A criminal record?”even one acquired as a juvenile?”can prevent ex-offenders from getting a job, joining the military or even attending college. But this weekend, about 2,500 ex-offenders will take the first step toward wiping their slates clean.

Volunteer attorneys will help teenage ex-offenders begin the expungement process at a meeting Saturday at Austin High School on the West Side.

Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown said she believes this is the first expungement summit open to teens. Adult ex-offenders also will receive help in erasing their criminal records.

Brown said teens often don’t realize they have the right to expunge their records.

“There is a great community need, especially on the juvenile side,” she said. “There have been a lot of changes in the law. People are not aware of the changes.”

About 11,000 Cook County residents who committed crimes before the age of 18 qualify for expungement each year, according to Juvenile Court officials. But only about 200 apply annually, just 1.8 percent. So far, 31 people with juvenile records have applied for expungement in 2005.

“Kids don’t know about it,” said Richard Hutt, a supervisor in the Cook County Public Defender’s office at Juvenile Court.

Under a state law that went into effect on July 1, 2004, Cook County must send notices to ex-offenders when they reach their milestone birthdays of 17 and 21.

At 17, youths can get Class B, Class C and petty business offenses expunged. When they turn 21, everything except first-degree murder and sex crimes can be erased.

“We haven’t seen a big increase in the [expungement] applications, but I’m hoping as the years go by and we get information to juveniles, that will increase,” Brown said.

Juvenile records are sealed in Illinois and accessible only to the offender, his or her parents, guardian and legal counsel. But sometimes confidential information about teenage criminals is leaked to potential employers and others, Hutt said.

“Everything is supposed to be sealed, but records of arrests are pretty available. This [expungement] just gets rid of everything,” he added.

Ex-offenders who want to file their expungement petitions at Austin High School, 231 N. Pine St., must bring the following items: their rap sheet/criminal history, drug test results from the past 30 days (if convicted of a Class 4 felony drug case) and filing fees, which amount to at least $60, according to the event sponsors.

Registration for the event begins at 8:30 a.m. More information is available by calling 312/603-4719.