African-American activists cheered as Governor Branstad today signed into law one of the legislative priorities of the NAACP.
The bill will keep court records confidential in most juvenile cases.
The bill came out of the Governor’s Working Group on Justice Policy Reform.
Activists argue that black juvenile offenders are most affected because of their disproportionate numbers in the courts.
Sharon Kay Brown with the Des Moines NAACP says the problem of a juvenile offense harming someone’s entire career is widespread.
“Even if an immediate family member doesn't have a problem, you're still reflecting because you know somebody,” Brown said. “This was a great day, a great day.”
Brown says a criminal record can harm job prospects for decades.
"They've done something in the past and they're doing well and they're 30 or 40 years old,” Brown said. “Something from way back from 40 years ago is hanging over them and not allowed to move forward.”
The bill gained easy passage in the House and Senate.
“This is a positive step forward,” Governor Branstad said. “It brings the state closer to the goal of fundamental fairness.”
Under the bill, a juvenile court record would be presumed confidential, unless a judge decides to release it because of the seriousness of the crime.
The NAACP is also backing legislation also aimed at enhancing employment prospects for African-Americans. That bill would prevent employers from including a question about a criminal record on an employment application.
The law will apply to juvenile court proceedings that are pending or arise after July 1, when the measure goes into effect.