Washington State Allows Third Parties To Brand Youthful Offenders For Life At The Low, Low Price Of Only 69? A Record

from the the-scarlet-letter-meets-columbia-house dept

Being charged with a crime as a juvenile isn’t supposed to haunt you for the rest of your life. In most cases, juvenile offenders can have their records sealed once they hit adulthood (18-21, depending on state law). There are some exceptions, varying from state to state — certain felonies and most sex offenses are not allowed to be sealed.

Unfortunately for juvenile offenders in the state of Washington, these criminal records can haunt them well into adulthood, thanks to the state’s willingness to trade kids’ futures for cash.

While it’s true that records can be sealed or expunged when someone turns 18, it’s often too late in Washington.

Companies have contractual agreements with the state to be able to gather felony records in a mass download. Those companies then make the information available on the Internet. Landlords, employers and educational institutions can do a simple search and find the information.

Offenses committed by juveniles are being given a chance to live on well past their supposed expiration date. In these states, a youthful offender now has a chance to be punished for his or her mistake for years to come. And this “opportunity” to become a lifelong offender has a bargain basement price tag.

“About 27,500 records a year are sold and we only make $19,000 as a state in revenue off of it, so we’re talking about 69 cents per name for a kid’s future,” [Barry Stober, executive assistant of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs] says.

It’s tough to turn your life around when employers running background checks are greeted with offenses that should have been sealed or expunged years ago. Stober relates the story of a teen arrested for joyriding who acquired his GED while spending two years in detention only to find himself turned down for financial aid and unable to get a job (despite earning a degree) thanks to being permanently marked a felon by background check companies.

Not only does this distribution hurt the former offenders, it hurts the state itself. As Scott Greenfield points out, treating juvenile records as sellable goods does long term damage to everyone involved.

When “checking out” a potential employee, tenant, student, the effort stops dead at the word “felon,” if not at the fact that the person has a criminal record at all. There are too many young people looking for jobs, apartments, seats in college to spend too much time with the bad seeds. Nobody is going to make the effort to investigate the underlying offense, the circumstances, the person behind the crime. If there’s a crime, there is another kid waiting behind him without a record.

This gives rise to a permanent underclass that will have constant problems getting an education, a job, a home, all for some dumb move made as a kid. Maybe even for something that should never have resulted in a conviction at all, but for lack of parental love and assistance, an assembly-line system and even judges looking to make their own buck off them. But once it’s sold to some vulture business, it follows them forever. All for about 69¢ per child.

Washington is stacking the deck against its own future. Recidivism is always going to be an issue, but short-sighted moves like this make this behavior almost inevitable. A young adult who can’t get a decent job or receive financial aid is going to look elsewhere for opportunity. If a life of crime seems to be the path of least resistance, the state has to take some of the blame for the outcome.

Stober’s trying to fix this law and has started a Change.org petition aimed at stopping the sale and distribution of juvenile records. At the very least, Washington should limit what purchasers can do with the data, like Kentucky has done, limiting use to “evaluation, research or statistical activities” and requiring the purchasing entity to sign an agreement stating the information won’t be abused. (Michigan can sell this data, although there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that it has. There’s currently nothing on the books prohibiting it from doing so. Juvenile arrest records are also available via a FOIA request.)

Better yet, Washington should just stop the selling of data altogether. It’s one thing to make records available publicly on adult offenders. It’s quite another to allow third parties to continue punishing former juvenile offenders for actions the state has effectively declared “never happened.”

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Comments on “Washington State Allows Third Parties To Brand Youthful Offenders For Life At The Low, Low Price Of Only 69? A Record”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Freedom of information

This article is disappointing.
First, if information is a matter of public record, no one has any right to stop others from communicating it.

If you commit a crime, you simply have no right to keeping the fact private.

Expunging the record does not create any expectation of privacy society has a duty to impose on third parties.

silverscarcat says:

Re: Freedom of information

Urgh… You’re an idiot.

You know that?

“If you commit a crime, you simply have no right to keeping the fact private.”

And it’s because of attitudes like that that we get such bad laws in the first place.

“A criminal is a criminal.”

You’re one of those people who would take someone who was arrested for something minor (perhaps possession of drugs or alcohol under the legal age) and hold it over their head for the rest of their lives, aren’t you? In fact, I can just see it now.

“Sorry, I can’t hire you, you once got caught drinking alcohol when you were 15. We need to have people who don’t break the law around here.”

“But that was ten years ago.”

“The law’s the law and you can’t change it. So, get out of here.”

