The New Scarlet Letter: Juvenile Criminal Records

Posted: September 13, 2011 in criminal record expungement, economic impact of records

I woke up this morning with a plan for how my day would go. Then as is often the case, my plans had to change. Let me tell you a story.

Early this morning, I got a call from a young woman who I have known since she was a freshman in high school. She was a member of a youth-led social change project that I co-founded with a group of young women of color. She has been an anti-violence activist and is a budding anti-prison organizer. The young woman who I will call Mariah just turned 21 in June. In that same month, she graduated as a registered nurse from a local community college. We were all so excited and are so proud of her accomplishment. This summer, Mariah successfully passed her nursing boards. She then officially applied for her nursing license. She needs a license in order to practice as a nurse in Illinois. This morning, she received this letter from the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation:

The key sections of the letter read:
AT THIS TIME YOU ARE PROHIBITED FROM PRACTICING.

Why you might ask?

Your FBI fingerprint results indicate that you were arrested 5/10/2004 in Chicago, IL and charged with BATTERY/BODILY HARM.

Mariah’s so-called arrest occurred when she was in the 8th grade. She and a friend got into a physical fight at school. The police were called and both young women were taken to the local precinct. They stayed there for less than an hour until their parents could pick them up. They were promptly released. Mariah had forgotten about this incident until she received the letter from the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation today. The case never went to juvenile court and Mariah didn’t even know that she had been actually arrested. Mariah’s situation is by no means unique. Thousands of young people in Chicago face a similar circumstance.

As a way to document the difficult, costly, and tedious process of expunging Mariah’s juvenile criminal record, I will be posting regular updates on this blog. Tomorrow, her journey to expunge her juvenile criminal records begins with a trip to 3510 S. Michigan Avenue to get a copy of her juvenile RAP sheet. I will be accompanying her and will report back on how it went.

When I write about the school to prison pipeline and other such issues, I worry that people think that it is just an abstraction. It isn’t. Real young people are being caught up in this process. Real young people’s lives are being impacted by juvenile criminal records that they don’t even know they have. This is not an abstraction.

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