Thursday, September 17, 2020

"Public opinion and the politics of collateral consequence policies"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Travis Johnston and Kevin Wozniak recently published in Punishment & Society.  Here is its abstract:

We analyze data from a national sample of the U.S. population to assess public support for policies that deny former offenders’ access to job training programs, food stamps, and public housing. We find that Americans generally oppose benefit restrictions, though support for these policies is higher among Republicans and people with higher levels of racial resentment.  We also find that a legislator’s criminal justice reform positions generally do not significantly affect voters’ evaluation of him or her, and even voters with more punitive attitudes toward collateral consequence policies support legislators who advance particular kinds of reform proposals.  These findings provide little evidence that any group of Americans would be mobilized to vote against a legislator who works to reform collateral consequence policies. We discuss the implications of these findings for American and comparative studies of the politics of punishment.

September 17, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

"The Many Roads to Reintegration: A 50-State Report on Laws Restoring Rights and Opportunities After Arrest or Conviction"

Many-Roads-Cover-1-768x994The title of this post is the title of this big new report by Margaret Love and David Schlussel of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center. The report, among other valuable elements, provides a "National Ranking of Restoration Laws" for all states and DC. Here is part of the 100+ page report's executive summary:

This report sets out to describe the present landscape of laws in the United States aimed at restoring rights and opportunities after an arrest or conviction. This is an update and refresh of our previous national survey, Forgiving and Forgetting in American Justice, last revised in 2018.  Much of the material in this report is drawn from our flagship resource, the Restoration of Rights Project.  We are heartened by the progress that has been made toward neutralizing the effect of a criminal record since the present reform era got underway in a serious fashion less than a decade ago, especially in the last two years.

This report considers remedies for three of the four main types of collateral consequences: loss of civil rights, dissemination of damaging record information, and loss of opportunities and benefits, notably in the workplace.

Its first chapter finds that the trend toward restoring the vote to those living in the community — a long-time goal of national reform organizations and advocates — has accelerated in recent years.  Further reforms may be inspired by the high-profile litigation over Florida’s “pay-to-vote” system, which shines a national spotlight on financial barriers to the franchise.  This chapter also finds that systems for restoring firearms rights are considerably more varied, with many states providing relief through the courts but others requiring a full pardon.

The second chapter deals with laws intended to revise or supplement criminal records, an issue that has attracted the most attention in legislatures but that has benefited the least from national guidance. It is divided into several parts, based on the type of record affected (conviction or nonconviction) and the type of relief offered (e.g. pardon, expungement, set-aside, certificates, diversion, etc.).  The wide variety in eligibility, process, and effect of these record relief laws speaks volumes about how far the Nation is from common ground.

The third chapter concerns the area in which perhaps the most dramatic progress has been made just since 2018: the regulation of how criminal record is considered by public employers and occupational licensing agencies.  Legislatures have been guided and encouraged by helpful model laws and policies proposed by two national organizations with differing regulatory philosophies: The Institute of Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, and the National Employment Law Project, a workers’ rights research and advocacy group.  Regulation of private employment has also been influenced by national models, although to a lesser extent and more needs to be done in this area.

This report makes clear that substantial progress that has been made in the past several years toward devising and implementing an effective and functional system for restoring rights and status after arrest or conviction.  The greatest headway has been made in restoring rights of citizenship and broadening workplace opportunities controlled by the state. The area where there is least consensus, and that remains most challenging to reformers, is managing dissemination of damaging criminal record information.  Time will tell how the goal of a workable and effective relief system is achieved in our laboratories of democracy.

September 8, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

More great resources from the Collateral Consequences Resource Center

Last week in this post, I highlighted that folks at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center were producing series of posts drawn from a forthcoming huge report surveying mechanisms for restoring rights and opportunities following arrest or conviction.  Since then, the CCRC folks have these three more new postings:

September 1, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Effective and timely review of the state of disenfranchisement for those with criminal convictions

This lengthy new Stateline piece, headlined "More People With Felony Convictions Can Vote, but Roadblocks Remain," provides an effective review of the realities of felon disenfranchisement circa 2020. I recommend the full piece and here are excerpts:

In every state except Maine and Vermont, people convicted of felonies are stripped of their voting rights while in prison. In most states, that ban extends to those on probation or parole, while some states have additional time and fee requirements, disenfranchising millions of people.

[Iowa Gov Kim] Reynolds restored automatic voting rights to most people with felony records after they complete their sentence, including parole or probation; the exceptions are people with homicide convictions, who must file an application.  Under the order, an estimated 60,000 additional people now are eligible to vote in the Hawkeye State.

They join the ranks of hundreds of thousands of others with felony convictions who are newly eligible to vote in the general election this year.  Since the 2016 election, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Virginia also have implemented or expanded voting rights for some people convicted of felonies.

The political stakes are up for debate.  Roughly 630,000 people with felony convictions can vote this year in Florida, nearly six times the 113,000 vote-margin by which Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the state.  But research has shown that like other voters, people convicted of felonies who are registered don’t necessarily vote.

Still, groups ranging from liberal political organizations to the nonpartisan League of Women Voters are working furiously to find these newly eligible voters as registration deadlines approach.  But the pandemic is complicating in-person registration drives, as are the uncertainties around mail-in voting.  And eight states explicitly require people with felony records to pay some form of court costs and fees before registering.

In 2016, an estimated 6.1 million people or 1 in 40 adults were unable to vote because of a felony conviction, according to the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy organization. The project found that Black people were the most likely to be disenfranchised: More than 7 percent of the adult African American population, or 1 in 13 people, could not vote because of a felony conviction....

In Kentucky, an estimated 170,000 people with felony records were given voting rights in December under an order from Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. As in Iowa, the order doesn’t automatically apply to people convicted of certain violent offenses. Grassroots advocacy organization Kentuckians for the Commonwealth has been working for years on expanding voting rights. Since Beshear’s order, and with the help of other organizations, it has put together a list of more than 60,000 names and contact information for people who now can register to vote....

In 2018, 65 percent of Florida voters supported a constitutional amendment to give voting rights to people with felony records who had completed parole or probation, with the exception of those convicted of murder or sexual offenses. But the GOP-controlled legislature last year passed a measure to require that restitution, fines and fees be paid before voting rights are restored. Over half of the estimated 1.4 million people convicted of felonies in the state have outstanding court costs or restitution, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School.

Lawsuits have ensued over the constitutionality of the law, which opponents liken to a poll tax.  A federal judge in May found the requirement to be unconstitutional. But Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in his favor.  Voting rights groups asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in; the court in July left in place the appeals court’s order.  The issue remains before the appeals court, which heard arguments in the case Aug. 18.

Florida is known for close elections, and some political observers think a majority of the new voters would vote Democratic.  But Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of voting rights and elections in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Project, dismisses the notion that politics drive enfranchisement efforts.  “The decisions about who has the right to vote should never be based on an assessment of how we think someone is going to vote,” he said.  “We should be for or against voting rights restoration because of the merits of the policy, not the politics.”...

Beyond the push toward the November elections, voting rights activists eventually want to extend voting to people on probation or parole and people in prison.  “Residents who are required to pay taxes, be good citizens, they should also have a role in determining who governs them,” said Nicole Porter, advocacy director of state and local policy for the Sentencing Project.

A referendum on the ballot in California in November would give parolees voting rights.  Efforts are ongoing in other states, including Connecticut, where legislation proposed by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, a Democrat, to extend voting rights to people on parole died this year.

September 1, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Amazing resources and insights from the Collateral Consequences Resource Center

Regular readers are used to my regular reminders to regularly check out work over at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center.  Doing so recently brings up a terrific series of posts drawn from a forthcoming report surveying mechanisms for restoring rights and opportunities following arrest or conviction.  Here are posts from this series:

In addition, the CCRC's website also has recently published these commentary posts on cutting edge topics:

August 20, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Labeled For Life: A Review of Youth Sex Offender Registration Laws"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Juvenile Law Center. Here is an excerpt:

Over 200,000 individuals are on sex offender registries for offenses committed when they were children.  Registration can be life-long and can be imposed without any inquiry into the child’s individual circumstances or progress in treatment. Some states require community notification in addition to registration and reporting requirements.  Many young people face registration as a consequence of developmentally normal behavior, including playing doctor, streaking, sexting, and consensual teen romances.  While some youth commit serious sexual harm and should be held accountable for this conduct, they also need support and effective interventions to change their behavior; the vast majority of youth who act out sexually do not recidivate.  A meta-analysis reviewing 107 studies found that across behavior type, over 97% of children charged with sexual offenses never harm sexually again.  Moreover, after almost 30 years of placing children on registries, empirical research concludes that the practice does not prevent or reduce sexual violence. Rather, placing young people on registries fuels cycles of homelessness, incarceration, and trauma, for both the registrant and survivors.

Children on the registry — including some as young as 8 years old — face residency and employment restrictions as well as barriers to education; suffer the stigmatization of being labeled a sex offender; and can face possible incarceration for failing to meet onerous registration and reporting requirements.  A 2013 Human Rights Watch report examined the grave consequences befalling registered youth.  Over 85% of these youth reported serious mental health issues or suicidal ideation.  A 2017 study revealed that registered children are nearly twice as likely to have experienced an unwanted sexual assault that involved contact or penetration in the past year when compared to nonregistered children who have also engaged in harmful or illegal sexual behaviors.  They are also five times more likely to report having been approached by an adult for sex in the past year.  Children on sex offender registries are four times more likely to report a recent suicide attempt than non-registered children who have engaged in harmful or illegal sexual behavior.  Many registered youth also experience vigilantism in their communities, with 52% reporting harassment and physical violence directed at them.  Accessing and maintaining housing is also a major barrier for both registered youth and their families.  Over 44% of children experienced homelessness as a result of the restrictions placed on their housing due to registration.  Almost all registered individuals face financial challenges and barriers to employment.  In some states, registration fees are so prohibitive that many fall out of compliance and face incarceration....

Although some states have improved youth registration requirements through legislation, the consequence of registration for any period of time is severe. Leading researchers that have studied the impact of registration on young people have empirical data demonstrating the harm caused by registration.  Legislative advocacy is needed — in coordination with litigation — to eradicate youth registration. This statutory review demonstrates that regional differences and nuances of state youth registration laws preclude a “one size fits all” approach to reform. Strategies and research must be based on best practices for both incremental reform and efforts to completely abolish youth registration nationwide.  In addition, a federal legislative strategy will be a necessary and fundamental component of these efforts, as many states continue to be constrained by stringent requirements imposed by the Adam Walsh Act.  Moreover, states continue to look toward the federal government and changing federal youth registration law would be one way to inspire and lead states to do the same.  Most states that require juvenile registration do so without regard to either changing United States Supreme Court caselaw or the emergent research on its effectiveness at promoting public safety or the harm it causes children.  Against this backdrop, the time is now to set a targeted policy reform agenda to roll back these harsh registration laws.

August 20, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Offender Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, August 13, 2020

ABA adopts resolution urging jurisdictions to repeal all felon disenfranchisement laws

I was pleased to see news of the American Bar Association passing a resolution calling for the repeal laws that disenfranchise persons based upon criminal conviction.  The full resolution is bold and broad and reads as follows:

RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to:

  a.  repeal laws that disenfranchise persons based upon criminal conviction;

  b.  restore voting rights to those currently and formerly incarcerated, including those on probation, parole, or any other community-based correctional program;

  c.  assure that no person convicted of crime is disenfranchised because of nonpayment of a fine, court costs, restitution or other financial obligations imposed as a result of a criminal conviction.

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association amends the Criminal Justice Standards on Collateral Sanctions and Discretionary Disqualification of Convicted Persons (3d Edition, 2004) as follows:

  Standards 19-2.6 Prohibited collateral sanctions Jurisdictions should not impose the following collateral sanctions: (a) deprivation of the right to vote.

August 13, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

"Blanket Exclusions, Animus, and the False Policies They Promote"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Catherine Carpenter now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Saying something is true does not make it so. A nd saying it louder does not make it truer.  But such is the legislative posture behind modern day sex offense registration laws that punish those who commit sex crimes because of entrenched myths that overstate the laws’ positive impact on public safety and exaggerate recidivism rates of offenders.  And it is not only registration schemes themselves that have been scaffold-ed by these myths, but numerous ancillary laws that exclude benefits to offenders strictly because they have committed sex offenses.

Sadly, this sticky, but false, narrative has provided the animus that galvanized implementation of registration and notification regimes. And in its most recent chapter, the narrative has been formalized into blanket exclusions — or what this article calls “all except for” provisions — that have inserted into a myriad of criminal justice reform efforts without much notoriety.

The effect?  Registrants and their families have been prohibited from broad-based and important ameliorative changes to the carceral state, many to which they should be entitled, and to which they are denied only because of their status as registrants.  Indeed, within comprehensive legislation covering numerous crime and sentencing reforms, these ubiquitous blanket exclusions have the markings of boilerplate language that have been introduced even where the new legislation has no rational relationship to the protection of the public’s safety or the prior sex offense conviction.

This article examines the moral panic and false data used to buttress blanket exclusion provisions — their inflated importance obvious. It concludes that these measures, which are un-tethered to public safety concerns, and only supported by governmental and community animus, violate fourteenth amendment protections.

