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July 23, 2007

USA Today covers collateral consequences

This morning's USA Today has this article, entitled "Ex-cons' sentences don't always end with release," highlighting some of the modern realities of collateral sentencing consequences.  Here is how it starts:

In New Jersey, some ex-convicts can't get a driver's license.  In Alabama, a misdemeanor drug conviction means a ban on adopting a child.  In 12 states, former felons are ineligible for food stamps. 

As record numbers of people leave prison, thousands of ex-criminals are pouring into communities. They've served their time, but their conviction bars them from many jobs, state and federal aid and some types of housing.  Policymakers are beginning to consider whether the hodgepodge of state laws and regulations are protecting the public or creating an underclass of ex-cons who, after serving their sentence, cannot return to society.

Congress will consider the issue later this year.  And a nationwide legal conference will vote on a model state law this month. "What we're seeing around the country is prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges all coming to an understanding that just because someone has committed a crime and had to pay a price for it, doesn't mean they should be relegated forever to second-class citizenship," says Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University and chairman-elect of the American Bar Association's criminal justice section.

Perhaps folks like Lewis Libby, Martha Stewart, Lil' Kim, Michael Milken, Paris Hilton and other high-profile "ex-criminals" who have poured into the community can help bring attention to this issue.

July 23, 2007 at 11:56 AM | Permalink


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This is a tough issue because one does not want to be unnecessarily punitive (e.g., overly broad sex offender registrations). However, it is perfectly understandable that society should make criminals ineligible for various forms of public assistance. They have bitten the hand of society and now seek to be fed from that hand. Felons should not get the vote either.

With respect to jobs, I would think that insurance companies which insure businesses would have a lot of influence on the difficulty experienced by felons re-entering the work force. I would guess that premiums get jacked up quite a bit if a business decides to give a felon a chance. Dealing with that issue would pit Democrats' "be nice to criminals" leanings against Democrats' "be nice to plaintiff's lawyers" leanings.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 23, 2007 12:08:04 PM

Paris Hilton should stay as far away from this as possible. I think most people would have a very high opinion of laws preventing Paris Hilton from getting a driver's license, voting, or adopting children.

Other multimillionaires who complain about the inconveniences they suffer after short prison sentences are unlikely to get much sympathy from the average person.

federalist, I doubt that the insurance companies would divide the Democrats. Felons who sue because an employer, blaming insurance, denied them a job, would tap into many of the Democrats' impulses: be nice to plaintiffs, be nice to criminals, be nice to plaintiffs' lawyers, view insurance companies as deep pocketed targets and the source of much of the evil in the world.

The problem would be the GOP's contrary instincts on all of those things.

Posted by: | Jul 23, 2007 12:47:49 PM

I was talking about victims of violence suing the employer of the person committing the violence.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 23, 2007 12:50:49 PM

You know what pissed me off about you Federalist? You folks love to talk about punishing criminals (especially first time non violent felons) for the duration of their lives. But when it comes to someone you know, you do anything to help them while maintaining that your situation is different. What a bunch of hypocrites you are? Remember, the only different between you and a convicted felons is you haven't gotten caught. Everybody break the law whether it spitting, jaywalking, traffic violations, etc. So, I wish you folks go crawl up your **** and smell the **** that you are.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 23, 2007 12:58:58 PM

"Remember, the only different between you and a convicted felons is you haven't gotten caught. Everybody break the law whether it spitting, jaywalking, traffic violations, etc."

You don't know the difference between a felony and an infraction, Joe? You might want to learn that, but learning basic English grammar is probably a higher priority.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jul 23, 2007 1:03:37 PM

Joe, first of all, with respect to non-violent felons, what do you mean by that? I certainly don't expect to see shoplifters' lives ruined, nor have I ever advocated such a draconian policy. However, if you sell drugs to kids (something which is often called "non-violent"), I think that you belong in jail for a good long time.

My focus continues to be on violent criminals. They should be locked up without pity--why? Because letting them go has a price in blood that I don't want to pay.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 23, 2007 1:07:30 PM

Recidivism is eating our lunch. What I found is that 31% of the Iowa prison inmates were returnees and for those serving sentences shorter than 5 years the return rates were larger DUI (61%), assault (39%), forgery (39%), theft (37%) and burglary (34%). I also found that unemployment rates for parolees were about four times normal and for probationers about twice normal. There is a very long list of barriers to reentry including loss of license (if you live in a rural area you drive or starve) and if don't drive to see their parole officer they could be revoked or they could be revoked if they drove.

