Miami-Dade County

Florida failing to keep juvenile crime records confidential

Miami-Dade County Teen Court was developed an alternative to the juvenile justice system. First-time juvenile misdemeanor offenders who have admitted guilt to a charge undergo a sentencing hearing conducted by youth volunteers serving as attorneys, bailiffs, clerks and jurors, as well as a practicing judge or attorney who volunteer their time to preside over the proceedings.
Miami-Dade County Teen Court was developed an alternative to the juvenile justice system. First-time juvenile misdemeanor offenders who have admitted guilt to a charge undergo a sentencing hearing conducted by youth volunteers serving as attorneys, bailiffs, clerks and jurors, as well as a practicing judge or attorney who volunteer their time to preside over the proceedings. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The state of Florida is doing a poor job of keeping juvenile criminal records confidential, and preventing childhood misbehavior from becoming a lifelong stigma, according to a report from the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center.

Florida received three out of five stars in overall ranking on the national scorecard, putting it on par with most of the country. But the state did worse when it came to loopholes that allow juvenile records to become public. And while records are supposed to be automatically erased when young offenders become adults, Florida typically takes years to comply, the report said.

“Kids have the right to grow up and not have something they did as a child follow them the rest of their lives,” said Riya Shah, one of the report’s authors and an attorney at the center.

Shah said the report marks the first time anyone has looked at policies and laws nationwide to see whether juvenile records remain confidential. Keeping records from public view matters, she explained, because they can impede future success and become a barrier to education and jobs.

Nationwide, about 95 percent of crimes committed by kids are non-violent. But records can contain sensitive information about family histories, mental health and substance abuse. Florida, the report found, grants too many exceptions allowing law enforcement and court records to become public.

However, the state does a very good job of punishing people who reveal confidential records. The state’s policy on what records can be sealed also scored well. But its execution of those policies was only average. The state failed completely when it came to warning juveniles of the long-term risks of having a record or informing them that records can be purged when they reach adulthood.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, access to criminal records became easier, Shah explained. Computer use also exploded. Combined, the two trends quickly eroded protections spelled out in laws and policies.

“It’s affecting more and more people and unfortunately people don’t acknowledge the difference between juvenile delinquency and adult crimes,” she said.

The center hopes that the report will be used by lawmakers and child advocates to strengthen laws and eliminate polices that let records leak into the public domain.

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