What is the Impact of Having a Juvenile Record?

While most people assume that a juvenile record simply disappears at the age of 18, in many areas of the country it can still be accessed in many cases. California is one of the states that is working towards trying to help improve the confidentiality of juvenile records into adulthood. Chambers Law Firm says, “an amendment to the Welfare and Institutions Code allows juvenile records to be sealed automatically after a juvenile case is dismissed. A case will be dismissed when the terms of probation or an informal period of probation have been completed successfully.” California’s law ensures that five years after the infraction or once the offender turns 18, those records will no longer be public. That period before automatic expungement, however, can still have a significant impact on adulthood.

Typically if a young person obtains a juvenile record, they are more likely to enter the systemic cycle of re-offending as an adult. Criminal records can be extremely consequential when one is trying to get back on track. National Juvenile Defender Center reports that about 94% of employers conduct some form of background check on applicants and 90% of landlords run checks on potential tenants. Not having the ability to access sufficient housing or a well-paying job can make it once again more likely for someone to re-offend due to financial instability. But even if a young person doesn’t re-offend after an initial incident, it can still have an impact on future prospects.

Students who are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are statistically more likely to be arrested but also more in need of extra income. Many high schoolers seek jobs to contribute extra money to their household, and before the age of 18 these records are available to employers. Applying to colleges can also present difficulties due to a juvenile record. The Common Application that is used by over 900 colleges around the world has the option to ask students whether or not they have previously been convicted of a crime. The Juvenile Law Center reports, “Two-thirds of colleges and universities collect criminal justice information during the admissions process. Of those, about 20% of colleges have denied admission based on the young person’s record and the wrongful assumption that rejecting youth with records will make campuses safer.” Despite the fact that one’s juvenile record would most likely be expunged by the time that individual was enrolled, it still is treated as something to be punished for. For this reason, many teens with a juvenile record are discouraged from applying in the first place.

Automatic expungement is a good start to disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline but it is nowhere near the solution. Juvenile records for people not even convicted are not automatically expunged until 18 unless you petition in California. And the presence of a juvenile record even if expunged at 18 can but young adults at a disadvantage after high school, leading to lifelong impacts.


“The Box That Stops Some College Applicants in Their Tracks.” Juvenile Law Center, https://jlc.org/news/box-stops-some-college-applicants-their-tracks.

Esq., Diana Aizman. “How to Seal Your Juvenile Record in California.” Aizman Law Firm, 22 Oct. 2021, https://aizmanlaw.com/five-things-know-sealing-juvenile-record/#:~:text=Unlike%20expungement%20of%20your%20adult,Code%20Section%20707(b).

Expunging Juvenile Records: Misconceptions, Collateral ... https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/publications/expunging-juvenile-records.pdf.

Frazzini, Anne Teigen; Kevin. “The Sometimes Lifelong Consequences of a Juvenile Record.” When a Mistake Can Haunt for a Lifetime: The Consequences of a Juvenile Record, https://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/when-a-mistake-can-haunt-for-a-lifetime-the-consequences-of-a-juvenile-record-magazine2021.aspx.

Nolo. “Will Immigration Officials Consider Your Juvenile Criminal Records?” Www.alllaw.com, Nolo, 4 Dec. 2021, https://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/us-immigration/consider-your-juvenile-criminal-records.html.


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