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Hastings Law Journal

Article Title

Databasing Delinquency

Authors

Kevin Lapp

Abstract

Technological advances in recent decades have enabled an unprecedented level of surveillance by the government and permitted law enforcement to gather, store, and retrieve in real time enormous amounts of data. After nearly a century of limited record-making and enhanced confidentiality regarding juveniles, these data collection practices have quickly expanded to include youth. This Article uncovers the vast extent of modern data collection and distribution about juveniles by the criminal justice system from juvenile sex offender registration and their inclusion in gang and DNA databases, to schools turned into mandated law enforcement informants, to police and courts increasingly sharing juvenile records with employers, public housing authorities, colleges, and the general public. The expansion of this modern culture of “dataveillance” to youth has profound implications. It not only harms individual youth in permanent and stigmatizing ways, it reshapes the very meaning of childhood, breaching its protected space and contradicting the special understandings that dominate the regulation of youth. It also distorts perceptions of juveniles in ways that have lasting policy consequences. Moreover, this distortion is visited especially heavily on minority youth and constitutes an engine of racial bias and punitive reforms in its own right. Putting the developmental characteristics of youth, and childhood, at the center of the analysis, this Article reveals the incoherence and destructiveness of databasing delinquency. Mindful of the public safety benefits and inevitability of law enforcement information gathering, it calls for reforms that would limit the amount of information gathered, stored, and shared about juveniles. These reforms would add appropriate restraints to law enforcement data collection so that public safety gains from databasing do not come at the expense of juvenile privacy, juveniles’ life chances, or childhood itself.

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