For over a century, legislatures and officials have restrained the criminal justice system’s ability to collect information about youth. Databasing Delinquency explains how juveniles now find themselves indefinitely cataloged in sex offender registries, gang databases, and DNA databases. It documents the unprecedented breadth and permanence of law enforcement and court record-keeping. And it shows how schools have become mandated law enforcement informants. Moreover, services both public and private make this information available to law enforcement nationwide, employers, government agencies, 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. Putting the developmental characteristics of youth, and childhood, at the center of the analysis, the article reveals the incoherence and destructiveness of databasing delinquency. Mindful of the public safety benefits and inevitability of law enforcement information gathering, the article calls for limits on the amount of information that the criminal justice system can gather, store and share about juveniles. This would add appropriate restraints so that public safety gains from databasing do not come at the expense of juvenile privacy, juveniles’ life chances, or childhood itself.