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May 29, 2014

"Collateral Damage: America’s Failure to Forgive or Forget in the War on Crime"

Web_collateral_damageThe title of this post is the title of this important new report released this morning by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The genesis of the report and its essential elements are well summarized via the text of an e-mail I received from NACDL about this report. Here is the start of this e-mail:

At an event this morning at the Open Society Foundations in Washington, DC, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) is releasing a major new report -- Collateral Damage: America’s Failure to Forgive or Forget in the War on Crime – A Roadmap to Restore Rights and Status After Arrest or Conviction.  With more than 65 million people in America having some form of a criminal record, the universality and import of the problem this nonpartisan report tackles is tremendous.  NACDL's Task Force on the Restoration of Rights and Status After Conviction held hearings all over the country, featuring testimony from more than 150 witnesses from every corner of the criminal justice system, as part of the research leading to this report.  Included among the witnesses were those who have faced unfair, irrational, and often life-altering barriers arising from a brush with the criminal law.  Many of their stories are captured in the report. And many more are available in the complete transcripts of the Task Force’s hearings.

With more than one in four adults in the United States having some form of a criminal record, and more than 2.2 million people currently behind bars in the United States, more than any other nation in the world, the vast impact of the problem of collateral consequences and legal barriers to reentry is undeniable.

  • More than 19 million people in America have a felony conviction on their record.
  • There are 14 million new arrests each year.
  • The burden of the collateral consequences of a conviction, just as arrests figures and so much else about America’s criminal justice system, is racially and ethnically disparate. For example, a criminal record hits black job seekers harder than white job seekers.
  • The U.S. lags behind other countries in the area of the restoration or rights and status.
  • Giving people the opportunity to move beyond a criminal record enhances public safety and saves money.
  • These secret collateral consequences are frequently the result of legislative bodies reflexively and irrationally creating laws as a response to the crime-du-jour, most often without seeking out the appropriate data to craft sound policy.
  • At last count, the American Bar Association’s National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction (http://www.abacollateralconsequences.org/) has identified more than 45,000 separate collateral consequences in existence.

Often without any nexus whatsoever to the offense charged and/or for which an individual has been convicted, many people who have a brush with the law lose everything from their voting rights and their Second Amendment right to bear arms, to access to federal student loans. Some even lose their homes as a result of draconian laws designed to exclude entire families from public housing as a result of the alleged misdeeds of a single family member. 

May 29, 2014 at 10:29 AM | Permalink


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In my mind, this is so related to the treatment of inmates while they are incarcerated. There is no respect and no acknowledgement of their humanity. This was so related to the post about how treating inmates with dignity can reduce crime.

Our European counter parts do have a civil way of dealing with crime and perhaps that does result in their lower incidence of violent crime and recivitism. When visiting an inmate in what is described as the worst and oldest facility in France, there is civility.

A little talked about routine practice in the US Prison system is the routine practice of strip searches and cavity checks. These take place frequently - always before a visit from loved ones and children. It coursens society, but especially those who preform this function. It gives law enforcement and prison guards the message that these citizens have no value. Enduring these indignities for years at a time combined with the colateral consequences when released almost makes adjustment to civil society impossibile.

In the European prison we bought the inmate comfortable clothes at the near by Gap. We shopped for books and personal items that would occupy his time. He cooked and exchanged rescipies with other inmates. When there were visits with family, they were in a private room where interection was was possible. Of course it was confinement with all the implications, but there was dignity.

Posted by: beth | May 29, 2014 9:49:10 PM

Failure to exercise due diligence in getting criminal records will result in a negligent hiring and negligent retention claims in tort liability. That is the main impediment, along with regulations.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 30, 2014 7:30:24 AM

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