August 12, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Iowa Gov, via executive order, restores voting rights to thousands with felony convictions

As reported in this lengthy local article, headlined "Gov. Kim Reynolds signs executive order restoring felon voting rights, removing Iowa's last-in-the-nation status," fans of democracy has some good news to celebrate today out of the great state of Iowa.  Here are the details:

Thousands of Iowans with felony convictions who have served their sentences can now participate in November's presidential election after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order Wednesday restoring their voting rights.

Reynolds, a Republican, signed the executive order Wednesday morning in her office at the Iowa Capitol, flanked by a group of local leaders and legislators.  "Quite simply, when someone serves their sentence and pays the price our justice system has set for their crimes, they should have their right to vote restored, automatically, plain and simple," she said.

Iowa was the last state in the nation that still banned all people with felony convictions from voting — even after the completion of their sentences — unless they applied individually to the governor's office to have their rights restored.

Reynolds has spent the past two years advocating for the Iowa Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights but had resisted calls to sign an executive order, saying she believes a constitutional amendment is the best solution because it can't be changed by a future governor.  This summer, after Republicans in the Iowa Senate did not pass the amendment and after George Floyd's death prompted increased advocacy on racial justice issues, she announced she would sign the order.

Iowa's felon voting ban was estimated to affect tens of thousands of people.  The Iowa Department of Corrections has discharged an average of 5,000 people with felony convictions annually in recent years, according to Sam Langholz, the governor's legal counsel.  A 2016 report from The Sentencing Project found that the ban affected nearly one in 10 African-American adults....

Reynolds' order states that felons must have discharged their sentence, including any parole and probation, before their voting rights will be restored.  Anyone still serving a prison sentence for a felony conviction will not be able to vote.

The order does not automatically grant voting rights to people convicted of felonies outlined in Iowa Code chapter 707, which includes murder and manslaughter.  People convicted of serious sexual abuse crimes will need to complete any special sentences before their voting rights are restored.  Those special sentences last either 10 years or for life, depending on the crime, meaning people convicted of the most serious sexual crimes will never automatically regain their voting rights. Those whose voting rights are not automatically restored under the order can still petition the governor individually to have them restored.

The executive order does not require people with felony convictions to fully pay back any restitution payments owed to their victims before regaining their rights, as was included in a bill introduced by Republicans in the Iowa Senate earlier this year. But the order does not relieve them from making their payments.  Nearly one in four Iowa felony convictions in the last two years came with a judgment ordering restitution to be paid to victims.  The average tab for those nearly 4,000 convictions is $11,607....

Matthew Bruce, an organizer with Des Moines Black Lives Matter, said he didn't agree with how the executive order prevents automatic restoration for people on probation or parole.  But he said he was encouraged to see that the order doesn't require payment of restitution.  "I was very glad about the restitution piece, and I thought that was the biggest victory out of all of this," he said.

In her remarks, Reynolds again emphasized her commitment to eventually restoring voting rights through a constitutional amendment. “Let me be clear, an executive order is at best a temporary solution,” she said.  “It can be changed with the stroke of a pen by the next governor, which is not good enough.  Something that is fundamentally right should not be based on the benevolence of a single elected official.”

August 5, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 31, 2020

Big new ACLU and HRW report details "How Probation and Parole Feed Mass Incarceration in the United States"

The quoted portion of the title of this post is part of the title of this huge new report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union fully titled "Revoked: How Probation and Parole Feed Mass Incarceration in the United States." This important 200+ page report includes these passages in its "summary":

Probation, parole, and other forms of supervision are marketed as alternatives to incarceration in the United States. Supervision, it is claimed, will keep people out of prison and help them get back on their feet.

Throughout the past 50 years, the use of probation (a sentence often imposed just after conviction) and parole (served after incarceration) has soared alongside jail and prison populations. As of 2016, the last year for which supervision data is available, 2.2 million people were incarcerated in United States jails and prisons, but more than twice as many, 4.5 million people — or one in every 55 — were under supervision.  Supervision rates vary vastly by state, from one in every 168 people in New Hampshire, to one in every 18 in Georgia.

Over the past several decades,arbitrary and overly harsh supervision regimes have led people back into US jails and prisons — feeding mass incarceration.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), in the late 1970s, 16 percent of US state and federal prison admissions stemmed from violations of parole and some types of probation.  This number climbed to a high of 36 percent in 2008, and, in 2018, the last year for which data is available, was 28 percent.  A different set of data for the previous year from the Council of State Governments, which includes all types of probation violations — but is limited to state prison populations — shows that 45 percent of all US state prison admissions stemmed from probation and parole violations.  These figures do not include people locked up for supervision violations in jails, for which there is little nationwide data.  Black and brown people are both disproportionately subjected to supervision and incarcerated for violations.

This report documents how and why supervision winds up landing many people in jail and prison — feeding mass incarceration rather than curtailing it.  The extent of the problem varies among states, and in recent years multiple jurisdictions have enacted reforms to limit incarceration for supervision violations.  This report focuses on three states where our initial research indicated that — despite some reforms — the issue remains particularly acute: Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Drawing on data provided by or obtained from these states, presented here for the first time, and interviews with 164 people incarcerated for supervision violations, family members, government officials, practitioners, advocates, and experts, we document the tripwires in these states leading to incarceration.  These include burdensome conditions imposed without providing resources; violations for minor slip-ups; lengthy incarceration while alleged violations are adjudicated; flawed procedures; and disproportionately harsh sentences for violations.  The report shows that, nationwide,most people locked up for supervision violations were not convicted of new offenses — rather, they were incarcerated for breaking the rules of their supervision, such as for using drugs or alcohol, failing to report address changes, or not following the rules of supervision-mandated programs.  Of those who were incarcerated for new offenses, in our focus states, many were for conduct like possessing drugs; public order offenses such as disorderly conduct or resisting arrest; misdemeanor assaultive conduct; or shoplifting....

The root causes of these violations, the report documents, are often a lack of resources and services, unmet health needs, and racial bias.The report also draws attention to marked racial disparities in who is subjected to supervision and how authorities enforce it. In practice, supervision in many parts of the US has become a system to control and warehouse people who are struggling with an array of economic and health-related challenges, without offering meaningful solutions to those underlying problems.

July 31, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Via 6-3 vote, SCOTUS refuses to vacate Eleventh Circuit stay that prevents certain persons with felony convictions from registering to vote

As reported in this CNBC piece, headlined "Supreme Court leaves in place Florida ‘pay-to-vote’ law aimed at felons," the Court this afternoon left in operation "a Florida law requiring those with felony convictions to pay fines before they may vote, potentially blocking about three-quarters of a million otherwise-eligible voters from the polls."  Here is more of the legal essentials: 

The case concerned an a 2018 ballot initiative in which voters in the state ended the permanent disenfranchisement of felons who had completed “all terms of sentence including parole or probation.”  The legislature defined the phrase the following year to include fines, restitution and other fees. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed the bill in June 2019. 

After civil rights groups challenged the legislature’s move, a federal judge blocked the law from going into effect, but that decision was halted by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is continuing to consider the matter.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Campaign Legal Center asked the top court to reverse the 11th Circuit’s decision.  The groups argued in court papers that most of the 750,000 potential voters could not afford what they owed, and that many had no way of knowing how much they were required to pay.  In court papers, they urged the justices to block the law so that the August and November elections would not be “undermined by chaos and disenfranchisement.”

Attorneys for DeSantis argued that states were “under no obligation to reenfranchise felons at all.” They argued that “all Floridians will be irreparably harmed” if the court allowed “hundreds of thousands of ineligible voters to take part in the upcoming elections.”

Paul Smithvice president of the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement on Thursday that the Supreme Court’s order was “deeply disappointing.”

“Florida’s voters spoke loud and clear when nearly two-thirds of them supported rights restoration at the ballot box in 2018,” Smith said. “The Supreme Court stood by as the Eleventh Circuit prevented hundreds of thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they can’t afford to pay fines and fees.”

Technically, all that SCOTUS did today via this order was turn down an application to vacate the stay that the Eleventh Circuit had put in place. This order was via 6-3 vote, with Justice Sotomayor authoring a dissent joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan that starts and ends this way:

This Court’s order prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor.  And it allows the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to disrupt Florida’s election process just days before the July 20 voter-registration deadline for the August primary, even though a preliminary injunction had been in place for nearly a year and a Federal District Court had found the State’s pay-to-vote scheme unconstitutional after an 8-day trial.  I would grant the application to vacate the Eleventh Circuit’s stay....

This Court’s inaction continues a trend of condoning disfranchisement.  Ironically, this Court has wielded Purcell as a reason to forbid courts to make voting safer during a pandemic, overriding two federal courts because any safety-related changes supposedly came too close to election day.  See Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee, 589 U.S. ___ (2020) (per curiam).  Now, faced with an appellate court stay that disrupts a legal status quo and risks immense disfranchisement — a situation that Purcell sought to avoid — the Court balks.

July 16, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, June 07, 2020

An initial list of federal sentencing reforms to advance greater equity and justice for congressional consideration

According to this recent Hill article, headlined "Pelosi: Democrats to unveil sweeping criminal justice proposal Monday," a federal criminal justice bill is in the works that may go beyond police reforms.  Here are the basics:

Democrats on Monday will introduce wide-ranging legislation designed to combat racial inequities in the criminal justice system, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Thursday.  The much awaited package, currently being crafted by members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), will feature provisions designed to eliminate racial profiling, rein in the excessive use of police force and repeal the so-called qualified immunity doctrine for law enforcers, which protects individual officers from lawsuits over actions they perform while on duty.

"We will not relent until that is secured — that justice is secured," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.  Yet the package will go far beyond that, Pelosi suggested.... Aside from the criminal justice elements of the Democrats' legislation, Pelosi said the package would also include provisions designed to raise the status of African Americans outside of the criminal justice system as well. "It is about other injustices, too. It's about health disparities, it's about environmental injustice, it's about economic injustice, it's about educational injustice," Pelosi said. 

This Politico piece suggests the developing bill is primarily focused on police reforms.  But if Congress has an interest, as I think it should, in broader criminal justice reforms to advance greater equity and justice, I have many suggestions.  Let's get started with some basic federal sentencing reforms:

1. Equalize crack and powder cocaine sentencing (finally!) Based on data showing huge unfair disparities, the US Sentencing Commission in 1995 (a full quarter century ago!) sent to Congress proposed guidelines changes to fix the 100:1 crack/powder cocaine disparity by adopting a 1:1 quantity ratio at the powder cocaine level.  But Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed, legislation rejecting the USSC’s proposed guideline changes (see basics here and here), thereby ensuring decades of disproportionately severe crack sentences and extreme racial inequities in cocaine offense punishments.

Barack Obama gave a 2007 campaign speech assailing the crack/powder disparity, and in 2009 the Obama Justice Department advocated for "Congress to completely eliminate the crack/powder disparity."  Sadly, despite strong DOJ advocacy for a 1:1 ratio in April 2009, it still took Congress more than a year to enact any reform to the 100:1 crack/powder cocaine disparity, and then it only could muster a partial reduction in crack sentences rather than the parity advocated by the USSC in 1995 and by DOJ in 2009.  Specifically, the Fair Sentencing Act enshrined a bew 18:1 crack/powder quantity disparity ratio into federal drug sentencing statutes and guidelines, and even this modest reform did not become fully retroactive until eight years later with the FIRST STEP Act.

As the USSC said in 1995 and as DOJ recognized in 2009, crack cocaine and powder cocaine are functionally the same drug save for the fact that Blacks are far more likely to be prosecuted federally for the former.  The crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity has long been the most tangible and consequential example of structural sentencing racism, and the Minnesota Supreme Court decades ago found a lesser disparity to be unconstitutional under its state constitution.  This ugly stain still impacting thousands of Black federal defendants needs to be wiped out once and for all.

2. Repeal federal mandatory minimumsEven before its important work highlighting racial biases in the application of federal cocaine penalties, the USSC began noting the racial inequities in the application of federal mandatory minimum statutes.  In its 1991 report, the USSC noted early data showing "disparate application of mandatory minimum sentences [which] appears to be related to the race of the defendant, where whites are more likely than non-whites to be sentenced below the applicable mandatory minimum."  In its 2011 report, the USSC again documented with copious data the various ways that the effects of severe mandatory minimum sentencing provisions "fall on Black offenders to a greater degree than on offenders in other racial groups."

One need not rely on USSC data to see clear evidence of racial disparities in the application of federal mandatory minimum.  M. Marit Rehavi and Sonja B. Starr found that federal prosecutors are almost twice as likely to file charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences against Black defendants.  Similarly, Crystal Yang found that "Black offenders are far more likely to be charged with mandatory minimums than similar white offenders, and after Booker, black defendants are significantly more likely to face mandatory minimums that exceed their Guidelines minimum compared to white defendants."

Critically, mandatory minimums have all sorts of flaws, both in theory and in practice, that justify their repeal on a number of bases beyond advancing greater racial equity.  But, as is too often the case throughout criminal justice systems, a bad law for everyone often gets applied in a way that is especially inequitable and unjust for people of color.  All federal mandatory minimums ought to be repealed.

3. Create a federal expungement statute. Having a criminal record severely limits access to employment, education, housing, civic engagement, and public assistance.  As highlighted by a recent US Commission on Civil Rights report on collateral consequences, "People of color are more likely to be arrested, convicted, and sentenced more harshly than are white people, which amplifies the impact of collateral consequences on this population."

