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June 13, 2019

US Commission on Civil Rights releases big report on "Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption and the Effects on Communities"

Download (29)The US Commission on Civil Rights has today released this huge new report titled "Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption and the Effects on Communities."  The report runs over 150 pages and provide a comprehensive modern accounting of collateral consequences along with reform recommendations.  The introductory letter from the Commission Chair at the outset of the report provide this summary:

This report provides an overview of the relevant data and arguments for and against the imposition of collateral consequences on people with criminal records.  Each year, federal and state prisons release more than 620,000 people to return to their communities.  While these individuals have often completely exited criminal supervision (for example, through a prison sentence or probation), individuals with criminal records still face potentially thousands of collateral consequences upon reentering society.  These collateral consequences are sanctions, restrictions, or disqualifications that attach to a person because of the person’s criminal history.  For example, individuals with criminal histories can face barriers to voting, jury service, holding public office, securing employment, obtaining housing, receiving public assistance, owning a firearm, getting a driver’s license, qualifying for financial aid and college admission, qualifying for military service, and maintaining legal status as an immigrant.  The reach of each collateral consequence extends past people with criminal records to affect families and communities.

The Commission majority (six Commissioners in favor, one Commissioner in opposition) approved key findings including the following: Collateral consequences exacerbate punishment beyond the criminal conviction after an individual completes the court-imposed sentence.  Valid public safety bases support some collateral consequences, such as limitations on working with children for people convicted of particular dangerous crimes.  Many collateral consequences, however, are unrelated either to the underlying crime for which a person has been convicted or to a public safety purpose. When the collateral consequences are unrelated in this way, their imposition generally negatively affects public safety and the public good.

Evidence shows harsh collateral consequences unrelated to public safety increase recidivism by limiting or by completely barring formerly incarcerated persons’ access to personal and family support.  In addition, the general public, attorneys, and the courts often lack knowledge of what the totality of the collateral consequences are in their jurisdiction, how long they last, and whether they are discretionary or mandatory, or even if they are relevant to public safety or merely an extended punishment beyond a criminal sentence.  This absence of public and judicial awareness of collateral consequences of conviction undermines any deterrent effect that might flow from attaching such consequences, separate and apart from the punishment itself, to criminal convictions.  The processes people must undertake to restore rights, for example through applications for pardon or for judicial record sealing, are often complicated, opaque, and difficult to access.

The Commission majority voted for key recommendations, including the following: Collateral consequences should be tailored to serve public safety.  Policymakers should avoid punitive mandatory consequences that do not serve public safety, bear no rational relationship to the offense committed, and impede people convicted of crimes from safely reentering and becoming contributing members of society.  Jurisdictions that impose collateral consequences should periodically review the consequences imposed by law or regulation to evaluate whether they are necessary to protect public safety and if they are related to the underlying offenses.

The Commission majority specifically calls on Congress to limit discretion of public housing providers to prevent them from categorically barring people with criminal convictions from access to public housing; lift restrictions on access to student loans based on criminal convictions, except for convictions related to financial fraud; eliminate restrictions on TANF and SNAP benefits based on criminal convictions; and require federal courts to give comprehensive notice of federal restrictions on individuals’ rights before guilty plea entry, upon conviction, and upon release from incarceration.

June 13, 2019 at 09:30 AM | Permalink

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