CC ISSUE: MAR2012 Last updated: 2012-03-08 10:08:27
Join the unmarked campaign
Imam Misbahu Ahmed-Rufai
Nabeel is 19 years old. Sarah is 18. About 14 years ago, Nabeel made a joke with another student quoting a line from “Rush Hour,” the movie starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker: “I am gonna shoot you with a shotgun.” Although his father was a respected teacher in the school and known to be anti-gun, the school principal called the police and had Nabeel taken to the police station. His parents, having received a call from the school, left work and went to the station to secure their son’s release. Neither Nabeel nor his parents have any criminal record, but with this child joke in pre-school, Nabeel now has an arrest record, that can only be expunged after he has petitioned, paid a fee, and appeared before a judge.
At 15, Sarah was arrested for shoplifting with some schoolmates. At the police station, the youth officer considered the fact that Sarah did not have any previous record, was very remorseful for her action, and seemed to be a novice at her crime, released her to her parents with a station adjustment. A station adjustment is not a criminal conviction, but comes with a conditions to refrain from entering certain places, perform community service, attend school, and not repeat the offence. In the case of Sarah, she was to go to school and not go to the store she was arrested in. If she is arrested again for any offense, the officer will refer her to a juvenile court.
What the two examples above demonstrate is the role of the police as the most visible and visceral representatives of state power. The police are the gatekeepers to the criminal legal system and play a critical role in feeding the prison industrial complex. The police have the discretion on:
- whether to conduct an investigatory stop involving a young person;
- whether to arrest a young person;
- whether to release a young person from police custody with a station adjustment;
- whether to refer a young person to Juvenile Court or to the Felony Review Division of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for prosecution;
- whether to release a young person from police custody with no charges;
- whether to request that a young person be held in detention until his initial court appearance.
These points of contact determine whether or not a particular young person will ultimately be referred to court and held in detention.
In Chicago, thousands of juveniles, 17 and under, are arrested every year by law enforcement as a result of these possible decisions in the interaction between them and police. The Chicago Police Department is the second largest in the country, employing 14,973 members and serving 2.9 million residents. According to the Chicago Police Department, there were 27,563 arrests of youth ages 17 and under in 2010 in Chicago.
Six million Americans a year have involuntary contact with the police, excluding traffic stops. These encounters are often especially fraught and traumatizing for youth.
As many as 64 million Americans have arrest records, many of which never resulted in conviction. Nearly a third of all American youths are arrested by age 23. There are incalculable collateral consequences from being arrested or charged with a crime, even when it does not lead to a conviction.
Juveniles with prior arrests or charges against them are often prohibited from living in or visiting property owned by the Chicago Housing Authority. Landlords often refuse to rent property to juveniles with an arrest or court record.
Although Illinois law prohibits the disclosure of juvenile records to anyone other than government officials, the juvenile, and his/her guardian, in practice juvenile arrest records are disclosed in background checks and made available to the public. Employment opportunities are limited for juveniles with a record because employment applications require applicants to disclose prior arrests or charges. Juveniles with prior arrests or charges against them are ineligible to join the military. Juveniles with an arrest or court record are unable to gain licensure to join certain professions, including nursing and cosmetology.
Juveniles are often suspended by or receive limited educational opportunities from primary and secondary schools that have access to juvenile records through a reciprocal agreement with local law enforcement facilities. Juveniles are often denied admission to undergraduate and graduate institutions that require disclosure of any juvenile arrests or court records. Scholarship and loan opportunities are limited for juveniles with prior arrests or charges filed against them.
With Chicago having the largest gang groups in the country, according to the Chicago Crime Commission, there is a need to address the issue of arrest records, especially when no convictions resulted. Every year, tens of thousands of youth across the state are falsely arrested, and never charged or convicted. Currently, these youth have to live with the collateral consequences of having an arrest record—including barriers to education and employment opportunities and productive citizenry. So we all need to get involved with the UnMarked Campaign, by the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations, which currently has two bills before the Illinois General Assembly.
The first bill asks that the petitioning process be made fair. Illinois youth who want to work or go to college before the age of 18 should not face barriers because of a past arrest. As such, youth who were arrested and released without charge or were found not delinquent of an offense by the court should have the same right as adults to petition for expungement. Like the adult system, this bill would ensure that there is no waiting period to file for a juvenile expungement hearing.
The second bill wants to, once a year, clear the backlog of records of thousands of Illinoisans’ arrested but did not lead to a court proceeding after a youth turned 18. Currently, to clear these records, the state must review petitions every time a petition is filed. This is inefficient and takes away from much-needed law enforcement resources. Clearing the records backlog on an annual basis will be more efficient than reviewing petitions on a case-by-case basis.
Visit unmarkedcampaign.com for more information.