An encouraging recent study by Sonja B. Starr and J.J. Prescott involving expungements in Michigan over the course of decades found that expungement recipients had extremely low subsequent crime rates and saw a sharp upturn in wages and employment levels.  Sounds like a win-win, and ever more states are each year expanding and enhancing mechanisms for record relief.  But there is currently no general federal expungement or record sealing statute, and federal courts have no inherent authority to expunge records.  Congress should again follow the wise lead of the states by creating a robust expungement statute ASAP.

Critically, these three suggestions are really just low-hanging fruit for criminal justice reforms in the sentencing space that would obviously and easily advance greater equity and justice for all.  There are plenty of other important structural changes I would also like to see in the name of racial justice ranging from eliminating all felon disenfranchisement to decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana and lots more in between.  Indeed, any kind of wise criminal justice reform is likely to serve as a kind of racial justice reform given the consistently biased operation of our justice systems.  But for now, I will be content to advocate for these three reforms and encourage others to use the comments to indicate what they consider the most urgent forms of reform in this arena.

June 7, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, New USSC crack guidelines and report, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

"Retributive Expungement"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Brian Murray now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Expungement relief was introduced in the mid-twentieth century to reward and incentivize rehabilitation for arrestees and ex-offenders and to protect their privacy.  Recently, many states have broadened their expungement remedies, and those remedies remain useful given the negative effects of public criminal records on reentry.  But recent scholarship has suggested an “uptake gap,” meaning many who are eligible never obtain relief.  Despite broadening eligibility, petitioners face substantial obstacles to filing, pre-hearing hurdles, waiting periods, and difficult standards of review without the assistance of counsel.  And even when expungement is granted, the recipients are basically left on their own to guarantee the efficacy of the remedy.  Some of these attributes of expungement were originally conceived as features, designed to ensure only the most rehabilitated received relief, allowing the state to continue to pursue public safety objectives with public criminal records.  But the cold reality of expungement procedure leaves many petitioners facing insurmountable obstacles that amplify the effects of the punishment originally imposed.

In exploring this reality, this Article illustrates that expungement procedure is stuck in a rehabilitative and privacy-centric paradigm.  While this framework inspired the creation of expungement remedies and recent reforms, it also has justified onerous procedural obstacles and the placing of the burden of persuasion on the petitioner rather than the state.  Outside of automated expungement, which is still relatively rare and restricted to only certain types of petitions, most expungement regimes in substance or through procedure invert what should be the state’s burden to justify retention of criminal records that enable extra punishment by state and private actors.  An alternative theoretical basis for expungement is necessary to convince policymakers and decision-makers of the need for broader substantive and procedural reform.

This Article suggests a different paradigm: retributive based expungement.  It proposes that incorporating retributive constraints that already underlie the criminal system can benefit petitioners.  Plenty of arrestees do not deserve stigma and ex-offenders have done their time, meaning punitive stigma from public criminal records can amount to unwarranted punishment.  A retributive-minded expungement procedure would all but guarantee expungement in the case of arrests, where the desert basis is questionable, and would place the burden of proof on the state for convictions once desert has been satisfied.  As such, this approach can supplement the case for broader eligibility, automated expungement, and favorable pre-hearing procedures that limit the uptake gap.  It also has legal and political viability given that many states already maintain retributivist constraints on sentencing and given that huge swaths of the public perceive desert as a crucial component of any criminal justice issue.  In fact, some states are already moving in this direction and can serve as a model for the rest of the country.  In short, retributivist constraints can trim procedural overgrowth to supplement substantive reforms that already recognize the disproportionate effects of a public criminal record.

June 3, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 29, 2020

"Not Letting Felons Vote Damages Democracy for All Citizens"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Verdict commentary authored by Austin Sarat.  Here are excerpts:

On Sunday, a Florida federal district court struck down a state law requiring people with serious criminal convictions to pay court fines and fees before they can register to vote.  The court found that such a requirement would amount to a poll tax and discriminate against those who cannot afford to pay.  That decision is the latest salvo in two battles: Florida’s recent effort to restore voting rights to felons, and America’s long history of using disenfranchisement as a collateral consequence of criminal punishment.

The latter has a shameful history.  This nation’s longstanding hostility toward criminals and convicts bubbles over in an 1871 Virginia court decision that described prisoners as “slaves of the state.”  As a consequence of his crime, a prisoner has “not only forfeited his liberty, but all his personal rights except those which the law in its humanity accords to him.”

In 2018 the Florida electorate voted to repudiate that history when 65% of the voters supported a proposal to amend the state constitution so that convicted felons who complete “all terms of sentence” could vote. Several months later, the heavily Republican state legislature tried to limit the impact of that amendment. It passed a bill saying that “all terms of sentence” included the discharge of financial obligations such as fines, fees and restitution.  Sunday’s court decision enjoined the application of that law....

Because of the current racial composition of America’s prisons and jails, felony disenfranchisement has had a much greater impact on the democratic participation of citizens of color than that of white citizens.  Yet, in 2002, a different federal court in Florida dismissed a lawsuit claiming that felony disenfranchisement was racially discriminatory....

Florida’s long history of felony disenfranchisement is hardly unique.  The practice of removing voting rights from people convicted of crimes can be traced back to the colonial practice of treating criminals as civilly dead.  And soon after the American Revolution, felony disenfranchisement was written into the law of many of the newly formed states.

Debates about slavery and the aftermath of the Civil War gave added impetus to this practice.  States passed laws in the late 1860s to disenfranchise felons and, in so doing, test the meaning of the Fifteenth Amendment’s extension of voting rights. In the post-war South, white southern Democrats used felony disenfranchisement to deny those rights, invoking historical similarities between the legal statuses of slaves and convicts as justification.

Today, according to a report by the Sentencing Project, nearly 40% of the 6.1 million people disenfranchised by a felony conviction are black....  Currently 48 states and the District of Columbia do not allow felons to vote while they are serving time in prison.  Thirty-one states prevent people on parole or probation from casting ballots.  Four states permanently bar ex-inmates from voting and do not allow restoration of that right, while eight others disenfranchise only people who have committed particularly egregious kinds of crimes.

Sunday’s court decision striking down new barriers erected to limit the number of Florida’s previously disenfranchised population from voting is admirable, but much more needs to be done to ensure that those who commit serious crimes can exercise one of the essential rights of citizenship — the right to vote....  Moreover, if this nation wants prisoners, when they leave  confinement, to return to be productive, well-integrated members of society, it should make sure they have a stake in that society.  Voting gives them that stake.  Ending felony disenfranchisement also would help break the legacy of slavery which continues to haunt imprisonment in the U.S.

The entire country should follow the examples of Maine and Vermont, the only two states that allow people to vote from behind bars and after they are released.  They have done so for more than two hundred years. Canada, Denmark, Spain, and 13 other democracies also permit felons to exercise the franchise even when they are serving time.  They recognize that voting is a right of adult citizens, not a privilege accorded only to some.  Last year legislators in Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Virginia introduced bills to allow all prisoners to vote, a position endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign.

Dissenting in the Richardson case, Justice Thurgood Marshall wisely noted that there is no reason to believe that “felons have any less interest in the democratic process than any other citizen. Like everyone else, their daily lives are deeply affected and changed by the decisions of government.”  And, Justice Marshall was right to remind all of us that the right to vote “is the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government.”

May 29, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Federal judge strikes down Florida's "unconstitutional pay-to-vote system" for former offenders

This Politico article reports on a big new ruling from Florida under the headline "Federal judge strikes down restrictions on Florida felon voting." Here are the basics:

A federal judge on Sunday dismantled Florida’s restrictive felon voting rights law in a ruling that could open the door to hundreds of thousands of new voters being added to rolls just ahead of the 2020 presidential election.  U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle declared key portions of the state’s felon voting law unconstitutional, ordering the state to put in place a new process that would help people register to vote in the state.

Throughout his 125-page ruling, Hinkle chided the state for a “pay-to-vote” system that he said was Byzantine because, in some instances, former felons could not even figure how much money they owed.  “This pay-to-vote system would be universally decried as unconstitutional but for one thing: each citizen at issue was convicted, at some point in the past, of a felony offense,” the judge wrote.  “A state may disenfranchise felons and impose conditions on their reenfranchisement. But the conditions must pass constitutional scrutiny. Whatever might be said of a rationally constructed system, this one falls short in substantial respects,” he said.

Hinkle’s ruling could lead to a major addition to the state’s voting rolls just months before the election in the battleground state. President Donald Trump, who narrowly won the state four years ago, has made winning Florida a key part of his reelection strategy.  One study done by Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political professor, found that nearly 775,000 people with felony convictions have some sort of outstanding legal financial obligation.

The decision comes nearly a year after the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature passed the law that requires people with felony convictions to pay all outstanding court debts in order be eligible to vote.  Legislators passed the bill after voters approved Amendment 4 to the state constitution, which aimed to end the state’s lifetime ban on voting for most ex-felons.

Hinkle’s ruling did not completely strike down the law, but the judge asserted that requiring people with felony convictions to pay off costs and fees violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on poll taxes.

The full 125-page ruling is available at this link, and here is how it gets started:

The State of Florida has adopted a system under which nearly a million otherwise-eligible citizens will be allowed to vote only if they pay an amount of money.  Most of the citizens lack the financial resources to make the required payment.  Many do not know, and some will not be able to find out, how much they must pay.  For most, the required payment will consist only of charges the State imposed to fund government operations — taxes in substance though not in name.

The State is on pace to complete its initial screening of the citizens by 2026, or perhaps later, and only then will have an initial opinion about which citizens must pay, and how much they must pay, to be allowed to vote.  In the meantime, year after year, federal and state elections will pass.  The uncertainty will cause some citizens who are eligible to vote, even on the State’s own view of the law, not to vote, lest they risk criminal prosecution.

This pay-to-vote system would be universally decried as unconstitutional but for one thing: each citizen at issue was convicted, at some point in the past, of a felony offense.  A state may disenfranchise felons and impose conditions on their reenfranchisement. But the conditions must pass constitutional scrutiny. Whatever might be said of a rationally constructed system, this one falls short in substantial respects.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has already ruled, in affirming a preliminary injunction in this very case, that the State cannot condition voting on payment of an amount a person is genuinely unable to pay.  See Jones v. Governor of Fla., 950 F.3d 795 (11th Cir. 2020).  Now, after a full trial on the merits, the plaintiffs’ evidence has grown stronger.  This order holds that the State can condition voting on payment of fines and restitution that a person is able to pay but cannot condition voting on payment of amounts a person is unable to pay or on payment of taxes, even those labeled fees or costs.  This order puts in place administrative procedures that comport with the Constitution and are less burdensome, on both the State and the citizens, than those the State is currently using to administer the unconstitutional pay-to-vote system.

May 24, 2020 in Collateral consequences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, May 23, 2020

"Boxed Into a Corner: The Fight to Ban Employers from Boxing out Deserving Job Applicants on the Basis of Criminal Record"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Mariah L. Daly, a recent graduate The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This paper is part of a student paper series supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  Most of the papers in this series have come from the marijuana seminar I teach, and I blog about these papers in posts like this over at my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog.  But this paper emerged from my sentencing class last fall, and the topic remains so timely and important.  Here is this paper's abstract:

Between 70 and 100 million adults have a criminal record of some kind that are revealed by criminal background checks.  One of the most severe and pervasive collateral consequences is difficulty securing gainful employment.  Ban-the-Box reform is crucial as a starting point for fair chance hiring, especially in the age of rapidly developing technology and the largely unfettered ability to get information.  The availability of criminal records has functioned less as a “public safety” precaution and more like a scarlet letter branded on the chest of millions Americans.  Demanding unnecessary disclose of criminal records before a conditional job offer hinders reintegration, increases recidivism, jeopardizes public safety, sabotages the economy, affronts human dignity, and causes devastating harm to society overall.

This paper argues that Ban-the-Box laws should be expanded and made uniform across jurisdictions to help prevent against unjust discrimination based on criminal record.  The vast differences in the levels of protection provided across Ban-the-Box jurisdictions and their shortcomings are analyzed and model Ban-the-Box legislation that incorporates concepts from the most protective existing laws is proposed.

May 23, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, May 07, 2020

"Voting in Jails"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report by Nicole Porter at The Sentencing Project. Here is the report's overview:

Felony disenfranchisement laws bar millions of Americans from voting due to their felony conviction.  Among those excluded are persons in prison, those serving felony probation or parole, and, in 11 states, some or all persons who have completed their sentence.  While these disenfranchisement laws have been closely documented for years by advocacy organizations, academics, and lawmakers, the de facto disenfranchisement of people legally eligible to vote in jails has received less attention.

In local jails the vast majority of persons are eligible to vote because they are not currently serving a sentence for a felony conviction.  Generally, persons are incarcerated in jail pretrial, sentenced to misdemeanor offenses, or are sentenced and awaiting transfer to state prison.  Of the 745,0001 individuals incarcerated in jail as of 2017 nearly two-thirds (64.7%), or 482,000, were being held pretrial because they had not been able to post bail.  Of the 263,000 who were serving a sentence, the vast majority had been convicted of a misdemeanor offense that does not result in disenfranchisement.

