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Governor Branstad signs 'historic' bill shielding juvenile court records from public view

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DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad called a law shielding most juvenile delinquency records from the public “an important step forward for fairness and equitable criminal justice.”

For too many Iowans, he said before signing Senate File 2288 Wednesday, a minor offense as a juvenile “would haunt them all the rest of their lives” making it difficult to obtain housing, education and employment.

For Paula Morris, the new law means “that my grandson who is at Woodward right now, when he turns 18, his juvenile records will be expunged.” Woodward is a residential treatment facility for male juveniles.

“It gives him a second chance. I’m really happy about that,” Morris said after witnessing the bill signing in the Capitol rotunda.

The bill, approved 48-0 by the Senate and 96-1 by the House, makes all juvenile delinquency proceedings except those involving felony charges confidential unless a judge issues an order making them public. It was part of the criminal justice reforms Branstad recommended in his Condition of the State in January.

For Sharon Brown, deaconess at Mount Olive Baptist and NAACP membership chairwoman, the bill signing was an “emotional moment because what has happened in (a juvenile’s) past is not hanging over their future.”

Too often, she said, people with a juvenile record are “doing well and they are 30 and 40 years old and something from way back is hanging over them and not allowing them to go forward.

“We all make mistakes,” Brown said. “Each of us knows somebody who has had a problem.”

Hakeem Williams of Des Moines knows firsthand that juvenile delinquency can have consequences years later. Now, 21, he said that because he had a criminal record “I was stereotyped. Judged.”

That record, however, doesn’t show that he learned from his mistakes, Williams said at the bill signing.

“It’s a problem. Trying to find a swell job, when you’re worried about them looking at your background,” he said. “I did this, I done that, but I learned from my mistakes and now I’m matured and grown now. I’m ready to be in society. I’m ready to do more and much better for myself.”

That second chance it important, Brown said, because “these are our doctors, lawyers, developers. That’s our future and now they can go ahead and go forward.”

The law applies to juvenile delinquency proceedings that are pending or arise on or after July 1.

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