States can take steps to make all juvenile arrest and court records and associated information presumptively confidential, with limited exceptions for clearly designated public safety purposes.
Information about juvenile court and law enforcement records that were open to public inspection at any point is often available from the countless commercial background check providers who obtain records en masse. These providers make records accessible at the click of a button, often with little meaningful regulation or oversight. As a result, information about juvenile records can remain accessible to employers, licensing entities, education providers, and others long after a state has restricted access to its own official versions (e.g., sealing and expungement).
1. Presumptive confidentiality
Make all juvenile law enforcement and court records presumptively confidential from their inception.
Sample legislative language
All court, law enforcement, and associated records related to proceedings before [the juvenile court] shall remain confidential at all times, and no information contained therein shall be directly or indirectly disseminated to the public or any other entity except as expressly authorized by law.5Some states may find that offense-based exceptions are appropriate for serious offenses that raise significant public safety concerns. Where offense-based exceptions apply, they should be limited to narrowly defined offense categories. (See, e.g., the Iowa example in the following recommendation, which limits confidentiality only for specifically defined “forcible felony” offenses.) It is important that states that limit confidentiality provide pathways for sealing or expungement of non-confidential records so that relief remains available on an individualized basis for people who do not pose significant public safety concerns. (See “Record Clearance.”)
State policy example
Rhode Island: R.I. Gen. Laws § 14-1-64 (blanket confidentiality)
(a) All police records relating to the arrest, detention, apprehension, and disposition of any juveniles shall be kept in files separate and apart from the arrest records of adults and shall be withheld from public inspection, but the police report relating to the arrest or detention of a juvenile shall be open to inspection and copying upon request and upon payment of copying costs in accordance with § 38-2-4 by the parent, guardian, or attorney of the juvenile involved. After disposition of an offense and upon execution of an appropriate release and upon payment of copying costs in accordance with § 38-2-4 by the parent, guardian or attorney of the juvenile involved, records relating to the arrest, detention, apprehension, and disposition of the juveniles shall be open to inspection and copying by the parent, guardian, or attorney of the juvenile involved.
(b) Notwithstanding subsection (a) of this section, the identity of any juvenile waived [to adult criminal court] pursuant to § 14-1-7.1 or certified and convicted pursuant to § 14-1-7.2 shall be made public.
2. Limit exceptions
Ensure that any exceptions to confidentiality apply only to specific entities for narrowly defined essential purposes (e.g., those related to law enforcement, the administration of justice, and the provision of youth services) that will not adversely impact the subject of the record in the pursuit of employment or education. States that make any blanket offense-based exceptions to confidentiality should take care that those limitations apply only to narrowly defined subsets of serious offenses.
Sample legislative language
Inspection of court, law enforcement, and all associated records of proceedings before [the juvenile court] shall be permitted only by the entities listed in [relevant subsections], and only for the limited purposes described therein.6 Willful violation of this subsection is punishable as provided in [relevant subsection].Excepted purposes allowable by law should be limited to those that relate to official court and law enforcement duties and the provision of services to juveniles and their families.
State policy example
Iowa: Iowa Code § 232.147 (exceptions based on offense type and usage)
3. Official juvenile court records in all cases alleging the commission of a delinquent act except those alleging the commission of a delinquent act that would be a forcible felony if committed by an adult shall be confidential and are not public records. Unless an order sealing such confidential records in a delinquency proceeding has been entered pursuant to section 232.150, confidential records may be inspected and their contents shall be disclosed to the following without court order, provided that a person or entity who inspects or receives a confidential record under this subsection shall not disclose the confidential record or its contents unless required by law:
a. The judge and professional court staff, including juvenile court officers.
b. The child and the child’s counsel.
c. The child’s parent, guardian or custodian, court-appointed special advocate, guardian ad litem, and the members of the child advocacy board created in section 237.16 or a local citizen foster care review board created in accordance with section 237.19 who are assigning or reviewing the child’s case.
d. The county attorney, the county attorney’s assistants, or the attorney representing the state in absence of the county attorney.
e. An agency, individual, association, facility, or institution responsible for the care, treatment, or supervision of the child pursuant to a court order or voluntary placement agreement with the department of human services, juvenile court officer, or intake officer.
f. A court, court professional staff, and adult probation officers in connection with the preparation of a presentence report concerning a person who prior thereto had been the subject of a juvenile court delinquency proceeding.
g. The state public defender.
h. The department of human services.
i. The department of corrections.
j. A judicial district department of correctional services.
k. The board of parole.
l. The superintendent or the superintendent’s designee of the school district for the school attended by the child or the authorities in charge of an accredited nonpublic school attended by the child.
m. A member of the armed forces of the United States who is conducting a background investigation of an individual pursuant to federal law.
n. The statistical analysis center for the purposes stated in section 216A.136.
o. A state or local law enforcement agency.
p. The alleged victim of the delinquent act.
q. An individual involved in the operation of a juvenile diversion program, who may also receive from a state or local law enforcement agency police reports and related information that assist in the operation of the juvenile diversion program.