72 Am. U. L. Rev. 587 (2022).
Although expungement is often defined as the destruction of an individual’s record, expungement statutes vary tremendously in the extent to which they lead to records being destroyed. In some states, juvenile expungement statutes have impacted the accuracy of data on arrest rates: when the record is destroyed, the state loses access to the statistical information contained in it. Juvenile expungement laws play a critical role in rehabilitation, but completely forgetting the information contained in a record can also obscure history of criminalizing children and teens and can make it difficult to document inequities accurately.
This Article examines how to protect the benefits for youth of destroying records, while still ensuring that researchers, advocates, and decision-makers have access to accurate data. Through an original fifty-state analysis of how juvenile expungement laws handle preservation of information for research purposes and a state case study that quantifies the impact of expungement on data, this Article analyzes the impact that different state approaches to expungement have on data and research. While a handful of states include statutory exemptions for research, these carve outs vary substantially in approach. This Article represents the first time these exemptions have been systemically studied.
A juvenile record ultimately reflects information both about an individual child and about government activity. While there is often an important interest in forgetting a specific individual’s connection to a record, that interest does not extend to forgetting the statistical information about government activity contained in it, provided that the individual’s identity can be adequately obscured. To that end, the Article examines ways to balance competing interests in rehabilitation and in data and provides a framework for how states can meaningfully destroy the connection between a specific individual and a record, while continuing to preserve juvenile justice data for research and advocacy.
* Visiting Assistant Professor, Chicago-Kent College of Law. I am tremendously grateful for feedback from the NYU Clinical Writers Workshop, the Chicagoland Junior Scholars Conference, the New England Clinical Conference, the Maryland Junior Faculty Workshop, the Child Law & Rights Writers’ Workshop, and a faculty workshop at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, as well as for the support of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law Summer Research Grant Program. This Article benefitted tremendously from suggestions from Anita Weinberg, Marci Rozen, Lisa Jacobs, Jenny Roberts, Andrew Davies, and Alexi Pfeffer-Gillett. Kaitlin Barnes, Lilia Valdez, and Eugenie Simonet-Keller provided fantastic research support.