Senators Paul and Booker Envision Better Options for Youth, Congress Takes Concrete Steps for Change
This week, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the REDEEM Act (The Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act) which addresses several problematic areas of America’s current criminal justice system.
The REDEEM Act incentivizes states to “raise the age” by giving preference to grant applicants for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to those states that have set 18 or older as the age of original jurisdiction for adult criminal courts. While this sends a strong message to jurisdictions to “raise the age” the bill does not penalize states in the COPS application process for having other avenues in which youth can enter the adult criminal justice system. For example, the 15 states that allow prosecutors to “direct file” youth to the adult criminal justice system for certain offenses and the majority of states that allow a judge to transfer youth to the adult system are still given preference if their age of original court jurisdiction begins at 18 years of age.
2) Offers adults way to seal non-violent criminal records: Presents the first broad-based federal path to the sealing of criminal records for adults. Non-violent offenders will be able to petition a court and make their case. Furthermore, employers requesting FBI background checks will get only relevant and accurate information - thereby protecting job applicants - because of provisions to improve the background check system.
3) Allows for sealing and expungement of juvenile records: The REDEEM Act improves juvenile record confidentiality, automatically expunges nonviolent juvenile offenses that are committed by a child before they turn 15, and automatically seals nonviolent juvenile offenses that occur after a child has reached the age of 15. The automatic sealing and expungement occurs at the age of 18, or three years after the offense, whichever happens later. The REDEEM Act provides an incentive for states to do the same by allowing preference to be given to Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant applications that originate from states that have enacted similar or stronger juvenile confidentiality, sealing and expungement provisions.
4) Restricts use of juvenile solitary confinement: The REDEEM Act bans the use of room confinement for discipline, punishment, retaliation, staffing shortages, administrative convenience, or any reason other than as a temporary response to behavior that poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm to the juvenile or others at any facility to which a federally adjudicated juvenile is sent. The REDEEM Act provides an incentive for states to follow suit by allowing preference to be given to Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant applications that originate from states that have enacted similar or stronger juvenile room confinement provisions.
This provision in the bill protects a very small population of youth that enter the federal system, offering very similar protections as the recently introduced Protecting Youth from Solitary Confinement Bill. With the newly found interest and urgency around solitary confinement increasing Congressional action, language should be stronger to ban all solitary in all facilities, especially for vulnerable populations of youth in adult jails and prisons.
5) Lifts ban on SNAP and TANF benefits for low-level drug offenders: The REDEEM Act restores access to benefits for those who have served their time for use, possession, and distribution crimes provided their offense was rationally related to a substance abuse disorder and they have enrolled in a treatment program.
Efforts Increase at the Federal Level
The REDEEM Act brings the issue of juvenile justice to the forefront of the bigger issue of criminal justice reform. With the imminent introduction of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the newly comprised bipartisan Crime Prevention and Youth Development Caucus in the House of Representatives, and the myriad of reforms the REDEEM Act envisions, Congress joins the voices of hundreds of advocates, families, and youth to recognize the ultimate value of young people and allow for more prevention, intervention, and rehabilitative opportunities.
We hope to see this kind of momentum continue in the coming months and hope that states share Congress’ reemerged enthusiasm in justice reform.