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Photo by Brian Turner 2009 | flickr creative commons

Even for adults who are on track for successful reentry, a juvenile adjudication can still create many barriers to success. Though sealing a juvenile record can help alleviate obstacles to reentry, many people do not use this process because navigating through the system can be difficult. Still, sealing a juvenile record is one remedy that could provide valuable relief to those negatively affected by a juvenile record’s existence.

Beyond the negative social stigma that emerges from being a formerly incarcerated person, there are a number of ways having a juvenile record may limit a person’s access to critical services. For example, an unsealed juvenile record may reveal itself in a background check that is required for employment, DMV insurance quotes, financial loans, and public housing. For reasons like this, sealing juvenile records is a good first step in combating the perpetual trends of limiting opportunities for formerly incarcerated people.

The benefits of sealing juvenile records speak for itself – once sealed, the adjudication is deemed never to have occurred. Sealing juvenile records means just that – literally sealing off all records held by the court which legally treats the sealed offense as if it never took place. Should anyone ask the court, police department, probation department, or the district attorney about a juvenile adjudication or sealed record, they are legally required to respond by saying they have no record of the matter.

Research indicates that the process to get juvenile records sealed can be a complex, confusing, and expensive process, especially for low-income communities that have limited resources. Here are just a few examples of how the process can be a cumbersome one:

County variation – In California, the process to seal juvenile records varies by county. To apply, you must file a petition with the juvenile court in the county where the case was conducted.

Application complexity – Applications are extensive and filled with legal jargon, so completing them correctly may be challenging. Additionally, knowing where to request and submit a sealing application form can be difficult information to acquire. Time frame – Patience is required, as the process can take up to 9 months (assuming all paperwork is filed correctly). If a time sensitive matter, any delay can cause a ripple effect and limit access to necessary services. Cost – It can cost up to $150 to apply to seal juvenile records in some counties.

Navigating through this process can be especially challenging for low income communities. Often times, low-income communities have limited access to technological and legal resources, which makes the sealing process even more intimidating and seemingly out-of-reach. Despite the aforementioned obstacles, it is encouraged that individuals consider applying to seal existing juvenile records, as it has the potential to present opportunities that, in the long run, can lead to successful reentry into society.