That’s exactly what you are.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Freedom of information

To be fair, there is a difference between the state publishing the information and an employer using the information to never hire someone for some minor infraction of the law. I also recognize, however, that it’s much easier for the state to just not publish the information then it is to change the attitudes of every hiring manager.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Freedom of information

The problem is that everyone is a criminal.

Of course some are worst than others, but just about everyone has some contact with the law.

Juvenile records are expunged for a reason, its a chance to acknowledge your mistakes as a kid and start again. Granted few take advantage, but its the idea.

Do you really want every single criminal record, no matter how minor out in the open?

How would you feel if you got fired from your job because your boss found out you ran a red light once? Would you feel the same… I doubt it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Freedom of information

This is not about murder or something – then an adolescent would probably be tried as an adult anyways, so the criminal record sticks.
The whole point of having a juvenile record is so silly adolescent crimes don’t stick for the rest of one’s life.

Those public records should definitely have a clause prohibiting re-publishing I’d say

Anonymous Coward says:

So the only problem is that they govt profits from it?

In this day and age, you can be help accountable everything you say and do. The internet makes sure it stays there “forever”. Why would being a minor (criminal) change that fact? Hell, most of them even put their own stuff online to brag.

So it’s wrong because the govt profits from it?

silverscarcat says:

Re: Re:

sigh You have no idea about anything other than the little box around your head, do you?

“In this day and age, you can be help accountable everything you say and do. The internet makes sure it stays there “forever”. Why would being a minor (criminal) change that fact?”

Because, buskahosa, when you’re a child to a teenager, you do some pretty stupid things, due to the fact that you have no sense of mortality and your hormones rushing through your body.

Don’t tell me that you did nothing stupid or crazy as a kid, the only people who say that are liars. Even if it wasn’t illegal, you probably still did something stupid and/or crazy when you were growing up.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“and learn what it means to live in society.”

Punishment for eternity over something done during the years that one is scientifically proven to be an idiot? That’s not society, that’s barbaric.

You also have no problems over the public sale of a minor’s record without the consent of the guardian or minor? You are a barbarian.


Re: Re: Re:2 Consistent Predictable Rules (IOW Law & Order)

Never mind the science. How about the law? When you are a minor, you belong to an underclass. You have no rights. You are treated like you can’t fend for yourself. You are assumed to not be responsible for yourself.

Keeping your juvenille screwups secret is just being consistent how we treat children in general.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yes because anyone with half a brain will make sure to bring back that 20 year old thing you did to refuse you a job, even though you’re the most qualified. Eternity? Hardly. Which delusional world do you live in?

As I said, it’s only wrong because the government profits from it and it’s minors. You confirmed that point.

out_of_the_blue says:

Problem is CORPORATIONS collecting info they've NO right to.

Nope, NO corporation — not even Google — or even person has a right to accumulate gobs of info on strangers: it’s just that there’s no explicit law against it — as there should be — and that the public has no way to stop it — but it can be monetized by other corporations using that info to enforce the de facto corporatized police state. Of course here at Techdirt, only a small portion of the problem is highlighted.

As I’ve pointed out to someone here, your permanent record available to corporations may well include everything you post online, definitely so if easily connected to your (presumed) real name. — The wiser of us use a common phrase for screen name.

Perhaps people are beginning to see a down side to the information age.

It’s time to stop letting corporations such as Google just do whatever they wish in gathering and collating information — even before there’s “evidence of real harm” as Mike says when defending Google. We KNOW what future the corporations want.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Problem is CORPORATIONS collecting info they've NO right to.

You know, if you can keep your Mike-bashing out of the fray, you might actually have a point there.

Corporations and governments do have far too much access to data. I understand Google’s need to aggregate data, that is very much part of what they do. However, mindless mining of data, by anyone , especially personal data, and without a good reason is a recipe for trouble.

Google does scare me sometimes, actually all the time. Still I’d trust them over the government any day.

MindParadox (profile) says:

Do an experiment, go online, and check rules on things like apartment complexes, job listings, credit institutions.

You’d be amazed, but as a felon, you can’t live in most apartment complexes, some HOA’s have rules against felons in neighborhoods, and most trailer parks(at least here in Georgia) won’t allow you to live there if you have a record.

So that’s all the cheap places to live, let’s talk jobs.

You basically won’t get a job with a record in today’s economy, it was bad enough before states started offering a “Yes/No” response to “Does this person have a record” now, don’t even bother applying.

Some credit card companies will turn you down if you are a felon now.

