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Pennsylvania looks to expunge criminal record of minors to ‘get their lives back on track’

The entrance to Pennsylvania's State Correctional Institute.

(The Center Square) – The Pennsylvania General Assembly has passed criminal justice reforms meant to make it easier for people to reenter society after serving time in prison. Now, lawmakers are considering similar reforms for juvenile offenders.

As The Center Square previously reported, Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act passed in 2018 and has helped more than 1.2 million people seal their criminal records tied to misdemeanors. Lawmakers are currently considering extending it to low-level felonies for people who are believed highly unlikely to reoffend, and the original reform may go national as well.

Since then, the General Assembly has also focused on juvenile justice. A Juvenile Justice Task Force was established in 2019 and released some recommendations in 2021 to improve the current system.

“Research shows most youth are not on a path toward adult crime and over-involvement in the system can increase their likelihood of reoffending,” the report noted. “Yet most youth in the juvenile justice system have little or no prior history of delinquency, have not committed a felony or a (personal) offense, and do not score as high risk to reoffend.”

The report noted that juvenile justice came at a high cost to taxpayers and the current system did not use diversionary programs as much as it could, among other findings.

From those recommendations, a handful of bills have appeared. One, Senate Bill 1226, looks to standardize the expungement process for minors.

“When someone who was involved in the juvenile justice system turns 21, their records do not automatically disappear,” Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Dallas, wrote in a legislative memo. “This is true for individuals who complete their supervision and for those whose cases are dismissed or withdrawn. Most cases are not expunged. For example, three-quarters of the dismissed or withdrawn cases remain accessible. This poses a considerable barrier for juveniles seeking to get their lives back on track. With background checks so prevalent today, juvenile records can negatively affect employment, education, housing, credit and identification down the road.”

SB1226 would allow records to be expunged after two years for a minor for misdemeanor charges if they had not been convicted of another crime or were not facing a charge for another crime. If a minor had been convicted of a felony, five years must pass without another criminal conviction for their record to be expunged.

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