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Illinois bill would expunge some juvenile arrests

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Chicago's mayor is throwing his support behind legislation that would automatically expunge certain juvenile arrest records.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports the proposal was introduced by Rep. Arthur Turner, a Chicago Democrat.

The bill expunges any arrest for people under 18 who are never formally charged. The records would be erased once the person turns 18.

Ciera Jenkins-Williams, 19, says she also supports the bill. Jenkins-Williams says she was thrown out of her home and needed some protection, so she bought a small knife. But when she was caught with that knife at school, she was arrested. The charge was dismissed last month, but now, she's wants the arrest expunged so it won't keep her from a career in nursing.

"I feel like you should have a second chance to make things better," Jenkins-Williams says.

Beth Johnson is legal director for Cabrini-Green Legal Aid. Staffers at Cabrini-Green help juveniles and adults navigate the paperwork, court appearances, and fees needed to wipe their records clean. Otherwise, arrest records--even without findings of delinquency or convictions--can be a drag forever.

"A record is a record forever. It never every goes away on its own in Illinois," Johnson explains. "It can come up when you're looking for jobs, when you're looking to get into educational programs, when you're looking to get housing."

Legislation introduced recently would automatically expunge juvenile arrest records at age 18, if no charges were sustained after the arrests.

In Cook County, about 75 percent of juvenile arrests don't lead to charges. And since the bill would be retroactive, thousands of people could have records expunged.

Emanuel says in a statement that "mistakes should not follow them into adulthood, nor prevent them from getting a job or competing for opportunities."

Ciera Jenkins Williams agrees.

"As soon as they turn 18, give them a chance to better themselves. To, you know, to make things better," she says.

Adults can have their juvenile records expunged if they were never charged, but have to pay a fee and attend a court hearing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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