So basically, for an example, say you do something stupid when you are a teenager. That one stupid thing follows you for the erst of your life, after serving your sentence, which supposedly pays your debt to society.

But it never ends. And people wonder why so many criminals turn back to crime after the first time getting caught?

Our society is a “One Strike and you’re out” society.

Think about the fact that for example, in many states, you can be arrested for “Felony Speeding” Some states will arrest you for battery or assault for hitting the guy who tried to mug you, or the guy who broke into your house. You can get charged with Animal Cruelty for hitting the dog that bit you to get him to let go(I have a friend who is a felon because of an attack like this, I testified that it was self-defense at his trial, cause he took the bite for me after the dog jumped its fence)

Many states have “Repeat Offender” laws, where things like trespassing(a misdemeanor) can be turned into felony by doing it more than twice in 5(ten in GA) years.

I have known people who committed crimes simply so they could have a place to stay in winter, because they are forced to become homeless after committing a crime as a teenager and being tried as an adult.

And think about this, if you break the law, you are a criminal. Drive Buzzed? Yep. Go one mile an hour over the speed limit? Yep. Cross the street outside of the crosswalk? Yep. Spit on the sidewalk? Yep. Throw your cigarette butt out the window/on the ground? Yep. Cuss in front of children? In many states, yes. Pull up onto an intersection and have your front tires over/on the line? Yep.

Things just about every single person does every day, and it makes them a criminal. After all, the definition of criminal is someone who breaks a law.


AzureSky (profile) says:

Re: Re:

what you dont get is, this is how the prison lobby want it, they push for more and more laws to create more and more criminals, because the more people who are branded criminal the more people they get paid to house.

the prison lobby wants every american (outside themselves ofcorse) to be branded felon, and be tossed in prison, then when they get out, they WANT people to have to fall back to being criminals because, after all, thats how they make their billions…..

seriously, hell that law in AZ to check peoples papers to make sure they are citizens…..prison lobby was behind that….

laws to try and ensure that minors cant ever get out from under anything they do, no matter how minor….

ask yourself this, why does this country have the largest % of its population in prison world wide?

I know people who fell back to breaking the law to afford to live due to this kinda crap, when you cant find a job and you find out its because something that was supposedly expunged is still there…..and that it always will be….and thus you cant get any meaningful work….

Monkey with Attitude (profile) says:

Why is this not one of our FOUNDATIONS in America?

So here is a basic question, it would seem one of the basic foundations of the legal/Justic system is broken, when a person committs a crime (lets use something middle of the road first) like bugeral a persons home, gets caught does the 2 years in jail, and 2 years parole, why is it not over and done?
Yes they did something wrong, but they paid for the crime and the same time, why should it keep coming back to bite them again and again when they try and do the right thing (Job, education, whatever). Sure there are somethings an employer should know (if your applying for a job at the pharmacy, they should know you had a problem with drugs, if your applying at a bank, that embezzlement racket should come up) but other than that THEY PAID for what they did, and now the slate should be clean.


Sure this is a happy/nice way to deal with it, but shouldnt we (and we do so love to hold this above everyones head in the world) the pinnicle of a Justice system make this ideal the another foundation and point we strive for, not to create more criminals or worst criminals or a underclass but to give people that make a mistake or bad judgement a chance to go out and succeed?

Would we need to restucture the laws and clean up the details – SURE but everything worth doing is never easy, nor should it be.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Why is this not one of our FOUNDATIONS in America?

yes, EXCELLENT point:
ex-cons are supposed to have ‘paid their debt to society’, and yet they are stigmatized for life in a manner which almost GUARANTEES they will return (or start) a life of crime, because that is the ONLY OPTION left to them…

not to mention violating the principle of ‘double jeopardy’ when they punished for life AFTER serving their time…

frankly, this is a result of the common tactic of taking a cohort of society (sex criminals/rapists/pedos) who have little-to-no-sympathy, and making ‘an example’ of them by enforcing these extra-judicial punishments on ‘scumbags’ nobody cares about; THEN -since the legal principle is firmly established- applying those draconian punishments to EVERYONE…
(well, everyone excepting the 1%, natch…)

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

The Baker says:

So … if all states did this, the only ones who could get jobs because of a clean record would be people coming into the country illegally (maybe legally?) as they most likely would not have any record of past infractions.

On the other hand:
I landed the best job of my life partially because I did admit to a teenage infraction on my employment application.
I was told that most people don’t but they always found out during the vetting process.

