It is no secret that kids are not perfect. As part of the process of growing up, we all make mistakes. Some of those mistakes are a bit more serious than others. When those mistakes end up leaving the child with a criminal record, the problems puts an end to any chance of leading a productive life before even getting started.
Whether it is when applying for jobs or schools, a criminal record creates very real problems for those non-serious and non-habitual youth offenders that have turned their lives around. Rep. Mia Jones sums it up perfectly, saying "We say we want them to go on the right path, and then every obstacle is placed in their way."
Rep. Jones filed a bill in 2015 that proposed major changes to the expungement process for juvenile records. She proposed that records would be expunged as soon as the minor turns 18 or the first day the juvenile is released from custody, whichever occurs last. Current law dictates that non-serious offenders are unable to expunge their records until 24 while serious offenders are unable to expunge their records until 26.
While Rep. Jones' bill was not successful, bipartisan support for criminal justice reform, including improving procedures to expunge a person's record, has gained support. Rep. Christopher Latvala's proposed bill CS/CS/HB 147 and Sen. Nancy Detert's proposed bill SB 386 are currently moving through their appropriate committee. If passed, they will allow juvenile criminal records to be expunged at the age of 21. They have also included a provision that allows for the records to be expunged even earlier if a person meets certain requirements, such as maintaining a clean record for five years prior to filing.
One issue that does remain as far as Rep. Jones is concerned is the fact that the Latvala/Detert bills leave the final say on the request for an expungement in the hands of the State Attorneys' Office rather than making it automatic once certain criteria has been met. Regardless, Rep. Jones is happy some movement has been made, calling it a fair compromise. She believes the bills can still be tweaked, however, pushing for having records automatically sealed at age 18 before being expunged at age 21. "It still allows them the opportunity to move forward," she said.
Let Governor Rick Scott know your thoughts. Your Florida State Representatives and State Senators would also be interested to know what their constituents think about these actions. Don't forget to also let your representatives in Washington D.C. know what is going on back home.