CITY HALL — The mayor joined community leaders and other prominent politicians Monday in cheering a new state law that would automatically expunge the police records of youths arrested but not convicted of non-violent crimes.
Citing how an arrest report can disqualify a person for a job, a school or college, as well as grants, loans and housing, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said a minor can commit "a single mistake ... and then doors begin to close rather than open."
If Gov. Pat Quinn signs the bill into law, as expected, then starting next year arrests would automatically be expunged for offenses that are not Class 2 felonies or sexual in nature if there is no petition for delinquency filed and if six months pass without another arrest.
According to Anna Travis of the Mikva Challenge activist agency, 21,000 minors were arrested in 2013 in Cook County, but only 400 went through the existing legal process of having their arrests expunged. She called that process "expensive, confusing and time-consuming."
Emanuel estimated that 16,000 could have had their records expunged — and now will have their records expunged automatically in years to come, adding that the old system only taught youths "how to hire a lawyer."
Calling it "common sense," Emanuel said, "This expungement has a real impact. We don't really want to start young kids on a life of crime, or potential crime, when we can give them another chance."
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago) called the law's passage "a tremendous accomplishment" and applauded sponsors state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) and state Rep. Arthur Turner (D-Chicago).
"What expungement means is it didn't happen," Raoul said.
Turner said marking "this great piece of legislation" is the next step, noting that beginning next year juvenile offenders can check the Illinois State Police access and review website to make sure their arrests qualify and are actually expunged.
Turner said it would "really give juveniles a second chance and an opportunity to be a productive part of society."
Emanuel dismissed the suggestion that his support for the legislation was only meant to appeal to minority voters.
"This is the right thing to do," he said. "If it was popular, somebody else would have done it. This [legislation] actually was dormant for years. ... Nobody for political reasons wanted to touch that."