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Teens Leading The Way
Teens Leading The Way (TLTW) is a statewide, youth-led coalition which seeks to empower young people to create lasting change through policy-making. TLTW youth create and maintain campaigns to bring about social change on the state-wide level. Currently TLTW has members in Boston, Everett, Haverhill, Lowell, Lawrence and Worcester. Partner agencies in these communities include: Young People’s Project (YPP), HOPE Coalition, Haverhill’s Violence Intervention Program, and Everett's T.E.A.S.A. (Teens in Everett Against Substance Abuse). UTEC (Lowell) serves as the lead coordinating agency for TLTW.
In August 2014, TLTW youth announced their campaign to bring expungement opportunities for youth with criminal records. Our campaign comes from many interviews with youth in our programs who either have criminal records or friends who have records which prevent them from getting steady employment, higher education, accessing stable living and moving past a stigma of being systemically labeled a criminal after the completion of their sentence.
2016 Campaign News! In July 2016, the Council of State Governments released new data on young adults in the correctional system. Young adults under age 25 make up nearly a quarter of the correctional population, and their recidivism rates are higher than other age groups.
TLTW made significant headway and raised awareness of this issue. The Expungement Campaign advanced to having a formal bill filed in the Senate and House in the 2016 session. It attracted a total of 32 co-sponsors including Senator William Brownsberger, Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary and other members of the leadership. In July 2016, the MA Senate passed legislation calling for the expungement of misdemeanors by those under 18 through judicial discretion.
Youth organizers continued to press the MA House to support this as the session closed. As we were not expecting the bill to pass in the first cycle, as that is unusual, we feel we have made good progress, and continue to plan for passage in 2018, if not sooner. TLTW also worked alongside Citizens for Juvenile Justice on a juvenile justice reform omnibus bill. Included in their bill was the TLTW expungement bill language and that brought the net total of legislative sponsors for our bill language above 50. The omnibus bill was voted on and passed by the Senate 31-9. The 9 Senators who voted in opposition were not opposed to expungement for juveniles.
We were pleased with the positive press attention the campaign garnered that raised awareness of this issue:
- The Boston Globe recommended that the expungement bill be passed in a June 2016 editorial and featured the bill in a July 2016 article. It had previously run an expungement-specific editorial in May 2015 after meeting with TLTW leaders.
- Expungement was also featured by Boston Magazine, MassInc's CommonWealth Magazine, and the Bay State Banner.
- Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a study on the potential health impacts of expungement, based upon TLTW's original bill language. More about the MIT study.
- Fact Sheet: Comparison of Senate and House bills including expungement.
Why expungement? According to the Mass Bar Association, unlike most other states, Massachusetts law does not provide for expungement, which is substantively different from sealing. Expungement essentially erases a criminal record, including police reports and arrest records, as if it never existed. This would be a unique opportunity for young people with criminal records to obtain a clean slate after completion of their sentences. In 2012 a report titled "An Exploration of Juvenile Records Maintenance Across America: A Way Forward for the Commonwealth" looked into the status of juvenile records in Massachusetts and recommended policy changes to offer expungement to juveniles. The report was conducted by Northeastern University School of Law in conjunction with The Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate. TLTW has built their campaign on the report's findings which state that "multiple studies have been conducted in which the evidence suggests that most people are not committed to a 'tough on crime' mentality when it comes to juvenile justice... that people are willing to pay for a more rehabilitative and less punitive program for juveniles." This is the next logical step to removing barriers for young people leaving the juvenile justice system.
Teens Leading The Way youth believe that this policy change will significantly reduce recidivism rates, and most believe that when you reach an age of accountability your record is cleared (when it is not). TLTW teens have coined the motto: "Erase our sentence so we may write a novel," which highlights their belief that young people should be held accountable for their actions, but additional rehabilitative actions should be taken to remove barriers upon re-entry and to prevent recidivism! After all, every young person deserves a clean slate.
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