Brown Signs Major Juvenile Justice Reform Bill Eliminating Fees to Seal Records

October 01, 2015

SACRAMENTO, CA – Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 504 by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) to make sealing records for juvenile youth free and easing re-entry after serving their sentence. Current sealing fees create economic barriers on an already vulnerable population trying to get their lives in order.
"SB504 will help reduce recidivism among juvenile youth by removing the fee to seal their records and thereby helping them secure permanent employment,” said Senator Lara. “It's a major victory for juvenile justice reform and for youth trying to turn their lives around.”

Juvenile expungement fees are significant cost barriers for adjudicated youth who are attempting to get right by the law and find gainful employment. Counties are allowed to charge up to $150 to seal a juvenile criminal record. This cost is prohibitively expensive for most of California’s youth and filing the petition is risky because payment does not guarantee expungement. Some counties offer fee waivers, but offer them as a reimbursement, which for many low-income people is still a cost barrier. Youth are unnecessarily discouraged from sealing because of these fiscal barriers, even if they are eligible for expungement.

SB 504 aims to increase the accessibility of sealing by:

1.            eliminating fees to seal records under WIC §781 for any applicant who is under the age of 26 and;
2.            clarifying that unfulfilled orders or conditions of restitution shall not bar record sealing.

Ensuring that outstanding fines and fees do not prevent juvenile record sealing is critical to increasing the accessibility of sealing for all Californians regardless of income level. Courts often require youth to pay back restitution and other fees before they can seal their records. This is counterintuitive because adjudicated youth need jobs first to even be able to pay their fees and often cannot obtain employment until their records are sealed. SB 504 improves this system by ensuring that youth can seal their records withstanding fines and fees. This bill does not absolve youth of their responsibility to pay restitution and counties can still collect owed fees. SB 504 rather creates an opportunity for youth to pay back restitution fines and fees by removing roadblocks to employment.

Added Lara, “Ultimately, this bill gives youth an opportunity to become responsible, law abiding citizens, which is the ultimate goal of our corrections and rehabilitation system – it gives them an opportunity for a fresh start.”

Juvenile justice advocates react to the announcement:

"We seek to restore the civil rights of all formerly incarcerated people, and making record-sealing free will help young Californians get jobs so they can support their families," said Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, a co-sponsor of SB 504.

“We applaud the Governor's signature on this measure that will remove economic barriers to re-entry for thousands of young people. All system-involved youth and young adults will now have an equal opportunity for a fresh start upon exiting the juvenile justice system regardless of their financial resources," said Martin Schwarz of California Public Defenders.

“This bill allows hundreds of youth with a juvenile record to have a second chance.  By removing the financial barrier to record-sealing, this bill sends the clear message that we believe in allowing young people to move on from past mistakes,” said Kate Weisburd, Director & Clinical Instructor at the Youth Defender Clinic East Bay Community Law Center.