When juveniles are convicted of crimes in the state of Massachusetts, their criminal records may haunt them long past their punishments, with the potential to hurt job, housing and education prospects.
A provision in a proposed criminal justice reform bill, which the House begins debating Monday, would allow some of those records to be expunged after a period of time.
Jefferson Alvarez, a 22-year-old from Lawrence, hopes to one day seal and expunge a criminal record he obtained when he was a high school freshman.
“My anger would build up, because everybody would just bully me because I stuttered,” he said. “So one day I just couldn’t take it no more and I just lost it. I just started flipping, and if anybody would say something to me smart, I would call ’em out, like I’d be, ‘Hey, let’s go fight.’ ”
During one of those fights, Alvarez said, he kicked a fellow student. He was convicted of assault and served six months in a Department of Youth facility.
Alvarez is now enrolled in UTEC, a Lowell-based youth training and empowerment program. He works in a shop there making cutting boards, and he is working toward getting a GED certificate.
Still, he believe his juvenile record haunts him and is hampering his future success.
“If this bill would pass, I would be free, and these doors would open for me right now,” Alvarez said. “I just need this, you know?”
Supporters of the proposed expungement provision say that thousands of people like Alvarez would benefit, and that it would enable them to move on with their lives unencumbered by the stigma of a juvenile conviction.
State Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston) says expungement would get rid of any mark of a criminal history, provided that an individual has had a certain number of years with a clean record.
“When they have this offense, you know, it cripples them in many ways going forward, and I also think there’s an emotional impact of knowing that you have a record, and in some ways it defines who you are,” Dykema said.
“And it doesn’t allow you to reach your full potential. So what we’re saying is give these kids a clean slate once they’ve proven that they’ve learned their lesson.”
The provision is likely to pass this year. The criminal justice bill passed by the Senate in October allows for the expungement of juvenile misdemeanors.
The bill to be debated in the House this week goes further. Some felonies could be expunged, as could certain crimes committed between the ages of 18 and 21 and convictions for marijuana possession, now that marijuana is legal for adults to use in the state of Massachusetts.
While he is generally supportive of the bill’s language, state Rep. Tim Whelan (R-Brewster) still has some concerns about the message expungement sends to crime victims.
“We certainly want to try and rescue people from being put into the criminal justice system when we can get them out of there, because once they get in it is very, very difficult to get them out,” Whelan said. “But by the same token, we don’t want to do this at the expense of the rights and concerns of the victims.”
Alvarez is looking beyond the UTEC woodshop in Lowell. He says someday he would like to become a paramedic.
“I got so much energy, like I don’t know how to sleep. So if a paramedic is always on call, they’re never sleeping, they’re always helping, and that sounds like me,” he said.