Collateral Consequences of a Felony



“Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims— laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children.” Isaiah 10:1-4, MSG


Each year, 620,000 people are released from federal and state prisons across the country. That’s more than 10,000 people each week returning to one of this nation’s communities.

Unfortunately, 60 to 70 percent of them will return to prison within three to five years. Sadly, the journey back into society presents itself with many pitfalls. For those returning after having served time in prison, it's vital to re-establish community or even form a new community, better than the one that was left behind.

As mentors, you might take on the role of helping someone returning from prison to find a new sense of self and a new community. You might help them build a new life after prison.

In order to remove the stigma associated with prison, it’s important to understand that most people convicted of felonies got there because of plea bargains.


Understanding of Plea Bargains and Racial Implications


The plea bargain might be considered the defining feature of the American criminal justice system. In plea bargaining, a defendant (someone charged with a crime) is offered a chance to skip the trial and either return home or serve a lesser sentence—if they plead guilty.

Of course, the best outcome for the defendant is to be found innocent or be acquitted of all charges. This will allow the defendant to avoid both incarceration and the collateral sanctions of being a felon. But many people accused of crimes know this is probably not going to be an option.

Going to trial can be risky, especially if the defendant lacks the resources necessary to hire private attorney services. The offer of a shorter sentence becomes an especially attractive option if the defendant knows that a guilty verdict at trial will automatically earn him a long prison term.

The trade-off is that the defendant becomes a confessed felon, for life.

When we talk about second chances for ex-convicts, we are assuming that they got a first chance. But as civil rights attorney Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow discusses, thousands of people are in prison, simply because they were too poor to access the resources needed to give them a fighting chance in court.

According to Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama, our criminal justice system treats you better if you’re guilty and rich than if you’re innocent and poor. According to the Bureau of Justice, between 90 and 95 percent of people in prison today confessed to crimes to accept a plea bargain.

As a society, instead of painting the incarcerated with a broad brush, we need to understand what factors may have led to their incarceration. One of the main factors is prosecutorial discretion.

Prosecutorial Discretion


Research into the difference between the plea bargains and trial outcomes showed the plea bargain produced vastly different outcomes for people of color. The primary factor was prosecutorial discretion.

Prosecutors have been found to use threats to pressure defendants into accepting plea bargain. They want to secure a conviction, even when the evidence of a crime is flimsy.

What other factors determine the outcomes? According to the Bureau of Justice, gender and age showed limited and inconclusive correlation to outcomes. However, not surprisingly, race played a huge role.

Black defendants are less likely to received reduced sentences from the plea bargaining process, largely because of prosecutorial discretion. Considering that 95 percent of elected prosecutors are white, and that inequality often tracks across racial lines, black people have good reason to mistrust the American justice system.

For more information, read these insightful Equal Justice Initiative articles discussing this issue:

a. Article Title: “Study Finds 95 Percent of Prosecutors Are White”

Website: https://eji.org/news/study-finds-95-percent-of-prosecutors-are-white/

b. Article Title: “Research Finds Evidence of Racial Bias in Plea Deals”

Website: https://eji.org/news/research-finds-racial-disparities-in-plea-deals/



Types of Collateral Consequences


People leaving prison expect their re-entry into life outside to be hard. They have to re-earn the public trust. They are told that if they knock on enough doors and work hard, they can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

It seems obvious that successful reintegration includes having the rights of citizenship. But the full implications of legal decisions are often unfamiliar, not only to the general public, but also to attorneys and courts. The very rights won in the civil rights movement are stripped away with a felony conviction. People who serve their time are still kept shackled.

It’s as if the law is designed to look at ex-felons as having a shattered character. That’s not coming from me. That’s coming from the United States Commission on Civil Rights in the June 13, 2019 report Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption, and the Effects on Communities. [i] In this report, the commission majority approved several key findings:

1. Collateral consequences of a felony (conviction) intensify the punishment beyond the court-imposed sentence and unduly hinder a returning citizen’s ability to reintegrate into society.

2. Many collateral consequences have no connection to the crime or to public safety.

3. The public, the lawyers, and the courts often are unaware of the entirety of the collateral consequences, the length, their connection to public safety, and whether they are discretionary or mandatory. The convicted person generally lacks notice of the collateral consequences, yet he or she might be restricted from adopting a child, getting a real estate license, or becoming a lawyer.

