Sealing Youth Offender Records Brings ‘Chance at a New Life’

Jun. 21, 2013 / By

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New America Media, Commentary, David Cunningham

Ed. Note: In June, youth advocates testified before a hearing of the Senate Public Safety Committee in Sacramento in support of AB 1006, which would require court and probation officers to inform youth offenders of how to seal their records upun turning 18. The bill is currently awaiting approval by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The author, David Cunningham, 23, is a youth contributor to New America Media (NAM) and a member of the California Council on Youth Relations, a NAM project that brings youth voices to policy discussions in the state capitol.

SAN FRANCISCO — Joy riding, staying out past curfew, drinking in public — to me it was all just harmless fun. But to civil society it was breaking the law, and I paid the price. After 13 months of serving time in juvenile hall, paying off restitution fees, and doing community service, I thought I was in the clear. I soon found out that wasn’t the case.

I was tired of dealing with the system. I was ready to change my life. I tried applying for part time jobs at Subway, Radio Shack, McDonalds, Jack in the Box, Century 21, and a few other places. But after 30 days of checking the “I have a criminal record” box on job applications, I still hadn’t been called back for any job interviews. I was ready to give up.

I realized that even though I’d legally paid my debt to society, my criminal record condemned me to a life of continuing to pay for the mistakes of my youth, over and over again.

And then a friend told me I could seal my juvenile criminal record. I barely believed him, because no probation officer or judge ever told me I could have a fresh start. I reached out to a community organization in San Francisco to see if he was right, and it turns out he was. A caseworker helped me submit my paperwork to get my records sealed.

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New America Media is the country's first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 3,000 ethnic news organizations. Over 57 million ethnic adults connect to each other, to home countries and to America through 3000+ ethnic media outlets, the fastest growing sector of American journalism. Founded by the nonprofit Pacific News Service in 1996, NAM is headquartered in California with offices in New York and Washington D.C., and partnerships with journalism schools to grow local associations of ethnic media.