Expunging juvenile records

The MassCJRC Journal

A who’s who crowd of criminal justice leaders gathered at the Seaport Hotel on Monday for the annual fundraising breakfast for the Chelsea-based nonprofit Roca, which works to steer high-risk young people toward positive pursuits. Addressing the audience, Gov. Charlie Baker reflected on recent efforts to increase prison education-a practice that has long been understood to cost-effectively reduce recidivism and prevent crime and victimization-by posing an excellent question. “Why the [humorous pause] did it take so long for us to get around to creating this?” he asked. The governor went on to express optimism about other efforts underway to further improve our criminal justice system, recognizing that there are many other equally straightforward and beneficial changes that we can make.


Governor Baker speaking at annual fundraising breakfast for Roca

Providing young people with a legitimate second chance by removing the scarlet letter of a criminal record is perhaps foremost among the low-hanging fruit.  A growing body of evidence suggests that criminal records for youth do more harm than good. At the crossroads when young people seek to gain independence and develop a positive adult identity, the weight of a criminal record makes it difficult to continue education, find work, and form healthy relationships. A teen must disclose even a minor juvenile record on the Common Application for college, and a record can also bar a young person from living with their family in public housing.

Many states seek to lower the collateral consequences of youthful offending by expunging juvenile criminal records. According to a recent study from Michigan State University, individuals convicted as a juvenile are 13 percentage points more likely to remain arrest-free after age 20 and nearly 7 percentage points more likely to graduate from college when they live in one of 14 states were expungement is automatic.

Massachusetts is light-years behind the many states where expungement is allowable by petition, to say nothing of those with automatic expungement of juvenile records. Even youth falsely accused of crimes or arrested and never charged with a crime can never expunge a record in the Commonwealth. Juvenile convictions for misdemeanors like disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace follow many for life, disqualifying them from various forms of public service or from becoming a foster or adoptive parent. For these reasons, the Juvenile Law Center awarded Massachusetts just two out of five possible stars on the confidentiality of juvenile criminal records in a 2014 report.

This dismal rating led legislators, including Senator Karen Spilka and Representatives Kay Khan,Claire Cronin, Gloria Fox, and Carolyn Dykema, to file multiple expungement bills this session. These bills are supported by advocacy groups like Citizens for Juvenile Justice and Teens Leading The Way and community organizations, and have gained more than 50 cosponsors. The Judiciary Committee-led by House chairman John Fernandes and Senate chairman William Brownsberger-extended these bills to June, which means they still have the opportunity to put out an expungement bill this session that meaningfully contributes to criminal justice reform.

When the Judiciary Committee considers key provisions of this legislation, it is important they include automatic expungement instead of expungement that requires a petition, as the research noted above finds that states that require a petition see virtually no reductions in recidivism or gains in education or employment.

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Watch Combating A Crisis, MassINC’s latest video

This video follows the creation of the Essex County 28-day detox unit. The unit is filling a large treatment void in the community.  In the first 90 days, 132 people have been admitted to the facility. The vast majority successfully completed the 28 days and went on to residential treatment or intensive outpatient programs.  


The US Department of Education recommends that colleges and universities join the “Beyond the Box” initiative and cease to ask about criminal records on applications for admission.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development says blanket bans by private landlords on renting to people with criminal records are in violation of the Fair Housing Act. 


Governor Baker and other state officials visit the School of Re-entry, a program run by the Massachusetts Department of Correction at the Boston Pre-Release Center.

Other States

Vermont passes H. 571, which reforms penalties for driving with a suspended license and allows Vermonters who are unable to old tickets to wipe the slate clean.

Iowa legislators pass criminal justice legislation that reforms sentencing for some non-violent offenses and establish a mandatory-minimum sentence for individuals convicted of child endangerment resulting in death.

The California Senate passes legislation that removes mandatory-minimum jail sentences for repeat prostitution offenses.

From the Researchers

The Prison Policy Initiative puts out new data connecting the rise in jail populations to growing poverty and inability to make cash bail.

ICF International issues a report on the Department of Labor’s employment-focused reentry programs run by community-based organizations.

The Robina Institute releases By the Numbers: Parole Release and Revocation Across 50 States.

In the Media

White House Bureau Chief Juliet Eilperin details the uphill battle towards bipartisan criminal justice reform in Congress.

Bruce Western writes for The New Yorker on “The Rehabilitation Paradox” – citing individuals from Massachusetts.

Northern Light Production’s documentary Beyond the Wall makes its premier at the Boston Independent Film Festival.

The Marshall Project outlines 13 things we should know about the criminal justice system and don’t.

 Read the latest from our Justice Reinvestment Policy Brief Series:


Harnessing the Power of Data for Justice Reinvestment in Massachusetts2

Solutions to better treat and manage substance abuse are paramount to an effective Justice Reinvestment strategy. Too many residents suffering from substance use disorder continue to enter the criminal justice system, which struggles to help these individuals recover from a life-threatening disease. For many offenders, un- or undertreated substance abuse aggravates anti-social behavior and lengthens criminal careers. The resulting cycle of recidivism creates significant costs for communities and places a significant strain on public resources. Learn More

1Mounting an Evidence-Based Criminal Justice Response to Substance Abuse and Drug Offending in Massachusetts.

Data are increasingly the lifeblood of an effective criminal justice system. Modern technology allows agencies to collect and exchange high-quality, actionable information. These data help frontline workers make informed decisions that reduce risk. And they provide managers and policymakers with vital information for the optimal allocation of resources. Learn More

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