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May 7, 2019

Latest issue of ABA Journal focuses on addressing collateral consequences

0519CVR-250pxI just received my hard copy of the latest issue of the ABA Journal, and I was pleased to discover that its cover has the phrase "Ending mass incarceration won’t succeed without giving people a second chance."  That phrase also serves as the headline for this lead article, which includes these passages:

People like Steve Price — poor, African-American, a high school dropout, raised by a single mom, forced to hustle on the street to survive — fall into a pattern.  They get arrested, go to prison and are released with little or no preparation, counseling or drug treatment.  Most have no job skills, and few employers are willing to hire them because they have a criminal record.  So they wind up going back.  Recidivism is a problem that for decades has continued to spin the revolving door of mass incarceration.

While the United States has consistently put more people in prison than any other country, it has come up short in helping rebuild their lives once they’re released.  More than 600,000 people leave the nation’s prisons every year with little more than a bus ticket and 50 bucks. Within five years, more than half of former state inmates are back inside.

While there’s been a growing bipartisan movement to end mass incarceration, such efforts still must grapple with the increasing number of “decarcerated” individuals.  The national First Step Act, a major criminal justice reform initiative signed by President Donald Trump in December, offers some hope.  It includes reforms that reduce sentences for federal drug crimes and funding for programs to reduce recidivism.  The president in April announced plans for a “Second Step Act” in his fiscal 2020 budget that will focus on re-entry and reducing unemployment for this with criminal records.  But these programs apply only to those convicted of federal crimes.  Most incarcerated people are in state prisons and county jails.  To complicate matters, state and local governments have thousands of laws, regulations and policies that create barriers that even the most determined people have trouble scaling when trying to get a second chance.

Drew Findling, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, has seen this firsthand in 30 years of representing criminal defendants.  “Someone can leave prison, but in many ways, they remain imprisoned.  They can’t get the job that pays a living wage.  They can’t get into an apartment.  They can’t get the loan for a home, they can’t even feel what it’s like to be a normal citizen,” Findling says.  “You realize there are all these punitive measures the government takes that, while it doesn’t keep you caged, it does, in many ways emotionally and professionally and socially, keep you caged.”

According to the National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction, there are nearly 45,000 measures that can stand in the way of a person with a criminal record seeking to lead a normal, productive life.  These restrictions cover employment, licensing, housing, education, public benefits, credit, loans, immigration status, parental rights, interstate travel and more....

Margaret Love, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who was the first director of the NICCC, and is now executive director of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, recalled that what she found was distressing.  “The phenomenon of collateral consequences is, in a sense, a part of the sentence,” she says.  “People get tarred with a criminal record, whether they go to prison or not, and that can be disabling for their entire life.  Until recently, there have been fewer and fewer ways for people to get out from under the cloud of a criminal record.  The fact is that even arrests come up on rap sheets, and they are frequently used to disqualify people.”

While the number of such consequences remains high, efforts to reduce them have been successful.  According to the resource center, 32 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands enacted at least 61 laws in 2018 aimed at reducing barriers to successful reintegration for those with criminal records, continuing a trend the center has tracked for the past six years.  By the end of 2018, every state passed laws to address the problem.

This issue of the ABA Journal also includes these companion stories:

May 7, 2019 at 03:11 PM | Permalink

Comments

Instead of waiting until after they're convicted of a felony to give them free job training, why don't we give them the job training [technical training] before they start high school--that way they're ready to look for a job the day they graduate.

Posted by: Employed | May 8, 2019 12:30:16 AM

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