationary period, one that does not put the onus on young people who are likely ill-equipped to advocate for themselves.
4. The failure to expunge juvenile justice records is a matter of inequity. Panelist Andrew Keats, Staff Attorney for the Juvenile Law Center, remarked that the juvenile justice records quagmire “creates a legal mechanism to discriminate against largely black and brown young people…and former system-involved folks.” He further acknowledged that as a white male, he “got to make mistakes in a consequence-free environment” because as a white man, his community, family, and schools were not being policed in the ways that they are for people of color.
A Closer Look
Lewiee Blaze from N4 Collective; Shahidi, a Local Musician and Tech Engineer; and Sade, a Health Care Professional, enriched the Disrupting with Purpose webinar by sharing their lived experience with expungement. Sade spoke of her experience being told that her record would go away once she turned 21 if she did not get into any more trouble. She worked as a phlebotomist for more than 13 years before a job search-related background check revealed that she still had a record. Her lawyer explained to her that she would not be able to work with vulnerable populations due to the nature of her juvenile offense. She worked with an organization on expungement but questions whether her record was actually expunged or sealed again. As far as employment, Sade said, “I had to start over” as a result of not being able to return to the profession she chose long ago. She is currently unemployed.
Panelists Emmanuel Williams, Andrew Keats, Marissa Klein (Hennepin County and Hired), and Dawn Trimarco (Hired) called for the passing of legislation, such as the Clean Slate Act, as well as other laws relevant to confidentiality and expungement measures to protect information from juvenile justice records. Andrew Keats spoke of the Juvenile Law Center’s National Scorecard on Juvenile Records Policies, which is based on a comprehensive assessment of state juvenile record confidentiality and expungement laws as compared to best practices for record protection. Keats noted that there was little change in the scorecards between the inaugural publishing in 2014 and the update in 2020. Notably, Minnesota is among the lowest-ranking states for both confidentiality of records and expungement laws.
A Call to Action
Consistency in forging ahead was also a rallying cry for all panelists. Marissa Klein stressed the importance of remaining a consistent presence for youth facing expungement concerns and advocated for the use of a transitional worker to help them along. Panelist Dawn Trimarco encouraged a coaching approach to helping young people pursuing employment when dealing with expungement. She advised that youth always be prepared for the possibility that a question about their record may arise at the interview or job offer stage of recruiting. She has observed that employers will often give a chance to those who come from a posture of taking responsibility, so preparation is key. She further remarked, “Some of the best workers are those with lived experience, so nobody should ever be taken out of an equation because of a past record.”
As Emmanuel Williams remarked, “This is our time” to move the needle on the Clean Slate Act and other legislation that can impact the lives of thousands of youth. It is our time to turn the tide on a system of oppression that disproportionately impacts youth of color. It is our time to demand a systemic change in EJJ so that all youth have equal opportunity.