Some examples of lifetime bans for people convicted of felonies in certain states include:

a. Adoption – See adoption laws by state:

https://adoptionnetwork.com/criminal-background-checks-for-adoption-by-state

b. To become a lawyer. See the laws by state:

http://www.ncbex.org/assets/BarAdmissionGuide/NCBE-CompGuide-2019.pdf

c. To sell real estate – See the laws by state:

https://helpforfelons.org/can-a-felon-become-a-real-estate-agent/

There are new editions uploaded annually. Google the following:

“Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements 2019”


4. There is barely sufficient evidence that collateral consequences keep additional crimes from happening. In fact, studies show that collateral consequences that are irrelevant to public safety increase recidivism, mainly because they keep a returning citizen from receiving personal and family support.


Has our justice system’s perspective been helpful in achieving justice, or is it more a matter of revenge? As you review these findings, you’ll see that it seems like it’s been the latter. Fortunately, our society is beginning to wake up to the fact that the system is not working and is, in fact, inhumane.

My intent is to make the general public aware of the unreasonably harsh consequences of felony convictions in order to provoke thought on the underlying intent and motivation of the laws and regulations. Right anger can help us protect and serve something good. Discontent with an unfair system can create a commitment to human integrity and the social fabric.

Society uses punishments to deter those who would violate conventions—but the punishments must be just. Through a politics of fear and anger, our society has become irrational. We are keeping millions of people from growing beyond what they did and achieving what they can become.

About 70 million Americans have a felony conviction. A felony conviction impacts an ex-felon’s ability to successfully reintegrate into society by making it harder to vote, work, find housing, or get government assistance. We might ask, “Are the people coming out of prison who have been disproportionately sentenced going to have the same experience as those who were freed from slavery?” The first aspect to consider is whether we will make an intentional effort to help returning citizens participate in the political process.

1. Voting


About 6 million returning citizens cannot vote because of a felony conviction. See the voting rights by state at this site: https://felonvoting.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000286

2. Housing

Housing insecurity and homelessness are a huge problem for returning citizens and can lead to higher rates of recidivism. The most immediate and pressing need upon release from incarceration is often finding a place to live; eight out of ten formerly incarcerated individuals say they have faced denial of housing or ineligibility because of their or a loved one’s conviction history. Men who have been in prison are twice as likely to become homeless as men without a history of incarceration. According to the US Commission on Civil Rights, homeless people of color are more likely to have an incarceration history than white homeless people. This can be explained by the disproportionate rate of the incarceration of people of color, particularly black men.

See the information below on housing issues for the formerly incarcerated and the resources available.

Article Title: “Formerly Incarcerated People Are Nearly 10 Times More Likely to be Homeless”

Website: https://nlihc.org/resource/formerly-incarcerated-people-are-nearly-10-times-more-likely-be-homeless

Article Title: “Nowhere to Go: Homelessness among formerly incarcerated people”

Website: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/housing.html

Resource: Connecting People Returning from Incarceration with Housing and Homelessness Assistance

Locate information on local homelessness resources at the website:

https://www.usich.gov/resources/uploads/asset_library/Reentry_Housing_Resource_Tipsheet_Final.pdf

3. Employment

a. Having a job is vital to someone successfully re-entering society. Employment allows one to regain a sense of purpose and to become self-sufficient. Research also shows that employing ex-convicts contributes to a strong economy, stable communities, and helps to reduce recidivism. Of more than 44,000 federal and state collateral consequences for felony convictions, about 70 percent relate to employment. Barriers to employment affect the well-being of not only ex-felons but also their families and communities, which can have public safety implications. According to the Department of Justice, a past criminal conviction reduces the chances of getting a job by 50 percent. One in four Americans are kept out of the workforce due to a felony conviction, resulting in billions of dollars in lost output.

b. Racial Implications: According to the US Commission on Civil Rights, 60 percent of black applicants with a felony record received no job offers or callbacks, compared to 30 percent of white applicants with felony records.

c. Public Safety Concerns: Reasonable employment restrictions cover certain types of felonies. For example, a convicted sex offender should not be allowed to run a day care center. But irrational restrictions undermine the intent of promoting public safety and cost-effective criminal justice practices.

