The Juvenile Justice Initiative Project: Identifying Barriers and Innovating from Obstacles

By Tamara Sargus
 
Youth involved in the juvenile justice system face numerous challenges. Arizona is only one of seven states that has open juvenile records. Open juvenile records mean potential employers and educational institutions can view juvenile court records, which may keep youth from securing employment or being accepted into an education program. Additionally, fines and fees assessed on justice involved youth and their families may present an additional barrier to record expungement (the destruction of records). If fines and fees are not paid, it may result in the inability to have record expunged.
 
The Juvenile Justice Initiative Project, funded by the Vitalyst Health Foundation, seeks to put a face to youth and families by highlighting the obstacles they face - including burdens placed on youth and families by juvenile courts that negatively impact youths' future opportunities. Our team consists of Arizona Legal Women and Youth Services (ALWAYS), Children's Action Alliance (CAA), and SIROW. 
 
SIROW’s work on this project strives to identify system-imposed barriers, as well as new and innovative practices designed to assist youth and families. SIROW research staff has collected this information by gathering and analyzing juvenile court data and by conducting qualitative interviews of juvenile justice professionals including judges, probation officers, defense attorneys, court clerks, and court administrators.  
 
Through this work, SIROW has learned that several counties throughout the state are implementing exciting programs aimed at improving outcomes for youth. One such program is the Destruction of Records Clinic spearheaded by Susan Kelly, Assistant Public Defender at the Pima County Public Defender’s Office - Juvenile Division. This walk-in clinic meets monthly and provides information on the destruction of juvenile records, set-asides of juvenile adjudications, and restoration of rights lost due to a felony adjudication. Lawyers are on hand to answer questions and get things in order so that individuals may apply for the destruction of juvenile records. Additionally, the clinic provides resources on voting registration, educational opportunities, and confidential immigration assistance. 
 
The Destruction of Records clinic, launched in January 2018, has assisted in filing approximately 40 applications on behalf of formally justice-involved individuals. In a system that can be difficult to navigate, the clinic provides “one stop shopping” for young adults allowing them to easily access services to diminish challenges as they enter adulthood. The clinic has recently enhanced its services by adding an online link to the Public Defender’s website for requesting an appointment to meet about the destruction of records. 
 
While there is still much work to be done to improve the outcomes for justice involved youth, the Destruction of Records clinic is a valuable resource for youth in Pima County.
 
For more information on the Juvenile Justice Initiative Project, please contact Dr. Sally Stevens at  sstevens@email.arizona.edu or Tamara Sargus at tsargus@email.arizona.edu
 
For more information on the Pima County Destruction of Records Clinic, please click here.