This post originally appeared as a story on Public News Service on March 17, 2016. Read it online here

jail cell

Greg Stotelmyer

Giving Kentucky youth who have committed a nonviolent offense a clean slate when they turn 18 is the idea behind a new bill in the Kentucky Senate.

Young people who committed violent or sex crimes would not be eligible. But Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, says clearing or sealing an 18-year-old’s juvenile nonviolent records would give them a fresh start.

“The impact that a juvenile offense has on a college application, entering the military, getting a job, is pretty profound,” says Brooks.

For an 18 year old, the legislation would automatically expunge records of nonviolent offenses committed before age 15, if the young person didn’t get into trouble again. And it would seal records of nonviolent offenses that happened at ages 15 through 17.

Brooks says the current system in Kentucky for getting juvenile records wiped away is inequitable.

“Youth expungement happens a lot already if you have money and can afford fees, or if you have money and you have a really a good attorney,” says Brooks.

Amanda Mullins Bear is managing attorney at the Children’s Law Center, which helps youth transition into adulthood. She says making expungement more readily available is consistent with the juvenile courts’ goal of rehabilitation.

“As we’ve learned more about developmental differences between kids and adults, and adolescent brain development, there’s been a growing interest in providing greater protections to kids,” says Mullins Bear.

Brooks says the biggest challenge for the legislation will be answering public safety concerns raised by some lawmakers.

“We’re not talking about a juvenile who’s raped a peer,” he says. “We’re not talking about being ‘soft on crime,’ we’re talking about being smart about crime.”

The proposal would still give law enforcement access to sealed records for investigations, prosecutions and security clearances.

Greg Stotelmyer, Public News Service – KY

SB 294 recently passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is headed to the Senate floor for a vote. Take action on the bill by contacting your Senator.