Anonymous Coward says:

This isn’t much of that a problem. If a youth commits a felony (a crime worthy of of going on ones criminal record) like an adult, it should show up on non-government criminal record check, even after their criminal record as expired, which should never happen in the first place. If a crime is petty enough to only got on ones criminal record for a short amount of time, then it should NEVER go one their criminal record AT ALL!

Daniel Joseph Calvanese (profile) says:

The real issue is employer dependence.

How about we stop talking about restricting information and start talking about how our society forces dependence on employers. If the system turns you down, what are your options?

1. You can take a low wage job. Low wage jobs I hear give you fewer benefits than welfare does, so it doesn’t make sense as an option (if slavery is an option).

2. You can be put on welfare. I have little experience with welfare, but I don’t think it’s really a viable option. You would imagine that the police would want to help the homeless and take care of things on behalf of a moral republic… but that is not our reality.

3. You can be homeless. Still not a good option, but it’s where most people end up.

4. I don’t know. However, shouldn’t we be able to live for ourselves somehow, apart from an employer?

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

Re: The real issue is employer dependence.

If you don’t want to depend on an employer, you can be self-employed or become an employer yourself.

The latter two probably need more than skills, they need connections and/or capital. And even then, you can’t have employers without employees, so for each employer, we probably would have at least 5 or so people that are employees.

I mean, it’s not like every person that has had a criminal record can found his own company or do freelance work. I mean, if that’s possible, then in theory every person in the world could be self-employed… but on average, they won’t.

So you end up with a “caste” of permanently unemployed people anyway if something isn’t fixed.

Ninja (profile) says:

A young adult who can’t get a decent job or receive financial aid is going to look elsewhere for opportunity.

Breed criminals and possible terrorists in your own lawn. Considering the US seems to be striving to criminalize the entirety of the population for very minor offenses or even socially accepted behavior I do believe we’ll see things get ugly ๐Ÿ˜‰

AzureSky (profile) says:

the fact is

the fact is, our society has walked into this smiling and only now are starting to realize how bad it is to make people criminals for life for minor offences(many committed by minors..)

I once sat in court and watched a highschool kid get 6 months in jail and a life long felony record for having a scape bag with some weed crumbs in it(not kidding, i couldnt even see them and i was less then 5 foot away)

the cops said the kid was a good kid, so did the persecutor, school even had a rep there who told the judge the kid got good grades and was well liked and respected…

did no good, minimum sentencing kicked in, and in this state at that time, it ment he wont be getting any decent jobs.

hell, his own lawer told him he shouldnt bother going to collage because no corporation would hire him with that on his record….i cant blame him for being in tears….ruined life because he let the cops search his car and they found crumbs of weed in a tiny baggy…

but thats the world we live in, the prison lobby has pushed so very hard to ensure they can get as many people in private jails and prisons as possible, and that those people will be coming back since, once your branded a felon, your lifes pretty much fucked, nobody wants to hire a felon…..

oh well, fast food places and the like will hire you….if you can life off 3hrs a day a few days a week at minimum wage…..

want to fix the problem, first we need to get rid of these bad laws that make everybody criminals, second we need to setup a system where less serious offenses come off your record and disappear after X number of years, and are wiped from private databases as well as govt databases at that time.(with the ability for private citizens whos records arent wiped having the right to sue any company holding onto such data into the ground)

we need to stop the “War on Drugs” its the #1 reason this country has so many non-violent offenders in prisons, rather then spend that money on incarceration it should be spent on education and treatment for those who need it.

and not the scare tactic “education” most of us got about drugs when we where in school, teach the facts, have people who have been addicted to this stuff brought in to explain their lives and why avoiding the stuffs important.(thats why i never took up drugs, saw first hand how much it can messup your life, and never wanted anything to do with it)

Want another example of insane “ruin somebodies life forever” cases?

A while back a 13yo girl sent her like aged boyfriend some nudes of herself, somehow the images got out and word go to law enforcement, they not only charged the girl but everybody they where able to prove saw the images as sex offenders, the girl was charged with production and distribution of child porn….for images of herself….

this means for life any of the people who where convicted will be marked as sex offenders for child porn, whos going to hire them?

even those not convicted will have it out there that they where charged or investigated for child porn….again, what employer is going to hire a “kiddy diddler” (what everybody seems to think of anybody even accused of such things)?

the above kids are far from alone, this stuffs been happening allover the country, google/bing/yahoo about it, tons of kids being turned into felons for kiddy porn and the like for doing something stupid like this(showing each other their naked bodies).

the prison lobby LOVES this and is a big part of the push for this kinda thing to not only continue but to expand, because, get them young and you got a good chance at having them for most of their lives….after all, where do people who cant find legal jobs that will allow them to survive endup?

