Youth involved in foster care and or/homelessness with juvenile records have a hard time achieving independence. Luckily, the Youth Opportunities Act and the YEAR Act (Youth Equality and Reintegration Act) that Governor Jay Inslee signed into law in 2014 and 2015 make sealing your juvenile records automatic for some and easier for others who are not eligible for automatic sealing.
The Youth Opportunities Act allows for automatic sealing for most non-violent charges after the release from confinement, or conclusion of disposition and/or court supervision. The YEAR Act eliminates most court fines that stand in the way of sealing juvenile records and makes financial restitution (money owed to the victim for damages or bills that came about because of the crime) easier to pay. Thanks to the YEAR Act, it is possible to convert financial restitution to community service hours, with input from the victim. Restitution can be modified based on ability to pay, and restitution owed to an insurance company will no longer stand in the way of sealing juvenile records.
Youth in Washington convicted of the most serious crimes are not given the option to automatically seal their record, must wait two to five years from their last release from confinement, and must have paid all outstanding legal financial obligations. However, if you get arrested or incarcerated within five years of your original charge, your five year wait period starts over. Severe traffic offenses, such as driving without a license, can also start the wait period over. Once the waiting period is over and victim restitution is paid, the process is still long and time-consuming. It includes hiring an attorney, going in front of a judge, gathering documentation and sending it to various agencies. Youth sentenced before the YEAR Act don’t get automatic sealing and must proactively seal their records. Before the Youth Opportunities Act, all youth had to go through this time consuming and expensive process to seal their records; now the process is reserved for the most serious offenses.
Prior to these reforms, the road to independence was especially hard for foster youth and homeless youth who needed to get their juvenile records sealed. The Youth Opportunities Act is a huge step towards investing in youth by giving them a clean slate. The YEAR Act reduces the financial burden that comes with getting your record sealed. Restitution and court fines plus interest can equal thousands of dollars, and paying that is nearly impossible for youth in foster care or youth experiencing homelessness. There are so many other things they need to spend money on including housing, food, transportation, and a phone. These new laws make moving on from youthful mistakes entirely up to the youth and their behavior. It is no longer partially dependent on their ability to pay and complete a time consuming process.
The YEAR Act and Youth Opportunities Act not only help foster youth and homeless youth, but all youth with a record who come from financially difficult circumstances, to pursue a clean slate. Automatic sealing gives youth a chance to pursue a normal life. The reforms were only possible because of the combined efforts of many organizations and advocates, including The Mockingbird Society. These are amazing reforms for the future of youth of Washington state.