The Crimes of Children

The juvenile justice system was designed to “hide youthful errors from the full gaze of the public.” But the extra penalties attached to these sentences have ruined many lives.

Feature (NATIONAL)

Dylan Walsh
Atlantic, The
August 10, 2015

Tags: Children & Juvenile, Juvenile Justice, Sex Offender Registry

Organizations mentioned/involved: Columbia Legal Services (Washington State), Legal Aid Chicago


Registration as a sex offender and deportation are both collateral consequences—statutory penalties that attach to charges after a sentence is served. There’s an identifiable logic to some of these consequences: Convicted of laundering money? Then you’re barred from the financial industry, at least temporarily. Caught molesting children? Then you can’t work in a daycare. Others, like deportation or felony disenfranchisement, are more purely punitive. (In Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, more than one out every five African Americans lacks the right to vote because of this penalty.) Some of these sanctions don’t seem to match the crime at all: Busted on drug possession? Your barbershop license can be revoked.

Judges have no discretion over collateral consequences, and lawyers rarely grasp their extent. A recent project by the American Bar Association, the first of its kind, compiled every consequence in every state and found more than 40,000 on the books.


But while the judicial treatment of youth has gained nuance, a few particularly severe collateral consequences persist, undermining the historical ideal that what happens in juvenile court stays in juvenile court.