remote observer says:

Re: the fact is

In My Experience of America There is a strong streak of puritianism running through the land, Manifest in many ways, An pathilogical obsession to fight “Bad Language”, and that there can be no forgiveness for Sinners.
Layer on a Political System were if a politician can mobilize a minority of voters they can assure themselves of a Seat in Government for life, the price being, Laws that punish the sinful, the laws don’t have to prevent crime, they just need to Punish.
Puritanical beliefs were that you kept sinners on the straight and narrow with fierce punishments for all crimes.
The rest of it, laws that breed crime, big companies profiting from suffering, Social Class determined by police records & Money. Political Corruption.
It had turned America into a country were there is no respect for the law, just fear. doing most anything is a crime where the trick is don’t get caught.

kelly (profile) says:

Re: the fact is

Good points..May I correct on one thing? Fast food (McPloyers..)wont even hire. My 16 yr old went for interview this week & was denied. First interview question was ‘Do you even want to continue this interview?’ requarding his answer on application to criminal history. One dumb weekend (he took another kids cell(theft)& when cops got him he had alcohol on breath(MIP))cost 4 years of punishment just in ‘the system'(detention, probation(total 3yrs), 30 day in-treatment, no drivers license til 18). And now..no job. What little self worth n hope this young man had is gone.I did not get a lawyer thinking he needed to learn lesson right off the bat..He was only 12 yrs old on his little ‘crime spree’.I wish i had got a lawyer to save his future

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s funny how often politicians and government officials use children as a shield to deflect negative criticism, often throwing around the phrase “for the children” in response to something that affects us all, usually in a negative way; yet here is a perfect example of those same people dropping the ball in a terrible way for those very same children they claim to champion. It just goes to show that not even the children are safe when the dollar signs start getting thrown around.
Absolutely shameful.
The people responsible for this should be called out the next time they try to white knight the children for one of their bad bills.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

This reminds me of the moral panic regarding sexting (is that still going on?) and how one suggestive picture (not even necessarily explicit) could scar one’s future by putting them on the criminal pervert database for life as a child-pornographer.

My solution was the leprechaun solution (when someone ties a ribbon around your magic tree, you put a ribbon around every tree in the forest), which seemed to be happening automatically until the criminal pervert database became meaningless.

So what would happen if every Washingtonian child was added to such a base? Would employers just hire old people? Would they do without?

In the meantime, yeah, I’m sure the drug trade is alive and well and happy to hire spreadsheet jockeys that offend the mainstream’s delicate sensibilities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Check the First Amendment

“Those public records should definitely have a clause prohibiting re-publishing I’d say?”

Wrong, once information is out in the wild, the government can’t constitutionally ban its republication.
The state can surely expunge its own records, but it can’t force private actors to keep quiet about publicly available information.
Professor Volokh has

The Supreme Court has so held in several landmark cases concerning republication of i.e illegally wiretapped conversations, names of rape victims, and juvenile defendants.

Once a person has been accorded due process, he/she has no right to government protection in case private actors want to talk about the conviction.
It really disappoints me that Techdirt which is mostly on the good side of First Amendment issues lacthis perspective.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Check the First Amendment

“…once information is out in the wild, the government can’t constitutionally ban its republication”. The key word here is “constitutionally”. It can and does ban its republication, but not constitutionally. If you doubt me, just walk into an adult video store in America and look for a DVD of “Those Young Girls”, “Just Another Pretty Face”, or any other early-80s Traci Lords movie. (Though there would be no need to do so, as they can easily be downloaded from the net.)

Anonymous Coward says:

How is having one law for some (adults) and another law for others (juveniles) “equal protection”? Where’s the equality?
When a juvenile commits a crime, is he given a trial by a jury of his peers?
How is the death penalty for someone 17 “cruel and unusual punishment” (whatever that phrase is supposed to mean) and for someone 18 not? Again, where’s the “equal protection”?

AzureSky (profile) says:

Re: Re:

so you’re one of those idiots who thinks a 5yo who shoplifts a candybar/toy should be treated the same as a adult who robbed a bank?

you’re one of those idiots who feels a teen girl who sends nudes to her boyfriend or posts them online should be charged with production and distribution of child porn and labled a sex offender for live?

you’re one of those idiots who thinks a kid who gets into a school yard fight with another kid should be charged with felony assault and sent to adult prison?

I get the feeling this AC works for the prison lobby….after all, what other cause could somebody have to want every single person who makes a mistake to be permanently tabled as a criminal?

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