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Governor's Pardon Launches Youth Advocate's Career

October 3, 2013

A new documentary film tells the story of Starcia Ague, a young woman whose experience with the juvenile justice system drove her to become an advocate for reform.

Ague was incarcerated at age 15 and sentenced to "juvie life"--that is, incarceration until age 21. Though she excelled educationally while locked up (she even began work toward her bachelor's degree while incarcerated), she discovered upon her release that Washington state law rendered her criminal record open and available to the public. The nature of her charges made it illegal for her to pursue her dream of working with young people in the juvenile justice system, and the public availability of her record meant she faced persistent housing and employment discrimination.

Ague reached out to numerous organizations for help, but was told that sealing her record would be near-impossible; Washington is one of only eight states where juvenile records are legally available to the public.

"I called everyone I could think of, telling anyone and everyone about [the problems youth face as a result of their criminal records] in Washington. I needed to get my Class 'A' felony record sealed so I could work with youth. Everyone told me I didn't have a chance, it wasn't going to happen, that people had been working on this issue for years with no progress," Ague said.

However, Ague found her lucky break when the National Juvenile Defender Center (an NJJN partner) referred her to George Yeannakis, an attorney at TeamChild (an NJJN member). Legally, Ague’s record could not be sealed until five years after her release, which posed a huge challenge to her ability to successfully re-enter the outside world. “I was going to graduate and have my degree in criminal justice but not able to find a job. My only option was to ask for a pardon,” Ague recalled.

Ague consulted with Yeannakis, and he decided to represent Ague pro bono in her petition for a pardon. The petition was eventually successful; Ague received a full pardon from the governor in September, 2010. Ague now works as a program coordinator at the University of Washington with the Division of Public Behavioral Health and Justice Policy, and contracts with Juvenile Justice Rehabilitation Administration and the Washington State Partnership Council on Juvenile Justice. Her work focuses in large part on reforming Washington's policies regarding how juvenile records may be accessed. As a result of her work, Ague is also a finalist for the Crosscut Courage Award in Public Service. 

» Visit Starcia's website

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