Despite the fact that most persons detained in jail are eligible to vote, very few actually do.  Jail administrators often lack knowledge about voting laws, and bureaucratic obstacles to establishing a voting process within institutions contribute significantly to limited voter participation. Indeed, acquiring voter registration forms or an absentee ballot while incarcerated is challenging when someone cannot use the internet or easily contact the Board of Elections in their community.  In addition, many persons in jail do not know they maintain the right to vote while incarcerated, and there are few programs to guarantee voting access.

Problems with voting in jail disproportionately impact communities of color since almost half (48%) of persons in jail nationally are African American or Latino.  Other racial groups, including Native Americans and Asians, comprise about 2% of the jail population, or 13,000 persons as of 2017.

In recent years, some jurisdictions have adopted policies and practices to ensure voting access for persons incarcerated in local jails because of initiatives developed by jail leadership and advocacy organizations.  This report examines six programs designed to expand voting access for eligible incarcerated citizens.  The success and expansion of these efforts will improve democracy.

May 7, 2020 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Collateral consequences, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

"Policy Reforms Can Strengthen Community Supervision: A framework to improve probation and parole"

Figure1_650The title of this post is the title of this lengthy new report produced by The Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project. Here are excerpts from the report's "Overview":

Since 1980, the nation’s community supervision population has ballooned by almost 240 percent. As of 2016, 1 in 55 U.S. adults (nearly 4.5 million people) are on probation or parole, more than twice the number incarcerated in state and federal prisons and local jails. Historically, probation and parole were intended to provide a less punitive, more constructive alternative to incarceration, but a growing body of evidence suggests that a frequent emphasis on surveillance and monitoring of people under supervision rather than on promoting their success, along with the resource demands of ever-larger caseloads, has transformed community supervision into a primary driver of incarceration. This shift has produced an array of troubling consequences, not only for individuals on probation and parole but for taxpayers and communities as well.

In recent years, a growing body of evidence on what works in community supervision has revealed a set of key challenges that undermine the system’s effectiveness and merit attention from policymakers:

• Community supervision is a leading driver of incarceration....

• Excessive rules can present barriers to successful completion of supervision....

• Agencies often inappropriately supervise low-risk individuals....

• Overextended supervision officers have less time to devote to high-risk, high-need individuals....

• Many people with substance use or mental health disorders do not receive treatment.... 

To address these problems, some supervision agencies have begun to embrace evidence-based practices that have been shown to improve outcomes and reduce recidivism. These include the use of research-based assessment tools to identify an individual’s level of risk for reoffending, graduated sanctions, such as increased reporting or short-term incarceration, to respond to violations of supervision rules, and incentives to encourage rule compliance.  As a result of these and other policy changes, 37 states have experienced simultaneous reductions in crime and community supervision rates.

Although those results are encouraging, states and agencies need time to analyze their systems and enact reforms on a much larger scale to ensure that probation and parole function more effectively.  To help states meet this challenge, The Pew Charitable Trusts, in partnership with Arnold Ventures, established the Advisory Council on Community Supervision to develop a policy framework for state lawmakers, court officers, and community corrections personnel. The council featured a diverse group of representatives from probation and parole agencies, the courts, law enforcement, affected communities, the behavioral health field, and academia. Drawing on its members’ extensive experience and knowledge, the council agreed on three broad goals for the next generation of community supervision: better outcomes for people on supervision, their families, and communities; a smaller system with fewer people on supervision; and less use of incarceration as a sanction for supervision violations, particularly breaches of the rules.

With those goals in mind, the council developed a menu of policies that state decision-makers and supervision administrators can use to reshape community supervision. Arnold Ventures supported the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota to examine the research underlying the policies and practices identified by the council, and where such an evidence base exists, it is summarized and cited in this framework. The recommendations are arranged according to seven broad objectives:

• Enact alternatives to arrest, incarceration, and supervision....

• Implement evidence-based policies centered on risks and needs....

• Adopt shorter supervision sentences and focus on goals and incentives....

• Establish effective and appropriate supervision conditions....

• Develop individualized conditions for payment of legal financial obligations....

• Reduce use of and pathways to incarceration.... 

• Support community supervision agencies.... 

April 28, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Advocates pushing back on SBA disqualifying people with any record from business relief

Last week in this post, I noted the effective coverage by Collateral Consequences Resource Center of the U.S. Small Business Administration disqualifying people for small business loans based on any past criminal record during the COVID-19 pandemic.   Now CCRC has this new post, "Bipartisan coalition calls on SBA to roll back record-related restrictions in COVID-19 small business loan programs," and it starts this way:

On April 17 a diverse bipartisan group of civil rights, advocacy, and business organizations, including CCRC, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and SBA Administrator Carranza expressing concern over the restrictions imposed by the SBA on people with a record of arrest or conviction under two programs recently authorized by Congress in response to the COVID-19 crisis.  The letter points out that these unwarranted restrictions on loan programs intended to aid small businesses and non-profits will have a significant and detrimental impact in communities across the country, and a particularly harsh effect on minority business owners and employees who are disproportionately affected by the criminal legal system as a result of institutional discrimination.  It urges that federal relief be made equitably accessible to all who need it.

The letter, which is available here, includes an appendix detailing how the new rules and policies governing the Payroll Protection Program are more restrictive than those which normally are applied by the SBA.

Prior related post:

April 19, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Great coverage of the awful work of SBA disqualifying people with any record from CARES small business loans

The Collateral Consequences Resource Center is doing its usual bang-up job covering the misguided new business problems for people who are burdened with any kind of criminal record.  The context these days, of course, is COVID-related, and here is how the CCRC explains the issue in a recent post:

In the past two weeks we have written at length about the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)’s “bumpy guidance on criminal history requirements” for small business financial relief during the COVID-19 pandemic (see also “Applying for an SBA loan with a criminal record“)....  Before the pandemic, the SBA didn’t automatically disqualify people for small business loans based on a past criminal record, and we can’t understand why it would suddenly decide to do so now, when small businesses across the country are struggling to stay afloat.   (Preexisting policy, described here, disqualifies a business if it has a principal who is incarcerated, is under supervision, is facing charges, or lacks “good character.”)  The new SBA policy — which automatically disqualifies even certain people who have completed a diversionary program and were never convicted — seems entirely at odds with the wave of recent state and federal law reforms aimed at encouraging reintegration.

Here is all of CCRC's recent posting on this topic:

April 12, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 06, 2020

SCOTUS upholds, by vote of 8-1, traffic stop after run of vehicle plate shows revoked driver's license

The Supreme Court this morning handed down its opinion in Kansas v. Glover, No. 16-556 (S. Ct. Apr. 6, 2020) (available here). Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court, which start this way:

This case presents the question whether a police officer violates the Fourth Amendment by initiating an investigative traffic stop after running a vehicle’s license plate and learning that the registered owner has a revoked driver’s license.  We hold that when the officer lacks information negating an inference that the owner is the driver of the vehicle, the stop is reasonable.

The short majority opinion is sure at the end to reiterate that "the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness;" the Court makes sure to "emphasize the narrow scope of our holding" by stressing "the presence of additional facts might dispel reasonable suspicion." Ergo, keep litigating.

A five-page concurrence authored by Justice Kagan and joined by Justice Ginsburg makes an interest collateral consequences point. Here is an excerpt (with cites removed):

I would find this a different case if Kansas had barred Glover from driving on a ground that provided no similar evidence of his penchant for ignoring driving laws.  Consider, for example, if Kansas had suspended rather than revoked Glover’s license.  Along with many other States, Kansas suspends licenses for matters having nothing to do with road safety, such as failing to pay parking tickets, court fees, or child support.  Indeed, several studies have found that most license suspensions do not relate to driving at all; what they most relate to is being poor. So the good reason the Court gives for thinking that someone with a revoked license will keep driving — that he has a history of disregarding driving rules — would no longer apply.

A lengthy concurrence authored by Justice Sotomayor gets started and ends this way:

In upholding routine stops of vehicles whose owners have revoked licenses, the Court ignores key foundations of our reasonable-suspicion jurisprudence and impermissibly and unnecessarily reduces the State’s burden of proof. I therefore dissent....

Vehicle stops “interfere with freedom of movement, are inconvenient, and consume time.” Prouse, 440 U. S., at 657.  Worse still, they “may create substantial anxiety” through an “unsettling show of authority.” Ibid.  Before subjecting motorists to this type of investigation, the State must possess articulable facts and officer inferences to form suspicion. The State below left unexplained key components of the reasonable-suspicion inquiry.  In an effort to uphold the conviction, the Court destroys Fourth Amendment jurisprudence that requires individualized suspicion.  I respectfully dissent.

April 6, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

"Going Back to Jail When You Haven’t Committed a Crime: Early Findings From a Multi-State Trial"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from the Institute for Justice Research and Development (IJRD) prepared by Carrie Pettus-Davis and Stephanie Kennedy. This report is part of a series of quarterly reports designed to provide real-time results of a multistate study on prisoner reentry currently being conducted in over 100 correctional facilities and 21 urban and rural counties in 7 states.  The full report itself is a reader-friendly 17 pages, and there is also this one-pager with key takeaways.  Here are excerpts from the one-pager:

Although the general public often thinks about recidivism as individuals leaving incarceration and committing new crimes, technical violations contribute to the strikingly high rates of recidivism reported for individuals released from prisons and jails across the United States....

• Research suggests that 45% of the more than 600,000 annual state prison admissions across the nation are due to probation or parole revocations.

• While probation or parole can be revoked for committing new crimes, 26% of new prison admissions are due solely to technical violations. Unpaid fines and fees also contribute to technical violations and may lead individuals back to incarceration.

• Our goal was to explore the circumstance of re-arrest among our study participants.  At this early point in the study, data are incomplete or unavailable.

• This report examines the reasons for re-arrest provided by study participants as these data were the most complete.  They describe a range of technical violations for expected events — missing check-ins with supervising officers and violating curfew — and unexpected events – being arrested, having one’s charges dropped, and returning to jail for coming into contact with law enforcement. Though not the focus of this report, other common technical violations were related to substance use, carrying guns, and reengagement in crime. We will have more complete data on these rates in the future.

• The 35 individuals highlighted in this report were re-arrested for non-drug related, non-criminal technical violations.

• We ask stakeholders to consider whether current policy and practices are meeting the stated purpose and goals of conditional release.  Are the non-criminal behaviors described in this report reason enough to send someone to jail?  Is it worth the financial costs and associated social costs?

March 3, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 29, 2020

"Why Shouldn't Prisoners Be Voters?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this New Yorker piece by Daniel Gross. The lengthy piece, which is part of the magazine's The Future of Democracy series, is worth a full read.  The subheading captures the piece's themes: "Americans take for granted that they have a right to vote. The situation of people in prison suggests otherwise."  Here is an excerpt:

Two centuries ago, only Connecticut barred citizens with criminal convictions from voting. The state’s constitution, which was ratified in 1818, declared that a man’s right to vote could be “forfeited by a conviction of bribery, forgery, perjury, duelling, fraudulent bankruptcy, theft, or other offence for which an infamous punishment is inflicted.”  In the years before the Civil War, seventeen states joined Connecticut in passing some form of felony disenfranchisement. Then, in the decade after the abolition of slavery, while the national movement for black suffrage was building momentum, ten more states, mostly in the South, quickly adopted them.  The same period saw a sharp increase, in many states, in the incarceration of African-Americans. (Although the vast majority of people in prison cannot vote, the census counts them as living where they are incarcerated, shifting political representation to the places that have prisons.)

Many state lawmakers were explicit about the racist motivations for these changes. In 1901, Alabama Democrats, who had a history of election tampering, called a convention to rewrite the state constitution. “The justification for whatever manipulation of the ballot box that has occurred in this State has been the menace of negro domination,” John B. Knox, the president of the convention, said in his opening remarks. “If we should have white supremacy, we must establish it by law—not by force or fraud.” The resulting constitution named twenty convictions, from robbery to forgery to vagrancy, that would strip men of their right to vote. The same document discriminated against black voters with poll taxes and literacy tests.

Felony-disenfranchisement laws spread across the country: by the nineteen-seventies, forty-six states had them. Massachusetts was the last state to join the group, passing a constitutional amendment in 2000 with more than sixty per cent of the vote.  (The Prison Policy Initiative observed that it was “the first time that the Massachusetts constitution has been amended to take away rights from a group of people.”)  Three years later, three researchers published a paper in the American Journal of Sociology showing that the most stringent of these laws were to be found in states with many potential voters of color.  In Tennessee, where citizens lose the franchise for life if they are convicted of crimes such as forgery, sodomy, or receiving stolen property, a fifth of African-Americans are barred from voting, according to the Sentencing Project.  (The same was true in Virginia and Alabama until recently, when the Democratic governors of those states restored the franchise to large numbers of citizens.)

Vermont and Maine, the only states that have never disenfranchised prisoners, are also the whitest states in the nation. Less than four per cent of Vermonters, and less than five per cent of Mainers, are people of color. “I do think that it’s not a coincidence that it’s only Maine and Vermont that allow inmate voting,” Emily Tredeau, a supervising attorney at the Vermont Prisoners’ Rights Office, told me.  “White voters will give pause before they disenfranchise other white people.” Joseph Jackson, a formerly incarcerated activist, added, “Mainers look at Maine folks that are incarcerated as though they are not other.”  (While the prison population in Maine is mostly white, it is significantly less white than the state as a whole: nearly twenty per cent of those incarcerated in Maine are people of color.)

