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Mayor Rahm Emanuel backs bill to expunge juvenile arrest records

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks mediafter City Council meeting Monday March 5 2014. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to the media after the City Council meeting on Monday, March 5, 2014. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 1, 2014 7:08AM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing legislation to expunge certain juvenile arrest records automatically — and remove a major hurdle for people to qualify for jobs, according to administration officials.

The legislation, introduced Friday by Rep. Arthur Turner (D-Chicago), would apply to juvenile arrests that never resulted in formal criminal charges. The state would have to expunge those arrests automatically when a person turns 18.

“Their mistakes should not follow them into adulthood, nor prevent them from getting a job or competing for opportunities,” Emanuel said in a statement.

About three-quarters of juvenile arrests in Cook County don’t result in charges, records show. The legislation would have applied to more than 16,000 arrests in 2013 in Chicago. Because the proposed legislation is retroactive, it could apply to tens of thousands of arrests, administration officials said.

“I’m from West Garfield Park,” said the Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church on the West Side. “There are not a lot of guys without a brush with the law in their teens. I have guys in my church trying to get their lives together but they have a big ‘X’ on their record. Anything that helps them reintegrate and have some of these barriers removed is great.”

Currently, anyone who was arrested as a youth but not charged must go through the same expungement process as someone who was convicted. They must pay a one-time fee of $60 and file a petition to expunge each arrest at a cost of $64 each. They also must attend a court hearing and inform the arresting police departments and the Illinois State Police of the expungement.

Under the proposed legislation, those expunged records would be sealed to everyone except for police agencies to use in screening job applicants.

Prosecutors also would have access to those records to make charging decisions and sentencing recommendations in cases in which someone is charged with a similar crime as an adult, officials said.

Paula Wolff, senior executive of the policy group Metropolis Strategies, said she knows of a 19-year-old who was working as a school custodian for 10 months when he lost his job because of a background check. It revealed two juvenile arrests that didn’t result in charges, she said.

Wolff said scholarships also are at risk when a background check shows juvenile arrests without charges. She said most people are unaware of how to have their juvenile arrests expunged. The process is expensive and “for a lot of people, having contact with the criminal justice system again is not high on their list of things they want to do.”

Hatch revealed he was a student when he and some buddies were caught stealing batteries they planned to sell to buy alcohol. He remembers the police let him go because they saw his school ID in his wallet and the supervisor said, “Don’t mess this guy up.” But a friend, who wasn’t a student, was arrested on serious charges after he tried to run away.

“I could have been that guy,” Hatch said. “This gives everybody a fresh start at 18 — boom! It communicates something to communities like the one I’m in, that there is redemption. The problem now is there is no hope.”

Email: fmain@suntimes.com



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