d. Disadvantages of incarceration: Some with felony records experience disadvantages that challenge their employability. These disadvantages include substance abuse, limited work experience, physical or mental health conditions, and inadequate education. They may lose their social networks and/or be connected with harmful social networks while behind bars. About 18 percent of non-incarcerated people have a high school diploma. Over 40 percent of those incarcerated do not have a high school diploma. Almost 50 percent of non-incarcerated people have college experience. Only 13 percent of those incarcerated have a college experience.

e. Occupational Licensing / Ban the Box

i. About 30 percent of US employees must have a license to perform their jobs. Occupational licenses serve the purpose of ensuring that the consumer is given quality goods and services. According to the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction, more than 13,000 licensing restrictions apply to people with a criminal conviction. Research shows that occupational licensing burdens have a correlation with recidivism.

ii. Due to the risk of continued rejection, some people are more willing to suffer through financial insecurity. It’s understandable for employers to want dependable and trustworthy workers, but with 70 million people with a criminal conviction, it’s safe to say that there’s a great probability that valuable potential employees are overlooked. As a result, ban-the-box initiatives have passed in several states. Ban the box is a civil rights campaign aimed at the box on job applications inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record. The purpose is to give returning citizens a fair chance.

iii. To learn more about regulation of occupational licenses and ban-the-box laws for felons by state: https://ccresourcecenter.org/state-restoration-profiles/50-state-comparisoncomparison-of-criminal-records-in-licensing-and-employment/

4. Public Benefits / Food Stamps

a. People coming home from prison often lack support to find self-sufficiency. Government benefits such as food stamps and welfare payments created to bridge the gaps for low-income families include TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). In 1996, the federal government passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). This welfare-reform law blocked only those with felony drug convictions—and no other kinds of felonies—from receiving assistance. Some states have lifted this ban completely or partially. Other states are reluctant to lift the ban at all.

To see which states have or have not lifted the ban at the following site:

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/02/04/six-states-where-felons-can-t-get-food-stamps

5. Psychological Distress

a. People on probation or parole are more likely to experience psychological distress than those with no criminal justice involvement. Without government support systems, they are often unable to seek mental health care. See Chapter 41 – Mass Incarceration and Reentry of Bridge the Gaps.






What Can be Done


NYU Professor of Clinical law Anthony Thompson encourages his students to question why things are done. I echo the sentiment. We have to rethink punishment as a moral concept.

Is the goal of criminal justice to take revenge by keeping a returning citizen from experiencing the law’s protection, or should we be allowing people to reintegrate into a more redemptive society with the tools they need to thrive? Because of the nature of the collateral sanctions for convicted felons, this is a “roll-up your sleeves” type of issue. To resolve this issue will take work.

1. Know what resources are available and find ways you can support ex-convicts.

  1. Help for Felons is an organization dedicated to providing direction and support to returning citizens, inmates, and felons. This website will point you in the direction of resources such as housing, employment, reentry programs, and financial assistance in each state.

Website: https://helpforfelons.org/

b. Reform Alliance—The mission of the REFORM Alliance is to dramatically reduce the number of people who are unjustly under the control of the criminal justice system, starting with probation and parole. To win, we will leverage our considerable resources to change laws, policies, hearts, and minds.

Website: https://reformalliance.com/

c. Collateral Consequences Resource Center is a non-profit organization established in 2014 to promote public engagement on the many issues raised by the collateral consequences of arrest or conviction.

Website: https://ccresourcecenter.org/

d. The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences catalogs the collateral consequences imposed by the statutes and regulations of all fifty states, the federal system, and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Each consequence is given a brief description and categorized by a number of features.

Website: https://niccc.csgjusticecenter.org/

e. The Marshall Project is a non-partisan, non-profit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system through award-winning journalism and partnerships between news outlets and public forums. The Marshall Project strives to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice.

Website: https://www.themarshallproject.org/


2. Play a part of the finding opportunities for felons.

a. Second Chance Pell Grants

i. In 1994, Congress banned Pell grants to felons. Pell grants are need-based financial aid designed to help undergraduate students from low-income families afford college. In 2015, the Obama administration launched a Second Chance program to provide Pell grants to incarcerated individuals again. Efforts are underway by criminal justice reformers to repeal the ban on Pell grants.