February 29, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, February 17, 2020

"Pathways to Reintegration: Criminal Record Reforms in 2019"

The title of this post is the title of this terrific new report from the Collateral Consequences Resource Center authored by Margaret Love and David Schlussel. (I noted in this post a few weeks ago the series of reviews of new laws in place in 2019 on a range of collateral-consequences-related concerns, and I believe this new report brings all of this important material together.)  Here is part of this report's introduction:  

In 2019, 43 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government enacted an extraordinary 152 laws aimed at reducing barriers faced by people with criminal records in the workplace, at the ballot box, and in many other areas of daily life.  This prolific legislative track record, augmented by one important executive order, reflects a lively national conversation about how best to limit unwarranted record-based discrimination and to promote reintegration.

Last year, we reported what was then an unprecedented number of new record reform laws: 32 states enacted 57 new laws in 2018. In terms of the number of new laws enacted and their importance, 2019 breaks every record set in 2018.  Lawmakers across the country took major actions to restore voting and other civil rights; authorize expungement and other forms of record relief; expand diversion programs to avoid conviction; limit the use of criminal records in occupational licensing, employment, and housing; alleviate immigration consequences; and curb driver’s license penalties unrelated to driving offenses. Approaches to relief varied widely from state to state, with respect to the type of relief, the specifics of who is eligible for it, the mechanics of delivery, and its effect.

This report on 2019 criminal record reforms continues CCRC’s efforts to document an extraordinarily fruitful period of law reform in the United States, one that began around 2013 and has continued to gather steam into 2020.  The overall purpose of this law reform movement has been to advance a public policy of promoting reintegration for people with a criminal record.  In the seven-year period in which CCRC has been following the trend, every state legislature and the federal government has taken at least some steps to chip away at the negative effects of a criminal record on an individual’s ability to earn a living, access housing, education and public benefits, and otherwise fully participate in society.

This introduction highlights key developments from this past year.  A Report Card, new this year, grades the progess of the most (and least) productive state legislatures in 2019. The body of the report provides topical discussions of reform measures, and is followed by an appendix that organizes the laws enacted by jurisdiction.  A link to the text of each law is included, as well as a statutory citation where available.  More detailed information about each state’s laws is available in the CCRC Restoration of Rights Project.

February 17, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

"Laying the Groundwork: How States Can Improve Access to Continued Education for People in the Criminal Justice System"

DownloadThe title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center that was released yesterday.  This webpage provides context and overview about the report, and here are excerpts:

New data from a 50-state report ... reveals how state policies fail to support, and often restrict, incarcerated people from accessing continued education, despite research showing that such education can significantly reduce reoffending and increase employment rates.  The report, Laying the Groundwork: How States Can Improve Access to Continued Education for People in the Criminal Justice System, shows that only 10 states allow all people behind bars to access college and employment certification courses, while the rest prohibit certain segments of the incarcerated population from participating....  

Laying the Groundwork also reveals that barriers to education aren’t confined to correctional facilities, but follow people after they’re released: half of all public universities in the U.S. require applicants for admission to disclose their criminal history.  This practice has been shown to discourage potential students from even completing their applications. 

Most states can’t attribute these challenges to a lack of resources. Only three states use all of the federal funding available specifically to support postsecondary education for people in prison; the rest leave taxpayer money on the table.  And two-thirds of states restrict state-based financial aid for currently and formerly incarcerated students, adding another barrier to continued education.

Laying the Groundwork is based on data collected through original surveys of all 50 state correctional agency education directors and parole-granting agencies, as well as extensive online research on state statutes, regulations, and administrative policies, and university application processes....  

The report outlines four essential building blocks states must have in place to make postsecondary education accessible to people impacted by the criminal justice system: making use of available funding, offering a variety of programming aligned with local employer needs, eliminating restrictions on participation, and providing incentives and supports to encourage participation and completion.  Currently, no state has all four of these basic elements in place. And less than half of states meet the criteria for each one of the building blocks, demonstrating that while states may recognize the importance of continued education, they can do much more to ensure that currently and formerly incarcerated people can access it.

To help states make continued education more effective and attainable, Laying the Groundwork includes checklists of best practices that can inform efforts to improve state statute, administrative policy, and funding practices. States can use these checklists to ensure that they are doing all they can to make their communities safer by providing people in correctional facilities and who have a criminal record the opportunity to continue their education.

The report was developed by The Council of State Governments Justice Center and funded by Lumina Foundation.  Read the full report and find every state’s factsheet here.

February 12, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 07, 2020

Great coverage of new and notable 2019 laws at Collateral Consequences Resource Center

Regular readers are used to my regularly reminder to regularly check out work over at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center.  Doing so recently brings up a terrific on-going series of reviews of new laws in place in 2019 on a range of collateral-consequences-related concerns.  Here are the first four post in the series now available:

New 2019 laws restore voting rights in 11 states

New 2019 laws reduce workplace barriers for people with a criminal record

Record-breaking number of new expungement laws enacted in 2019

New 2019 laws on diversion and other non-conviction dispositions

UPDATE: The fine CCRC folks have now posted "the fifth and final comment on new 2019 laws restoring rights or delivering record relief":

New 2019 laws on immigration consequences and driver’s license suspension

February 7, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

"The Criminal Class and the Right to Be Subjected to Unreasonable Searches and Seizures"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper now available on SSRN authored by Matthew Greife and Ryan Hull. Here is its abstract:

People that are on parole have been lumped into what is called the criminal class by the courts.  Being in the criminal class has many consequences.  One such consequence is the loss of individual Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  While on parole an individual and their property can be searched with only reasonable suspicion rather than probable cause.  The justification for a lower standard is that those in the criminal class pose a greater threat to the community and are in need of greater control because of their propensity to commit crimes at higher rates than the average citizen.  However, these beliefs may be founded on misinterpretations of data and inaccurate cultural beliefs.  In this article we investigate the “social threat” presumption courts relied upon to lessen parolees Fourth Amendment protections.  Specifically, we interview parolees in Colorado to understand why they violate their parole terms and are re-incarcerated.  Generally, we find that the presumptions about parolees posing a greater threat to society than the average citizen is unsupportable and therefore unconstitutional.

January 29, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 20, 2020

"'Ban the Box' Policies and Criminal Recidivism"

The title of this post is the title of this new empirical paper authored by Ryan Sherrard available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Employment has long been seen as a mechanism for reducing criminal recidivism. As such, many states and municipalities have tried to increase the employment prospects of ex-offenders through "Ban the Box" (BTB) policies, making it illegal to ask about an individual's criminal history on a job application.  There are, however, questions as to how effective these policies are at helping ex-offenders successfully stay out of prison.  In addition, recent research has shown that BTB policies may lead employers to racially discriminate in hiring.  Using administrative prison data, this paper examines the direct effect of BTB policies on rates of criminal recidivism.  I find that while BTB policies don't appear to reduce criminal recidivism overall, these policies may be exacerbating racial disparities.  In particular, I show that being released into a labor market with a BTB policy is associated with higher rates of recidivism for black ex-offenders, with little to no effect for white ex-offenders.  This result is robust to a number of specifications and sub-samples.

January 20, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Data on sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, December 20, 2019

Fair Chance Act, serving to "ban the box" for the federal hiring process, becoming law as part of military spending bill

Though not quite as consequential or contentious as last year's passage and signing of the FIRST STEP Act, Congress and Prez Trump this year are again getting another piece of federal criminal justice reform legislation done in late December.  This Reason piece provides the basics:

President Donald Trump is expected to sign a bill into law today that will bar the federal government and its contractors from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant prior to the extension of a conditional offer of employment.

The Fair Chance Act, which was tucked into the massive defense spending bill passed by Congress earlier this week, was part of a national campaign by criminal justice advocacy groups and like-minded lawmakers to "ban the box" — referring to the question on job applications about whether one has been convicted of a crime — and reduce barriers to employment for an estimated 70 million Americans with criminal records.

"After many fits and starts, we are finally about to give formerly incarcerated individuals a second chance by eliminating a major hurdle they face when job-searching," Sen. Cory Booker (D–N.J.), one of the bill's cosponsors, said in a press release. "This legislation will immediately change lives by allowing thousands of qualified people with criminal records to more meaningfully integrate into life outside prison walls."

The law was supported by a bipartisan group of criminal justice organizations. Holly Harris, the executive director of Justice Action Network, said it will open "tens of thousands of federal government and contracting jobs to people who have made mistakes, but just need a chance to get a foot in the door to present their skills and qualifications."

According to the National Employment Law Project, 35 states and more than 150 cities have passed similar legislation, including red states like Georgia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. Thirteen states extend those hiring requirements to private businesses.

December 20, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Marshall Project and New York Times examining challenges for families of incarcerated persons

The Marshall Project has partnered this week with the New York Times on what will be a five part series of pieces exploring issues facing the families of persons who are incarcerated. Here are the headlines and links to the first three parts of this series:

"The Hidden Cost of Incarceration: Prison costs taxpayers $80 billion a year. It costs some families everything they have."

"The Long Journey to Visit a Family Member in Prison: Remote prison towns and strict visitation policies make it hard to stay in touch."

"Can You Hear Me Now?: Prison officials tout video visitation’s convenience. Families say they’re paying high rates for second-rate service"

December 20, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Collateral Consequences Resource Center produces "Model Law on Non-Conviction Records"

I am please to see via this posting that the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) has now officially published an important new model law on a topic that I suspect even many criminal justice actors do not realize is a big problem.  Specifically, CCRC has now produced a "Model Law on Non-Conviction Records," and the posting helps explain the background and why this is so timely and valuable:

An advisory group drawn from across the criminal justice system has completed work on a model law that recommends automatic expungement of most arrests and charges that do not result in conviction.  Margaret Love and David Schlussel of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center served as reporters for the model law.  It is available in PDF and HTML formats.

“Many people may not realize how even cases that terminate in a person’s favor lead to lost opportunities and discrimination,” says Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and one of the advisors of the model law project.  “Over the years, my legal aid program has seen thousands of cases where non-convictions cost people jobs.”

In proposing broad restrictions on access to and use of non-conviction records, the project aims to contribute to conversations underway in legislatures across the country about how to improve opportunities for people with a criminal record.  Already in 2019, states have enacted more than 130 new laws addressing the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction.  The group regards its model as the first step in a broader law reform initiative that will address conviction records as well.

Law enforcement officials make over 10 million arrests each year, a substantial percentage of which do not lead to charges or conviction.  Records of these arrests have become widely available as a result of digitized records systems and a new commerce in background screening and data aggregation.  These checks often turn up an “open” arrest or charges without any final disposition, which may seem to an employer or landlord more ominous than a closed case.

Very few states have taken steps to deal with the high percentage of records in repositories and court systems with no final disposition indicated.  Paul McDonnell, Deputy Counsel for New York’s Office of Court Administration and a project advisor, noted: “Criminal records that include no final disposition make it appear to the untrained eye that an individual has an open, pending case, which can have serious results for that person. New York has recently made legislative progress in addressing this problem, though more can be done.”

Current state and federal laws restricting access to and use of non-conviction records have limited application and are hard to enforce.  Eligibility criteria tend to be either unclear or restrictive, and petition-based procedures tend to be burdensome, expensive, and intimidating.  In recent years, lawmakers and reform advocates have expressed a growing interest in curbing the widespread dissemination and use of non-convictions, leading some states to simplify and broaden eligibility for relief, reduce procedural and financial barriers to access, and in a handful of states to make relief automatic.

Rep. Mike Weissman, a Colorado State Representative and model law project advisor, noted that Colorado has recently overhauled its laws on criminal records with broad bipartisan support.  “It is heartening to see similar reforms underway in other states, both red and blue, as well.  I commend the practitioners and researchers who helped formulate the model law for illustrating avenues for further progress in reducing collateral consequences.”

The model law would take this wave of criminal record reforms to a new level.  It recommends that expungement be immediate and automatic where all charges are terminated in favor of an accused.  Uncharged arrests should also be automatically expunged after a brief waiting period, as should dismissed or acquitted charges in cases where other charges result in conviction.  Cases that indicate no final disposition should also be expunged, unless there is indication that they are in fact pending.

The model law also recommends that expunged non-conviction records should not be used against a person in a range of criminal justice decisions, including by law enforcement agencies.  It would prohibit commercial providers of criminal background checks from disseminating expunged and dated non-conviction records, and civil decision-makers from considering them....

The Collateral Consequences Resource Center organized this model law project.  An early draft of the model law was discussed at an August 2019 Roundtable conference at the University of Michigan that was supported by the Charles Koch Foundation.  The model law report was supported by Arnold Ventures.

December 11, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

"Pushed Out and Locked In: The Catch-22 for New York’s Disabled, Homeless, Sex-Offender Registrants"

The title of this post is the title of this new Yale Law Journal Forum piece authored by Allison Frankel. Here is its abstract:

Across New York, people are incarcerated for weeks, months, and even years after their prison release dates.  These individuals are not confined for violating prison disciplinary rules or committing new crimes. New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) detains them, instead, because they are homeless.  DOCCS refuses to release prisoners to community supervision without an approved address.  But for prisoners required to register as “sex offenders,” finding housing means navigating a web of restrictions that are levied exclusively on people convicted of sex crimes and that dramatically constrain housing options, particularly in densely populated New York City. These restrictions amount to effective banishment for registrants with disabilities, who face added obstacles to finding medically appropriate housing and are barred even from New York City’s homeless-shelter system.

