In early May, California's Contra Costa County removed a $150 application fee adults were required to pay before they could petition to seal their juvenile records. Youth and juvenile justice re-entry advocates fought for the change, which was approved by Contra Costa County's Probation Department, and both praised the change as an important step in allowing young people who'd been through the juvenile justice system to more fully move on with their lives.
"With the court's consideration and final approval, we want to provide the most meaningful opportunity for our youth to focus forward and not be encumbered by a prior juvenile record," Contra Costa County Chief of Probation Phillip Kader said in a statement.
The change comes as the California state legislature is considering a move to do away with record-sealing application fees across the state. The fee, say youth advocates, became a primary obstacle to young people's ability to move on with their lives. Some states automatically seal juvenile records, but California requires that adults apply for record-sealing. And while a juvenile adjudication is not a technically a criminal conviction, potential employers, landlords, and schools often think of it as one. And for the disproportionately low-income and youth of color put through the juvenile justice system, that $150 fee is prohibitively expensive.
"When a lot of people have a choice of whether to buy their little brother formula and diapers or maybe get their record cleaned up, many people aren't going to spend that $150," said Stephanie Medley, the Youth Justice Director at the RYSE Youth Center in Richmond.
Contra Costa County had already been making slow shifts toward doing away with this fee. In November of last year, the county Probation Department made fee waivers available to adults who were unable to pay the $150 fee. As of right now, that application fee no longer exists.
In the past, an adult with a juvenile record would have to pay a $150 fee to petition for a court hearing, during which a judge would determine whether a person had rehabilitated themselves. Still, there was no guarantee. Some young people would pay the $150 fee and still have their request to seal their juvenile records denied.
Medley praised the change as an important way "we can create a brighter path for young people and make things accessible so they can have a fresh start." The juvenile record-sealing application fee is, however, just one of many fees that are levied against youth and their families when they get put through the juvenile justice system.