The California State Legislature passed Senate Bill 312 on Tuesday, allowing individuals convicted of a crime before their 17th birthday to petition a court and potentially have their criminal record sealed.
Criminal records may be accessed under certain circumstances. For example, if a minor were to be charged with a felony offense, the probation department would have access to any past crimes. With the authorization of SB 312, authored by California State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, juvenile offenses will be kept confidential from most people, including future employers.
The bill overrides sections of Proposition 21, which was enacted in 2000 to ban the practice of keeping minors’ offense records confidential.
“Opponents of the bill are worried that if we are not tough on crime, then the criminals will commit more crime,” said Andrew Barlow, faculty adviser for the campus’s Underground Scholars Initiative, which aims to support UC Berkeley students affected by incarceration. “But all of our research shows that this is not so, and the ‘tough on crime’ approach actually, paradoxically … creates a condition in which they are likelier to commit crime.”
Prior to the bill’s approval, it was possible for a minor to seal their criminal records under the condition that the crime they committed was not serious and that they had fulfilled a number of requirements. Several of those requirements still exist, even under the new bill. Most notably, in order to seal one’s record, the individual must have successfully completed probation without violations and/or arrests, according to Kate Weisburd, director of the East Bay Community Law Center’s Youth Defender Clinic.
“For a long time, young people who had been found guilty of certain serious offenses couldn’t have their record sealed at all,” Weisburd said. “(The new bill) removes barriers without making (the process) automatic.”
Skinner proposed the bill with the intent of “establish(ing) a fair system for past youthful offenders to demonstrate that they deserve a second chance,” according to a press release issued Tuesday.
SB 312 is part of a larger effort in the Bay Area to improve job prospects for people who have been incarcerated. In May 2016, UC Berkeley stopped requiring applicants to campus jobs to disclose their criminal history, and earlier this year, a similar hiring policy was approved for all UC campuses.
Daniel Sepulveda, a campus junior transfer, said he has struggled, and continues to struggle, with the effects of his own past incarceration.
“I never once looked for a job, because I knew it came with a stigma. I’m asking for failure, pretty much,” Sepulveda said. “I’m at Cal now, and I don’t even know if it’s going to be worth it, because I do have a criminal background, and I’m working to expunge it as much as I can, and it’s a process that’s very tedious — it’s murky on purpose.”
For Sepulveda, this bill is encouraging.
“I still have a criminal record, and I’m working towards clearing it up, and hearing things like this reassures me that I’m in the right place,” he said. “It was hard to stay resilient and overcome hardships. It makes it that much more sweeter to know that I am here, despite everything that I’ve gone through.”
Barlow said there are better methods to help troubled youth than imprisonment, adding that the most important method is providing a “supportive and quality” education.
Sepulveda agreed, stating that the new senate bill will open doors for incarcerated youth interested in pursuing higher education.
“We live in a nation where mass incarceration is a given,” Sepulveda said. “We have to not just … realize that, but change that.”