As this Essay explores, the State of New York, and particularly New York City, pushes its poor, disabled sex-offender registrants into homelessness, and then prolongs registrants’ detention because of their homeless status.  This detention regime continues unabated, despite studies showing that sex-offender recidivism rates are actually relatively low and that residency restrictions do not demonstrably prevent sex offenses.  Rather, such laws consign registrants to homelessness, joblessness, and social isolation.  It does not have to be this way. This Essay suggests litigation strategies to challenge the prolonged detention of homeless registrants on statutory and constitutional grounds.  The Essay also offers policy solutions to improve New York City registrants’ access to housing and to untether an individual’s housing status from their access to liberty.  New York simply cannot and should not continue both to restrict registrants’ housing options and to detain individuals because they are homeless.

November 26, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Senators Cornyn and Whitehouse introduce RE-ENTER Act to enable federal judges to issue "Certificate of Rehabilitation" to former offenders

As detailed in this press release, "U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John Cornyn (R-TX) today introduced the Recognizing Education, Employment, New Skills, and Treatment to Enable Reintegration (RE-ENTER) Act, which would allow federal judges to issue a Certificate of Rehabilitation to acknowledge an eligible offender who has successfully reintegrated into society." Here is more about this interesting legislative news via the release:

These certificates can help formerly incarcerated individuals find jobs and housing and help prospective employers or landlords determine whether an applicant has been rehabilitated. "Reformed offenders who have served their time have the best chance of staying out of trouble and becoming productive members of society if they can secure a foothold in a job and find housing," said Sen. Whitehouse. "Our bill would follow the successful example set by states that vet people with criminal records to determine whether they have earned a Certificate of Rehabilitation."

“Most incarcerated individuals will be released at some point, and we need to encourage them and give them every tool necessary to be productive members of society,” said Sen. Cornyn. “The housing benefits and job opportunities that these certificates can help make available to former inmates will help us ensure that those who get out of prison will stay out of prison.”

Background:

In at least 16 states and the District of Columbia, state court judges have the power to issue certificates of rehabilitation to address the impact of state convictions. These certificates signal that a recipient has successfully reintegrated into society and no longer poses a significant risk of reoffending. Just like with the First Step Act, Congress can learn from states’ success.

Additionally, this legislation would:

  • Allow eligible offenders to petition the appropriate district court for a certificate;
  • Direct courts to consider various factors to determine whether a certificate is appropriate, including the crime of conviction, activities and education, efforts at employment and restitution, and other current conditions;
  • Permit federal prosecutors to weigh in with the district court and allows courts to appoint federal public defenders to assist the petitioner;
  • Require federal agencies and courts to consider the certificate when making housing, benefits, and eligibility determinations for other programs;
  • And express the sense of Congress that a certificate should help former inmates with licensing, housing, and employment determinations, protect employers who hire recipients of certificates, and contribute to pardon and clemency efforts.
In addition to Senators Cornyn and Whitehouse, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Rob Portman (R-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Joni Ernst (R-IA).
The bill is endorsed by Prison Fellowship, the National District Attorneys’ Association, #Cut50, Americans for Prosperity, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime & Incarceration, and the Justice Action Network.

Here is the full legislation and a one-pager for downloading:

November 21, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

"The Steep Costs of Criminal Justice Fees and Fines: A Fiscal Analysis of Three States and Ten Counties"

The title of this post is the title of this big new notable report published by the Brennan Center for Justice and "produced with research assistance from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right on Crime." Here is the first part of the 68-page report's executive summary:

The past decade has seen a troubling and well-documented increase in fees and fines imposed on defendants by criminal courts. Today, many states and localities rely on these fees and fines to fund their court systems or even basic government operations.

A wealth of evidence has already shown that this system works against the goal of rehabilitation and creates a major barrier to people reentering society after a conviction.  They are often unable to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in accumulated court debt. When debt leads to incarceration or license suspension, it becomes even harder to find a job or housing or to pay child support. There’s also little evidence that imposing onerous fees and fines improves public safety.

Now, this first-of-its-kind analysis shows that in addition to thwarting rehabilitation and failing to improve public safety, criminal-court fees and fines also fail at efficiently raising revenue. The high costs of collection and enforcement are excluded from most assessments, meaning that actual revenues from fees and fines are far lower than what legislators expect. And because fees and fines are typically imposed without regard to a defendant’s ability to pay, jurisdictions have billions of dollars in unpaid court debt on the books that they are unlikely to ever collect. This debt hangs over the heads of defendants and grows every year.

This study examines 10 counties across Texas, Florida, and New Mexico, as well as statewide data for those three states.  The counties vary in their geographic, economic, political, and ethnic profiles, as well as in their practices for collecting and enforcing fees and fines.

November 21, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Federal court finds First Amendment violated by sheriff's plan to place signs of sex offender homes on Halloween

A helpful reader spotlighted a new notable federal court ruling dealing with one example of how some local law enforcement officials sometimes use the Halloween holiday to single out registered sex offenders.  This local newspaper story, headlined "Judge sides with sex offenders in ‘no trick-or-treating’ fight," reports on the basics:

A federal judge on Tuesday said a Georgia sheriff’s plan to post “no trick-or-treating” signs at sex offenders’ homes was unconstitutional.

The ruling comes after three registered sex offenders sued Butts County Sheriff Gary Long to stop his office from the practice, which began last year with deputies planting signs that urged Halloween revelers against stopping. Deputies put up some of the signs while others among the county’s 200 registered sex offenders were told to display one themselves or face unspecified trouble, according to the complaint.

U.S. District Court Judge Marc T. Treadwell’s order applies only to the three plaintiffs, meaning it wouldn’t stop the sheriff’s office from placing signs at other registered sex offenders’ homes. But the judge said Long’s legal authority to place the signs was “dubious at best.”

The sheriff disagreed with the ruling but said he’d abide by it. He said he had deputies put the signs up last year because a popular trick-or-treating event on the square in downtown Jackson was cancelled, leading to an increase in door-to-door visits.

“While the vast majority of us may disagree with the Judge’s ruling, I strongly encourage you to NOT take matters into your own hands this Halloween,” Long wrote on Facebook. “Unfortunately, there is no time to appeal before this Halloween.”

Treadwell said the three men who sued are “by all accounts” rehabilitated and living law-abiding lives.“Yet their Sheriff finds it necessary to post signs in front of their homes announcing to the public that their homes are dangerous for children,” the judge wrote. “The Sheriff’s decision is not based on any determination that the Plaintiffs are dangerous. Nor is the Sheriff’s sign-posting founded on Georgia law.”

The sheriff’s plan to place the signs “run afoul” of the First Amendment because it compels the men to display the message even though they disagree with it. The sheriff said he’d sought legal advice in 2018 before placing the signs and believed it was appropriate.

The full 25-page ruling is available at this link, and here is its introduction:

The Plaintiffs are sex offenders. That is because many years ago they committed offenses that fall within the State of Georgia’s definition of sex offenses.  Since then, they have served their terms of imprisonment and have, as far as the law is concerned, paid their debts to society.  But because they have been classified as sex offenders, they remain subject to Georgia’s lifelong requirement that they register with their local sheriff. But by all accounts, they are rehabilitated.  They live productive, lawabiding lives.  Two of the named Plaintiffs live with their parents; one has a six-year-old daughter living with him.  The State of Georgia, under its system for classifying sex offenders, has not determined that they pose an increased risk of again committing a sexual offense.

Yet their Sheriff finds it necessary to post signs in front of their homes announcing to the public that their homes are dangerous for children.  The Sheriff’s decision is not based on any determination that the Plaintiffs are dangerous. Nor is the Sheriff’s sign-posting founded on Georgia law.  Rather, the Sheriff’s decision is based solely on the fact that the Plaintiffs’ names remain on Georgia’s registry of sex offenders.  Further, Sheriff Long plans, as he has in the past, to ban the Plaintiffs from expressing their disagreement with the signs and the message the signs convey.

The Plaintiffs object and seek relief from this Court.  The question the Court must answer is not whether Sheriff Long’s plan is wise or moral, or whether it makes penological sense.  Rather, the question is whether Sheriff Long’s plan runs afoul of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  It does.

October 31, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

"Creating Model Legislative Relief For People With Past Convictions"

Download (26)The title of this post is the title of this notable recent report from the folks at the Alliance for Safety and Justice.  I highly recommend the report in full, and here is part of its executive summary:

Across the United States, popular support for criminal justice reform is at an all-time high. More and more Americans of all walks of life agree that the “tough-on-crime” era resulted in bloated, costly and ineffective corrections practices.  Today, everyday people and public officials across the political spectrum support a balanced approach to public safety — one that emphasizes crime prevention and rehabilitation to stop the cycle of crime.

As states re-examine their crime policies, it is critical to also review the lifetime impacts of criminal records in preventing full rehabilitation for millions of Americans.  Meaningful rehabilitation provides people that complete their sentences and remain crime-free redemption and full re-integration into the economy, our communities and civic society. Despite growing support for rehabilitation as a primary goal of corrections, few Americans will ever become rehabilitated because criminal records prevent inclusion.

More than 70 million Americans have a criminal record.  Long after they’ve paid their debts to society, many will find themselves caught in a labyrinth of legal prohibitions and barriers that have little to do with public safety.  These restrictions place undue burdens on millions of people and impose an invisible, life-long sentence that can make it difficult to get back to work, find housing, or support their families. These barriers can also make it harder—not easier—to stay out of the cycle of crime.

As a nation, we’ve only begun to grapple with the impacts of these barriers on our society.  These restrictions prevent, millions of people with past convictions from getting work, which in turn may lead to families in living in unstable housing or contribute to homelessness, and to millions of children growing up with parents that cannot fully contribute to their families, or our economy.

Some states have taken steps to limit the debilitating impacts of criminal records on economic productivity and family stability after a person’s time is served.  But most current law, policies and processes fall short of bringing widespread relief....

This brief offers guidelines for legislation that would begin to make rehabilitation meaningful and provide relief for people with past convictions so they can contribute to the economy and society as a whole....

The first step for policymakers interested in moving toward a more evidence-based, safety-centered legal model for removing the barriers imposed by past arrests or convictions is to ask key questions about how current laws, policies and practices are working.

October 2, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thoughtful commentary on the back-end realities and challenges of the criminal justice system

This week I have seen a number of important and thoughtful commentaries about important aspects of the back-end of modern criminal justice systems.  Here are two I recommend with brief excerpts:

From Joe Griffin and Arthur Rizer in the Tulsa World, "Probation and parole violations — often for technical offenses — are filling Oklahoma prisons, and it's time to do something about it":

A 2017 report drafted by the Council of State Governments shows roughly 24% of Oklahoma prison admissions were due to probation violations. That translates to roughly 3,000 people behind bars. Of those 3,000, more than half are in prison for a technical violation, such as staying out past curfew or missing a meeting. The annual cost to incarcerate these individuals is approximately $32 million.

If someone violates their terms of supervision, there should be consequences. Even more, if one poses a legitimate danger to the community, prison may be the best solution. But is sending a large number of individuals to prison who violate only the technical aspects of their supervision effective for public safety or fiscally responsible?

From J.J. Prescott and Sonja Starr in the Detroit News, "Clean-slate legislation strengthens Michigan":

For years, Michigan has offered certain offenders a chance to set aside their criminal records through expungement. But this path has been long, narrow and rocky at best, so few people have been able to take advantage of it. Now, the state Legislature is considering adopting a package of new bills to expand set-aside access. We strongly urge it to do so.

We recently conducted a major study of the effects of Michigan’s set-aside procedure. We found that while very few people with records get set-asides, those who do have great outcomes. In particular, we find that expungement is associated with large improvements in employment opportunities. Wages increase by close to 25% in just a year as people who had been unemployed became able to find stable work.

We also find nothing to suggest that granting someone a set-aside puts the public at risk, as skeptics have sometimes suggested. Those who receive set-asides are less likely to commit a new crime than the general adult population of Michigan. The rate of serious or violent re-offending is almost zero.

UPDATE: I just saw this AP article in this same vein headlined "Prosecutor aims to help people clear records of drug crimes." It starts this way:

Thousands of people in Utah’s largest county would be able to clear their records of drug crimes under a push announced Tuesday that advocates say goes further than many similar efforts around the nation.

The move by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, which is expected to be approved by a judge, could make about 12,000 people eligible to expunge their records and remove obstacles to getting jobs, housing and education, he said. “Having a criminal record is the modern-day equivalent of being forced to wear a scarlet letter,” Gill said. “If we’re going to have any meaningful reform, we must first make sure when you have paid your debt to society these barriers are eliminated.”

The push comes amid a wave of criminal justice reforms in the U.S. A number of states and cities have moved to allow people with marijuana-related convictions to clear their records in places where the drug has been legalized.

In Utah, one of the most conservative states in the country, the GOP-dominated Legislature has passed a law allowing many misdemeanor crimes to be automatically expunged for people who stay out of trouble for a set period.

