It is common knowledge in American society that persons who have criminal records will have a more difficult path to obtaining legitimate employment. Similarly, conventional wisdom acknowledges the unfortunate fact that young people, on average, are more prone to engage in risky, impulsive, and other ill-advised behavior that might result in brushes with law enforcement authorities. This article addresses the difficult situation faced by people whose now disabling criminal records were attained while they were under the age of 21. Not only do such individuals face stigma and possible discrimination from potential employers, the efforts of today’s young people to “go straight” are hampered by nearly unlimited online access to records of even the briefest of encounters with law enforcement, even if those encounters did not result in conviction. This article examines the broad scope and troubling effects of the intersection between policies attempting to “reform” youthful offenders, and policies giving any curious citizen access to records about a person’s youthful indiscretions, no matter how minor. The article concludes that current practices are inconsistent with what we know about the development of young people, are inconsistent with developing U.S. Supreme Court jurisdiction, and are undermining the social goal of rehabilitating youthful offenders, and suggests that we need to restrict access to and use of information about contacts that offenders under the age of 21 have had with the criminal justice system.
McMullen, Judith G., Invisible Stripes: The Problem of Youth Criminal Records (2018). Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice, Vol. 27, No. 1, 2018; Marquette Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 19-07. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3397404