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USM’s Muskie School releases ‘Unsealed Fate,’ first in-depth report on Maine’s Juvenile Records System

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USM's Muskie School of Public Service has released findings of the first in-depth analysis of Maine's juvenile records system.

The new report, titled "Unsealed Fate: The Unintended Consequences of Inadequate Safeguarding of Juvenile Records in Maine," details a records system that is inconsistent, misunderstood and often unintentionally punishes individuals long after their time in the system has ended.

The report's authors conducted focus groups, interviews and surveys of youth and adults with juvenile records, family members, juvenile justice practitioners, and key stakeholders. They found that individuals with juvenile records face barriers in applying for jobs and professional licenses, enrolling in the military, accessing housing and securing other financial supports. In addition, the report finds that juvenile records often lead to harsher adult sentencing and that individuals with records experience marginalization and stigmatization.

The report, executive summary, and related graphics are available here.

"Across the county, research into the impact of juvenile records on individuals' attempts to move beyond their involvement with the justice system has demonstrated a range of long-term consequences, from difficulty in securing housing or employment to enlisting in the military. Maine is no different," said Susy Hawes, lead author of the report. "As this report documents, individuals in Maine who have juvenile justice system involvement face similar collateral consequences, or invisible punishments, due solely to the existence of a juvenile record."

In addition, interviews demonstrated widespread confusion and misinformation about the law and policy around the handling of juvenile records among juvenile justice system professionals, youth and their families. And, this misunderstanding and lack of clarity across the system often exacerbates the risk that a young person's record will continue to cause harm well after they have moved on from the justice system. Specifically, the interviews and research for this report found:

• Widespread lack of understanding of the procedures intended to safeguard juvenile records and the sealing process, including confusion around the meaning of the term "sealed."
• Inconsistencies around juvenile record creation and sharing.
• A record sealing process that many believe does not sufficiently meet the rehabilitative goals of Maine's Juvenile Code or reflect research on adolescent development.
• Many young people accept pleas without understanding the implications of having a record and its subsequent consequences.
• The quality of representation contributes to how well records are safeguarded.

"Maine's juvenile justice system is focused on helping youth learn from their mistakes and get their lives back on track," said Barry Stoodley, Chair of the Maine Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, one of the sponsors of the report. "They can't effectively do that if their record continues to be a barrier. This study will help guide the juvenile justice system to mitigate these unintended and persistent impediments so they are able to succeed and thrive. Youth often cannot understand nor effectively manage what they may be facing and we have an obligation to help improve this situation in ways identified in this important report."

In response to concerns raised, the report also found strong support for reforming juvenile records law and policy around how juvenile records are handled, accessed, and protected. Clearer processes and practices are needed to better safeguard juvenile records and reduce the collateral consequences associated with juvenile justice system-involvement. The following suggestions were most consistently cited for consideration in efforts to improve and reform systems, procedures, and practice around juvenile records:

• Increase stakeholder training and education
• Revise, or develop, and formalize system and personnel guidance
• Raise public awareness around juvenile records and collateral consequences
• Make changes in law and administrative practice
• Ensure youth and family access to information

The report was made possible through the generous support of the John T. Gorman Foundation, the Abrons Foundation, and the Maine Juvenile Justice Advisory Group.

Read the Portland Press Herald story by reporter Matt Byrne here.

Read the Bangor Daily News story by reporter Jake Bleiberg here.

See the WMTW-TV story here.

Read the Portland Press Herald editorial here.