The move by Gill, a Democrat, would turn thousands of felony convictions into misdemeanors, allowing them to be automatically wiped away when the new state law goes into effect next year.

The plan goes further than many reforms elsewhere in the country because it includes a wide range of drug-related convictions, some dating back two decades, said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of the group Fair and Just Prosecution, which works with prosecutors around the country on criminal justice reform. The Utah effort is extraordinary, she said. Gill’s office sorted through drug-related convictions from 1997 through 2015, looking for people with misdemeanors and low-level drug possession felonies who had stayed out of trouble for at least five years.

September 26, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

How many have lost their right to vote due to the war on drugs?

Today, Tuesday, September 24, 2019, marks National Voter Registration Day.  This website provides this account of this notable special day:

National Voter Registration Day is a national holiday celebrating our democracy. It was first observed in 2012 and has been growing in popularity every year since.... The holiday has been endorsed by the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS). It is further supported by the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), and the National Association of Election Officials (The Election Center).

Every year millions of Americans find themselves unable to vote because they miss a registration deadline, don’t update their registration, or aren’t sure how to register. National Voter Registration Day wants to make sure everyone has the opportunity to vote. On Tuesday September 24, 2019 volunteers and organizations from all over the country will “hit the streets” in a single day of coordinated field, technology and media efforts. National Voter Registration Day seeks to create broad awareness of voter registration opportunities to reach tens of thousands of voters who may not register otherwise....

What It Will Accomplish

  • Registering Voters: In 2018 over 800,000 voters used National Voter Registration Day to register to vote across all 50 states.
  • Mobilizing Volunteers: Each year the holiday’s growing number of local partners engage upwards to 10,000 local volunteers.
  • Educating Voters: Millions of voters need to register and re-register every year. By utilizing new technology and leveraging partners, we’ll educate Americans in all 50 states about how to register, sign up for election reminders, check their registration online, get mail ballots, learn about early voting and more.
  • Uniting for a Common Purpose: National Voter Registration Day is a day of civic unity. It’s an opportunity to set aside differences and celebrate democracy and the rights and opportunities we all share as Americans.

Though I am ever eager to "celebrate democracy and the rights and opportunities we all share as Americans," I never want to lose sight of the unfortunate reality that not all adult Americans share in the rights and opportunities of voting because of widespread felon disenfranchisement laws.

The Sentencing Project recent published this helpful primer on felony disenfranchisement, which includes these disconcerting statistics:

As of 2016, 6.1 million Americans were prohibited from voting due to laws that disenfranchise citizens convicted of felony offenses....  An estimated 3.1 million people are disenfranchised due to state laws that restrict voting rights even after completion of sentences....

Felony disenfranchisement policies have a disproportionate impact on communities of color.  Black Americans of voting age are more than four times more likely to lose their voting rights than the rest of the adult population, with one of every 13 black adults disenfranchised nationally.  As of 2016, in four states — Florida (21 percent), Kentucky (26 percent), Tennessee (21 percent), and Virginia (22 percent) — more than one in five black adults was disenfranchised. In total, 2.2 million black citizens are banned from voting.

Because I view any and all forms of felony disenfranchisement to be inconsistent with a robust commitment to democracy, I generally oppose any and all forms of felony disenfranchisement.  But, as the question in the title of this post indicates, I found myself recently thinking and wondering about just how many votes have been lost as a result of the modern drug war.  Though only about 20% of all incarcerated persons are imprisoned for a drug offense, I suspect that a higher proportion of those disenfranchised for a felony may be drug offenders.  Calculating an exact number of disenfranchised persons with a drug felony wold be quite hard, but it is easy to be concerned that robust American voting "rights and opportunities" are another casualty of the modern drug war.

September 24, 2019 in Collateral consequences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Honoring the second annual "National Expungement Week"

NEW2019_Flyer_No_Citiesv1_Square1080Today begins, as detailed here, the second annual "National Expungement Week" running until September 28.  I have been excited and proud to play a small role in these important activities by helping identify law students to participate in a local record sealing clinic.  (Applicable law in Ohio allows for only a very few types of criminal convictions to be expunged, but a much larger number of convictions are subject to sealing.) 

Notably, Columbus is not shown among the more than two dozen localities listed here as having expungement week events; I suspect and sincerely hope  there may be many other places with expungement-related activities taking place this week.  This Forbes article, headlined "Second Annual National Expungement Week (N.E.W.) Helps People Clear Criminal Records," provides these additional details:

A coalition of more than three dozen organizations working at the intersection of the cannabis industry, racial equity, and reparative justice, led by Equity First Alliance and Cage-Free Repair, conceived the week to highlight the need to fully integrate those disenfranchised by the war on drugs within their respective communities.

Events to be featured throughout the week include free clinics to help remove, seal, or reclassify eligible convictions from criminal records (depending on local legislation), as well as provide expungement education workshops and complimentary services.

N.E.W. events have inspired teams of attorneys, organizers, and activists nationwide to continue to increase expungement opportunities where possible, with over 40 events scheduled to take place throughout the week.

Cities featuring participating events have nearly doubled from 16 in 2018 to 30, including major hubs such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

And this Rolling Stone article, headlined "Seth Rogen Details How to Clear Your Criminal Record in New PSA," highlights a notable celebrity contributing to the effort.

Long-time readers should recall my old article, titled "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," which includes discussion of various legal and practical barriers that can often unduly limit the ability of individuals to break away from the collateral consequences of long-ago minor criminal convictions.  I call this article "old" because, though published less than 18 months ago, there has been dramatic improvement in the efforts of marijuana reform states to foster the erasure of past marijuana convictions.

That said, my old article still includes a new and novel proposal: the creation of new criminal justice institution, a Commission on Justice Restoration, to be funded by the taxes, fees and other revenues generated by marijuana reforms and to be tasked with proactively working on policies and practices designed to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for people with criminal convictions.  Special private-actor programming in the form of "National Expungement Week" can do great things, but the undue burdens of a criminal convictions are fundamentally a public problem in need of a public institutional solution.

September 21, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Major coverage of the major challenges faced by those previously incarcerated

In the last day, I have seen a couple of notable articles in some major news outlets focused on the varied significant challenges facing formerly incarcerated persons as they seek to enter society.   Here they are with too-short excerpts:

From the New York Times, "Next Arena for Criminal Justice Reform: A Roof Over Their Heads":

Bipartisan efforts to overhaul the criminal justice system, backed by President Trump, have so far focused on getting people out of prisons and thinning the largest population of incarcerated people in the world.... But once released, some formerly incarcerated people struggle simply to find a place to live.  Public housing authorities and private landlords refuse to rent to them, labeling them public safety risks, sending them to the streets, to homelessness — and often back to prison, for offenses like sleeping in public spaces and panhandling....

The issue has even reached the 2020 presidential race. Senator Kamala Harris, Democratic of California and a White House hopeful, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, released the Fair Chance at Housing Act, which would require public housing authorities and owners to consider all mitigating circumstances when making screening determinations based on criminal activity.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who is also running for president, has proposed criminal justice measures that would help reduce the “collateral consequences that hamper re-entry to formerly incarcerated people who have served their time — from restrictions to occupational licensing to housing to the disenfranchisement of over three million returning citizens.”

From the Washington Post, "After prison, more punishment: They did their time. But as the formerly incarcerated reenter the workforce, will their past be held against them?":

Across the country, more than 10,000 regulations restrict people with criminal records from obtaining occupational licenses, according to a database developed by the American Bar Association. The restrictions are defended as a way to protect the public.  But [Meko] Lincoln and others point out that the rules are often arbitrary and ambiguous. Licensing boards in Rhode Island can withhold licenses for crimes committed decades ago, by citing a requirement that people display “good moral character,” without taking into account individual circumstances or efforts toward rehabilitation.

Such restrictions make it challenging for the formerly incarcerated to enter or move up in fast-growing industries such as health care, human services and some mechanical trades, according to civil liberties lawyers and economists. These include the very jobs they’ve trained for in prison or in reentry programs like Lincoln’s.  And without jobs, many of those released could end up back in jail, experts say.

September 4, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

"The Gendered Burdens of Conviction and Collateral Consequences on Employment"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Joni Hersch and Erin Meyers.  Here is its abstract:

Ex-offenders are subject to a wide range of employment restrictions that limit the ability of individuals with a criminal background to earn a living.  This Article argues that women involved in the criminal justice system likely suffer a greater income-related burden from criminal conviction than do men.  This disproportionate burden arises in occupations that women typically pursue, both through formal pathways, such as restrictions on occupational licensing, and through informal pathways, such as employers’ unwillingness to hire those with a criminal record.  In addition, women have access to far fewer vocational programs while incarcerated.

Further exacerbating this burden is that women involved in the criminal justice system tend to be a more vulnerable population and are more likely to be responsible for children than their male counterparts, making legal restrictions on access to public assistance that would support employment more burdensome for women.  We propose programs and policies that may ameliorate these gendered income burdens of criminal conviction, including reforms to occupational licensing, improved access to public assistance, reforms to prison labor opportunities, improvements in labor market information sharing, and expanded employer liability protection.

August 29, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, August 26, 2019

Making the case for the Fair Chance Act of 2019

John Malcolm and Brett Tolman have this notable new Daily Signal commentary under the headline "A Bill to Give Former Inmates a Second Chance." The lengthy piece is worth the full read, and here are excerpts:

Congress is currently considering the Fair Chance Act of 2019, a bill designed to increase the odds that formerly-incarcerated individuals can get jobs upon their release and prove to the world that they’ve turned a new leaf and are prepared to be law-abiding, productive citizens.  Although hardly a panacea, the bill has a lot of merit and is worthy of serious consideration by Congress....

It is, of course, incredibly important to provide people with the skills they need to become productive workers and to stay on the straight and narrow upon release from prison. But it may all be for naught if no employer will give those formerly-incarcerated individuals a job.  Gainful employment is a key factor for reducing recidivism, as numerous studies have shown.

That’s what led the president to launch his Second Chance Hiring initiative back in June. The president noted that “[t]oo often, former inmates are not considered for jobs even if they’re qualified, rehabilitated, and ready to work.”  He went on to announce the administration was “taking crucial steps to encourage business to expand second chance hiring practices.”  In similar fashion, it is this very issue that the Fair Chance Act seeks to address.

Just how bad is the problem?  Extremely bad.  In 2014, the FBI estimated that 77.7 million individuals — nearly one-third of the people living in this country — had a criminal record, with 10,000 to 12,000 names being added each day, according to the Wall Street Journal.  Even this startling statistic might understate the extent of the problem.  A 2012 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics of state criminal records determined that over 100 million people living in the United States and its protectorates have a criminal record.

Moreover, the unemployment rate for those with a criminal record is particularly high.  In 2008 (the last year for which such data is available), the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals was 27.3% — over five times the unemployment rate for the general population.

No doubt, others with arrest records or who were convicted of crimes but never incarcerated struggle to find jobs, too. A 2009 study by Princeton and Harvard researchers indicated that those who check the box on a job application indicating they have a criminal record are 50% less likely to receive a callback than those who do not check the box.

That’s where the Fair Chance Act comes in.  With certain exceptions, the bill would require the federal government and federal contractors to “ban the box” as part of their hiring practices.  This would prevent a prospective employer from conducting a criminal background check or otherwise inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record until such time as a conditional job offer is extended.  Once an offer is made, the employer can then conduct the criminal background check as needed....

The purpose of “ban the box” policies is not to prevent an employer from making the ultimate decision about whether to hire somebody with a criminal record.  The point of such policies is to give someone with a criminal record the opportunity to get a foot in the door and impress a would-be employer with his or her job-related skills during the interview process.  Presumably, if the employer is impressed enough to extend a conditional job offer, the employer will be more likely to engage in a productive conversation with the applicant and ultimately hire him upon learning that he has a criminal history.

Too often, the applications of those who check the criminal record box are immediately discarded, despite the fact that many such applicants may genuinely be contrite about what they have done and be prepared to work exceptionally hard to prove to their employers and to the rest of the world that they deserve another chance.

Many states and localities have already adopted “ban the box” hiring procedures, as have some of the nation’s largest employers, such as Home Depot, Walmart, Starbucks, Target, and Koch Industries.

There are some potential concerns with the bill, however.  While banning the box may be a good idea from a moral perspective and even a business strategy, we generally disfavor imposing new requirements on private employers.  Admittedly, the bill would apply only to employers who seek to become government contractors. And again, there’s nothing in the bill that would prevent would-be employers, including those seeking to become government contractors, from ultimately obtaining the criminal history of applicants and deciding whether to go forward and hire an individual with a criminal record.

The Fair Chance Act is by no means a cure-all.  For instance, out of the nearly 45,000 collateral consequences identified by the Council of State Governments that are frequently imposed on individuals who have been convicted of a crime, a substantial majority of them are employment related.  These collateral consequences can pose a significant impediment to formerly incarcerated individuals — as if they didn’t have enough impediments already—when it comes to obtaining gainful employment.

Moreover, a multitude of other occupational licensing laws explicitly or implicitly exclude formerly incarcerated individuals from obtaining licenses to enter certain professions because they are deemed to lack “good moral character.”  The Fair Chance Act would do nothing to ameliorate this problem.... Nonetheless, there are many positives to consider in the Fair Chance Act, and it is good to see Congress looking for ways to address this serious problem.