Some people do employ parolees and probationers (my brother-in-law is one) and they tell me they are not that much different than other people they hire and some of them have turned out to be good workers they want to keep. But many employers wont give them a chance and some types of employment for felons are forbidden by law.

Felons cannot be admitted to certain professions (law, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and nursing) and some colleges are not willing to admit undergraduates with even minor criminal records.

Posted by: JSN | Jul 23, 2007 1:15:41 PM

I find it really funny that serious legal issues are distilled by non-lawyers into partisan political issues.

Posted by: S.cotus | Jul 23, 2007 2:41:37 PM

Given that partisan politics affects what becomes a "legal" issue, it certainly is germane. If set of affairs is to be changed by legislation, then understanding the motivations of the players is an important thing, n'est-ce pas?

Posted by: federalist | Jul 23, 2007 2:50:41 PM

Ken, for your info, I am a high school dropout with bad English grammar. Is that the best you can do criticizing someone grammar? Yes, I do know the difference between a felony and a infraction. As usual, some people always seemed to missed the boat. The basic of my argument was that everybody break the law, if I may, (cheating on your taxes is also another example). ("But when it comes to someone you know, you do anything to help them while maintaining that your situation is different.")I agree with the premise of violent criminal getting the harsher penalty available. Again, I was referring to non-violent Criminal(White Collar)and not drug dealers whom I despise.

"I find it really funny that serious legal issues are distilled by non-lawyers into partisan political issues."

So, only Lawyers are intelligent enough to have an opinions on serious issues. This type of arrogance is why people hates lawyers. I personally don't hate lawyers. I certainly couldn't challenged them with the laws. But I could go head to head with one on the reality of what the laws does to people. How in the past some of the laws were not in effect then. But now it's destroying people lives. It tickled me that you guys can read (interpreted) a stature and have difference opinions of the same stature. I guess only the one in power dictates what the stature should be.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 23, 2007 7:30:23 PM

Joe, re: S.cotus' comment, I couldn't agree with you more.

Joe, I also hope that you will take the comments here in the spirit in which they are given. People here, generally speaking, post in good faith, and we try to have a civil conversation about sentencing issues. Your opinion is valid, and your reaction to how the justice system works is worthwhile to post here. But the conversation breaks down if we tell each other to smell ourselves.

As for your point, I think the bottom line is that the safety of society comes first, and while many many people break laws, most people live pretty law-abiding lives, and people like that deserve protection from violent criminals.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 23, 2007 7:57:37 PM

Federalist, I apologize for the stupid remark. You are right.The reason that I come to this site is to learn and try to understand why things are the way they are. Some things drive me crazy especially when you see how these draconian laws (IMHO) are enacted under the disguise of protecting the society. When I was 17 I was going out with a 15 years old girl and to me that was normal. But now this behavior (Alabama) is a felony. Why does this happen? The last 6 years, many laws were enacted trying to policed so-called behavior. The other thing that bother me is that there are still Jim Crow laws on the book. How is this still possible? I know federal laws trumped states laws but only when these states get caught. These laws should be purged permanently.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 24, 2007 3:11:51 AM

Please support H.R.623 Second chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2007 by Congressman Charles Rangel.

Posted by: Gary Owen | Jul 25, 2007 1:43:37 AM

Gary, Charlie has been trying to get his second act bill to the floor for some time now. While the people here are so caught up with using the Libby commutation to argues for a reasonable sentence which most people know that the courts will not accept. The time should be spent on acknowledging the realities of the Bush pardon power. It is clear that thousand of people will never get a pardon from him. The only alternative is to have another avenue to help the people who had paid their due. The pros and cons of who or what, should be allows to be debated on the floor. What is the hell wrong with these people. We not talking about extending this privilege to the violent and habitual offenders. The bill clearly states first time convicted non violent felons.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 25, 2007 10:22:24 AM

There are a fair number of prison inmates who are serving sentences in Iowa prisons (I can't extend that result to other prisons) for property and public order crimes that are shorter than 5 years. A lot of them are returnees so they are not good candidates for early parole. If we could break the cycle that results in recidivism we could reduce the size of that set of inmates. My guess is 10% reduction in five years is not impossible which would stop prison population growth and maybe even reduce the population under the best of circumstances.

What about drugs crimes? Well the slogan is we should lock up drug dealers and we have done that a lot. Most the inmates serving a sentence for a drug infraction were charged with drug trafficking. I don't think the chances of getting drug dealers released early is very likely.

I strongly support the sencod chance act but one of my Senators (Grassley) has devoted his career to increasing the harsness of punishment and shutting down opportunitues for felons to rebuild their lives. I don't think he will chage his mind.

Posted by: JSN | Jul 25, 2007 2:50:19 PM

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