Anyone who has lived with a teenager won’t be surprised to learn that adolescent brain development is linked with risky decision-making, impulsivity, and novelty-seeking behavior. Research has shown that experimentation is a key way the adolescent develops an independent sense of self.  Further, brain imaging of teenagers in recent years has demonstrated a physiological underpinning: changes in the very structure of the brain, especially the portions dedicated to decision-making, impact the way adolescents respond to peer pressure, emotional influences, and spur of the moment choices.  Unfortunately, in the process, many teens may make decisions that they will later come to regret, including engaging in illegal activity.
Thankfully, for most young people this period of risk taking does not extend much beyond adolescence. The vast majority of adolescent offenders go on to become law-abiding citizens, moving beyond the mistakes they have made. They mature and grow out of it. If they have come into contact with the juvenile justice system, however, that record may have serious negative collateral consequences in future education and employment opportunities. Ensuring that juvenile records are confidential means that the choices adolescents make, and the rehabilitative measures taken by a juvenile court, won’t become barriers for a lifetime.
Given all of the above, we are happy to report that in a recent assessment of state policy on the confidentiality of juvenile records, Nebraska was one of only eight states to receive a four star rating. The national non-profit Juvenile Law Center assessed performance in two areas: the confidentiality of the juvenile records through a sealing and/or expungement process, and the ease of accessing that process. Nebraska scored 63% overall, earning high marks for confidentiality of law enforcement and court records through our process of sealing juvenile records, but lower scores for the cost and difficulty of accessing that process, as well as for our lack of an expungement statute.
This score shows that Nebraska has much to be proud of, but still some work to do. Last year, Voices for Children supported LB1021, a bill intended to strengthen provisions and streamline the process for the sealing of juvenile records, which was indefinitely postponed. We reiterate that support today, applauding the work that has already been done, and anticipating the further steps that can be taken to safeguard our children’s futures.
 Bonnie, Richard J. et al, ed. Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach. Washington D.C.: National Academies Press, 2013. 1-2. Print.
National Juvenile Justice Network. Using Adolescent Brain Research to Inform Policy. September 2012. Available here.