The bottom line is that people cannot be permanently marginalized and made to feel like second-class citizens.  Released offenders have a difficult enough time as it is.  If people are pushed into the corner and denied opportunities for gainful employment for too long, they will have little choice but to recidivate, which means wasted lives, ruined families, and more crime.  That is not in anybody’s best interests.

August 26, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 18, 2019

North Carolina Supreme Court holds mandatory lifetime GPS monitoring for some sex offenders violates Fourth Amendment

Four+ years ago as noted in this post, the US Supreme Court issued a short per curiam summary reversals in Grady v. North Carolina, No. 14-593 (S. Ct. March 30, 2015) (available here), in which the Court clarified and confirmed that the Fourth Amendment is applicable to sex offender monitoring.  That case was remanded back to the state courts, and late last week there was a major ruling by the Supreme Court of North Carolina in North Carolina v. Grady, No. 179A14-3 (N.C. Aug 16, 2019) (available here).  This split ruling establishes that persons other than Torrey Grady will benefit from the application of the Fourth Amendment in this setting.  Here is part of the start of the majority opinion (authored by Justice Earls) in this latest version of Grady:

The United States Supreme Court has determined that North Carolina’s satellite-based monitoring (SBM) of sex offenders, which involves attaching an ankle monitor “to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual’s movements,” constitutes a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.  Grady v. North Carolina, 135 S. Ct. 1368, 1370 (2015) (per curiam). The Supreme Court remanded the case for an examination of “whether the State’s monitoring program is reasonable — when properly viewed as a search.” Id. at 1371....

In accordance with this decision, this case was ultimately remanded to the superior court, which entered an order determining the SBM program to be constitutional.  The Court of Appeals reversed, but only as to Mr. Grady individually.  We conclude that the Court of Appeals erroneously limited its holding to the constitutionality of the program as applied only to Mr. Grady, when our analysis of the reasonableness of the search applies equally to anyone in Mr. Grady’s circumstances.  Cf. Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 82 (2010) (holding that state statutes mandating a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional as applied to a specific group, namely juveniles who did not commit homicide).

In North Carolina, “SBM’s enrollment population consists of (1) offenders on parole or probation who are subject to State supervision, (2) unsupervised offenders who remain under SBM by court order for a designated number of months or years, and (3) unsupervised offenders subject to SBM for life, who are also known as ‘lifetime trackers.’ ” State v. Bowditch, 364 N.C. 335, 338, 700 S.E.2d 1, 3 (2010).  Mr. Grady is in the third of these categories in that he is subject to SBM for life and is unsupervised by the State through probation, parole, or post-release supervision.  Additionally, Mr. Grady is a “recidivist,” which makes lifetime SBM mandatory as to him without any individualized determination of the reasonableness of this search.  Because we conclude that the relevant portions of N.C.G.S. §§ 14-208.40A(c) and 14- 208.40B(c) are unconstitutional as applied to all individuals who, like Mr. Grady, are in the third Bowditch category and who are subject to mandatory lifetime SBM based solely on their status as a “recidivist,” we modify and affirm the opinion of the Court of Appeals.

And here is a paragraph from the start of the dissenting opinion authored by Justice Newby:

Using the remand as an opportunity to make a broad policy statement, the majority, though saying it addresses only one statutory classification, recidivist, applies an unbridled analysis which understates the crimes, overstates repeat sex offenders’ legitimate expectations of privacy, and minimizes the need to protect society from this limited class of dangerous sex offenders.  The majority’s sweeping opinion could be used to strike down every category of lifetime monitoring under the SBM statute.

August 18, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 09, 2019

Bold effort by reform advocates to get federal Fair Chance Act enacted via defense bill

This piece from The Hill, headlined "Advocates ramp up pressure on criminal justice measure," explains how and why criminal justice reform advocates have a bold strategy to get additional federal reforms into law expeditiously.  Here are the interesting details:

A coalition of advocacy groups is ramping up pressure on lawmakers to include criminal justice legislation in a must-pass defense bill. The push comes as staffers and lawmakers are expected to informally start merging the House and Senate National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAAs) during the August recess.

The House-passed NDAA includes the Fair Chance Act, which prohibits the federal government and federal contractors from asking about a job applicant's criminal history before making a conditional offer of employment. The Senate's defense bill doesn't include the legislation.

Supporters are rolling out a new poll, obtained exclusively by The Hill ahead of its release, showing most Americans support the ideas behind the Fair Chance Act.

The poll — conducted by GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of the Justice Action Network, a coalition of outside groups supporting the bill — found that 83 percent of voters say they would support a proposal that allows employers to conduct background checks "but not until after applicants have had a chance to share their skills and qualifications."...

"We've shown overwhelming public support, the administration has shown its support, and now we just need the Senate to include the amendment," said Holly Harris, the executive director of Justice Action Network. She added that she's "really hopeful that the leaders and those negotiating the bill will see both the policy value and the political value."...

The push to include the legislation in the NDAA comes as lawmakers are out of Washington until September. When they return, they'll have a packed floor schedule, including funding the government by Oct. 1 to prevent a second shutdown.

Jason Pye, the vice president of legislative affairs at FreedomWorks, noted that putting the criminal justice measure in the mammoth defense bill prevents it from having to compete with other items on the Senate's agenda. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is likely to prioritize nominations and appropriations when making decisions about the chamber's limited floor time in the fall. "The House could pass Fair Chance and send it over to the Senate and absent the White House saying 'hey McConnell, please take up this bill,' he's not going to do it," Pye said.

Neither the House nor Senate have named which senators will be on the conference committee that will ultimately sign off on the final version of the defense bill. In one potential hurdle to the Fair Chance Act, Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) both asked to be recorded as "no" on the measure when it passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this year. They are both members of the Armed Services Committee, making it possible that they end up on the NDAA conference committee.

The criminal justice bill comes after Congress passed long-stalled sentencing and prison reform legislation in late 2018. The bill had wide bipartisan support, but had stalled for years until President Trump threw his support behind it and publicly urged McConnell to give it a vote.

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), who is sponsoring the Fair Chance Act in the House along with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), said he hopes the Fair Chance Act makes it into the NDAA. "The Fair Chance Act builds off the success of the First Step Act and goes one step further by helping rehabilitated men and women gain meaningful employment nationwide," he said. "This bill has the potential change lives and help communities everywhere by reducing recidivism and bringing hope to families from coast to coast.”

August 9, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 26, 2019

"Retributivist Reform of Collateral Consequences"

The title of this post is the title of this notable article authored by Brian Murray just posted to SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

This Article applies retributivist principles to discussions about collateral consequences reform.  Retributivist ideas relating to agency and responsibility, proportionality, personal and communal restoration, and the obligations and duties of the state, as well as the broader community, suggest suspicion of an expansive collateral consequences regime.  A retributivist assessment, cognizant of realities within the criminal system, reveals that many are overly punitive and disruptive of social order.

Legislatures that prioritize retribution as a justification for and constraint on punishment should think clearly about whether existing collateral consequences result in disproportionate suffering and, if so, reconsider them.  This includes the outsourcing of punishment to private actors.  Committed retributivist decision-makers within the system, such as line prosecutors, should consider how to approach the imposition of collateral consequences when acting during various phases of a prosecution.  Finally, retributivist constraints can inform whether the maintenance of criminal records by the state is justified, and for how long, as well as the scope of second-chance remedies like expungement.  These limitations could allow for robust procedural protections for petitioners for relief, shifting the burden of persuasion to the state. In short, retributive principles can be a useful tool for reform, helping to restore to ex-offenders what they deserve.

July 26, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

"Criminal Convictions, Incarceration, and the Right to Vote in South Carolina"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting study just recently posted to SSRN and authored by multiple persons. Here is part of its abstract:

Because of questions about the rationale for felon disenfranchisement, many jurisdictions have begun to re-examine laws that restrict the voting rights of persons with criminal convictions.  In the last twenty years, in particular, a number of states have made legal and administrative changes aimed both at expanding the voting rights of ex-offenders and at assuring that ex-offenders whose voting rights have been restored are not excluded from the franchise by misinformation or unnecessary administrative hurdles.

South Carolina, however, has not revisited the issue since the current law was adopted in the early 1980’s.  That law, in turn, was hurriedly adopted to replace a Jim Crow-era statute that had been challenged on equal protection grounds. Nor has implementation of the current disenfranchisement statute been carefully examined to assure that restoration of voting rights following the period of disenfranchisement is actual and not merely theoretical.

As a class project, Professor Elizabeth Patterson’s spring 2018 Voting Rights Seminar at the University of South Carolina School of Law undertook a wide-ranging study of law, policy, and practice affecting the voting rights of South Carolinians who have been convicted of crimes, or who are otherwise incarcerated.  Based on interviews with state and local officials and other interested persons, examination of state statutes from all 50 states, and review of a wide range of published material, the class identified three issues that should be addressed in order to assure that the voting rights of persons who have been convicted of crimes or are otherwise incarcerated are limited no more than is necessary to serve legitimate policy goals.

The three issues, which are discussed more fully in the report that follows, are:

1. The scope of disenfranchisement under current law. Conclusion: The scope of disenfranchisement under current South Carolina law is broader than can be justified by legitimate policy goals, impedes successful re-entry and rehabilitation of ex-offenders, and has an unacceptable disproportionate effect on black voting rights.  The state should consider relieving probationers, parolees, and misdemeanants (other than those convicted of election offenses) of the burden of disenfranchisement.

2. Practical and administrative obstacles to ex-offenders’ participation in the electorate following restoration of voting rights. Conclusion: Substantial misunderstanding and misinformation concerning ex-offenders’ voting rights exist among both ex-offenders themselves and among local election officials.  Restoration of voting rights as provided for by South Carolina law will not be a reality without more intensive efforts to inform affected persons of their voting rights and how to exercise the, together with full implementation of the system of guidance and oversight for county boards of voter registration and elections mandated in the 2014 Election Reform Act.

3. Whether the voting rights of eligible voters who are incarcerated are adequately protected.  Conclusion: The state has a duty to assure that inmates who retain the right to vote are provided with information and assistance necessary to exercise that right.

July 11, 2019 in Collateral consequences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Of note of late from the Collateral Consequences Resource Center

Regular readers know I regularly urge folks to regularly check out the work and commentary over at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, and the last few weeks have brought a number of notable posts that seemed valuable to flag here:

July 10, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

"The Gendered Burdens of Conviction and Collateral Consequences on Employment"

The title of this post is the title of this notable paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Joni Hersch and Erin Meyers.  Here is its abstract:

Ex-offenders are subject to a wide range of employment restrictions that limit the ability of individuals with a criminal background to earn a living.  This Article argues that women involved in the criminal justice system likely suffer a greater income-related burden from criminal conviction than do men.  This disproportionate burden arises in occupations that women typically pursue, both through formal pathways, such as restrictions on occupational licensing, and through informal pathways, such as employers’ unwillingness to hire those with a criminal record.

In addition, women have access to far fewer vocational programs while incarcerated.  Further exacerbating this burden is that women involved in the criminal justice system tend to be a more vulnerable population and are more likely to be responsible for children than their male counterparts, making legal restrictions on access to public assistance that would support employment more burdensome for women.  We propose programs and policies that may ameliorate these gendered income burdens of criminal conviction, including reforms to occupational licensing, improved access to public assistance, reforms to prison labor opportunities, improvements in labor market information sharing, and expanded employer liability protection.

July 2, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Alaska Supreme Court finds due process flaw in state's sex offender registry scheme

Last Friday, the Alaska Supreme Court in Doe v. Alaska Department of Public Safety, No. 7375  (Alaska June 14, 2019) (available here) decided that part of its state’s Sexual Offender Registration Act violates due process.  Here is how the majority opinion starts and concludes:

&This appeal presentstwo questions concerning theAlaska SexualOffender Registration Act (ASORA). The first is whether ASORA’s registration requirements may be imposed on sex offenders who have moved to the state of Alaska after committing sex offenses elsewhere. The second iswhetherASORAviolates due process by requiring all sex offenders to register without providing a procedure for them to establish that they do not represent a threat to the public. We conclude that ASORA’s registration requirements can constitutionally be applied to out-of-state offenders. We also conclude that ASORA violates due process, but its defect may be cured by providing a procedure for offenders to establish their non-dangerousness....

The superior court correctly concluded that Doe must register under ASORA. ASORA has effects that are both punitive and regulatory in nature. The former prevent retroactive application of the act under the ex post facto clause of the Alaska Constitution,but they do not preclude imposing registration duties on out-of-state offenders who are present in the state.

The superior court also correctly recognized that registration may seriously affect Doe’s liberty interests. But the court did not strike a proper balance between Doe’s liberty interests and ASORA’s public safety purposes when it concluded that ASORA may be applied to Doe without affording him the right to a hearing to show that he does not pose a risk to the public sufficient to require continued registration. Doe’s affected liberty interests are fundamental and thus protected from infringement by state action except under a narrowly drawn statute reasonably designed to achieve a compelling state interest. If Doe can show at a hearing that he does not pose a risk requiring registration, then there is no compelling reason requiring him to register, and the fact that ASORA does not provide for such a hearing means that the statute is unnecessarily broad.

The flaw in ASORA identified in this case is that it does not provide Doe with an opportunity to be heard. This can best be cured by providing him with such an opportunity.

June 16, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, 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 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)