Juvenile Records in Alaska

Juvenile Records in Alaska

"Juvenile Records in Alaska" by Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. Alaska Justice Forum 14(4): 7 (Winter 1998). This article summarizes procedures and laws regarding records of juvenile offenders in Alaska, including discussion of fingerprinting and the confidentiality of juvenile records.

In Alaska the Division of Family and Youth Services within the Department of Health and Social Services handles referrals for delinquent acts and maintains juvenile records on its statewide data management system, PROBER. (DFYS is currently undertaking the design of a new data management system.) For those juvenile referrals which result in formal court proceedings a court record is also established. Juvenile records management is almost totally separate from adult criminal history management, which is under the aegis of the Department of Public Safety. Under most circumstances both DFYS and juvenile court records are confidential, with access restricted to only a few parties (AS 47.12.315). However, recent state legislation has lessened the scope of confidentiality, making record disclosure mandatory in some situations.

Fingerprinting

State law permits fingerprinting of a juvenile in all situations where it would be permissible to fingerprint an adult. Fingerprinting usually occurs when a juvenile is admitted to a detention facility. A minor who is adjudicated delinquent and has not already been fingerprinted is asked to report for fingerprinting. While DFYS notes the occurrence of fingerprinting in an individual's file, the prints themselves are forwarded to the Department of Public Safety where they are maintained in the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), which is a general purpose repository. No criminal history information is attached to juvenile prints in the system (unless the minor has been waived into the adult system).

Confidentiality of Juvenile Records

Integral to juvenile justice proceedings has been the tradition, established by statute, of confidentiality of juvenile records. However, in recent years a trend has emerged on both state and federal levels to make juvenile records open to more parties, under more circumstances than has been the case since the inception of separate juvenile adjudication systems at the end of the nineteenth century. Alaska too has gradually extended access to juvenile records, permitting more parties, for a wider range of reasons—school officials, victims, prospective employers—to look at a minor's records, but statutes continue to closely describe the conditions for access and, in general, confidentiality in juvenile proceedings is still recognized as a guiding principle.

Nevertheless, under a new statute (AS 47.12.315), DFYS is now required to disclose the names of juveniles referred to its jurisdiction for certain offenses. In addition to the identity of the juvenile, the statute requires disclosure of the names of the parents, the nature of the offense and information about any action required of the juvenile to adjust the matter.

DFYS now checks all juvenile referrals against a disclosure criteria checklist. For those which meet the criteria established by the statute the division creates a disclosure record (in paper format) which is maintained at the local juvenile probation office. The record is available to the public upon request.

The statute requires disclosures on referrals for certain offenses for minors at least 13 years old. The list of offenses includes primarily felony-level crimes against persons. The law also requires disclosure under certain conditions when the juvenile has had previous referrals or has violated a court order or condition of probation. The statute also contains a provision for the department to petition the court to prohibit disclosure when the court finds that the crime was an isolated incident and the minor does not present any further danger to the public.

If a charge involved in a referral is dismissed or reduced, DFYS updates the disclosure records, but the fact of the original referral remains in the public record.

The new statute also gives DFYS greater latitude to disclose information to schools as necessary to facilitate counseling and support services. Other provisions allow for public access to juvenile adjudication proceedings under certain conditions.

According to DFYS, during the first six weeks of the implementation of the disclosure provisions, twelve to eighteen records have been created throughout the entire state. The majority of requests to look at the records have been made by the media.

The Division notes that the wording of the new statute is very convoluted, making the interpretation of certain provisions, particularly those involving prior referrals, difficult. It has advised its personnel to proceed cautiously when it is not clear whether disclosure is legitimate.