1. The Restoring Education and Learning Act of 2019, introduced on 4/9/2019 (H.R. 2168) is a bill focused on the reinstatement of Pell grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals. This is a bipartisan effort that would improve public safety, save taxpayer money, and curb recidivism.

2. Website: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/2168/text

b. Federal Ban-the-Box Legislation

i. S. 387 is a bill introduced on February 7, 2019. If signed into law, it would amend federal law to prevent federal employers and contractors from inquiring about a job applicant's criminal history until after the applicant has received a conditional job offer.

1. Website: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/387/text

3. Know your legislators and pending state bills.

a. Here’s the website for the New Jersey Legislature: https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/

i. Find Your Legislator: https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp

ii. Find the bills that are being put forth in the legislature: https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/bills/bills0001.asp

Some highlights of 2019 Legislation:

1. Bill S4154 revises expungement eligibility and procedures, making it easier for convicted felons to clear their records. It includes a new “clean slate” automated process to render convictions and related records inaccessible; creates an e-filing system for expungements; eliminates expungement filing fees; and appropriates $15 million to DLPS for implementation. This was signed into law in December of 2019.

2. Bill A5823, signed into law in December of 2019, removes the prohibition on voting by persons who are on parole or probation due to a conviction for an indictable offense under any federal or State laws.

Article Title: “Governor Murphy Signs Major Criminal Justice Reform” https://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/562019/approved/20191218a.shtml

b. Bill A5089, introduced in February 2019, eliminates past conviction of indictable offense as disqualifier for jury service.

4. Support in-prison programs with post-release value. Research shows that the most successful programs begin while a person is incarcerated. These include pre-release vocational training, halfway houses, work-release programs, and mental health/substance abuse programs.

  1. Prison Fellowship has a mission to restore those affected by crime and incarceration. They offer in-prison mentoring, service to children through Angel Trees (facilitating the delivery of Christmas gifts from incarcerated parents to their children), and justice reform work.

Website: www.prisonfellowship.org

  1. Federal Bureau of Prisons: The BOP contracts with residential reentry centers (RRCs), also known as halfway houses, to provide assistance to inmates who are nearing release. RRCs provide a safe, structured, and supervised environment, as well as employment counseling, job placement, financial management assistance, and other programs and services. RRCs help inmates gradually rebuild their ties to the community and facilitate supervising returning citizens' activities during this readjustment phase.

i. Website: https://www.bop.gov/inmates/custody_and_care/reentry.jsp


More Resources

Breaking the cycles that keep released convicted felons from reintegrating into their communities requires that we grow in our knowledge of the issues. Here are some additional resources:

· The New Civil Death: Rethinking Punishment in the Era of Mass Conviction, by Gabriel J. Chin, University of Pennsylvania Law Review (April 1, 2013)

· “Ex-offenders face tens of thousands of legal restrictions, bias and limits on their rights,” ABA Journal (June 1, 2013)

· Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions: Law, Policy and Practice, 2012-2013 ed., Thomson West Publishers (2013)

11: Children of Incarcerated Parents

[i]https://www.usccr.gov/pubs/2019/06-13-Collateral-Consequences.pdf Collateral Consequences of a Felony


“Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims— laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children.” Isaiah 10:1-4, MSG


Each year, 620,000 people are released from federal and state prisons across the country. That’s more than 10,000 people each week returning to one of this nation’s communities.

Unfortunately, 60 to 70 percent of them will return to prison within three to five years. Sadly, the journey back into society presents itself with many pitfalls. For those returning after having served time in prison, it's vital to re-establish community or even form a new community, better than the one that was left behind.

As mentors, you might take on the role of helping someone returning from prison to find a new sense of self and a new community. You might help them build a new life after prison.

In order to remove the stigma associated with prison, it’s important to understand that most people convicted of felonies got there because of plea bargains.


Understanding of Plea Bargains and Racial Implications


The plea bargain might be considered the defining feature of the American criminal justice system. In plea bargaining, a defendant (someone charged with a crime) is offered a chance to skip the trial and either return home or serve a lesser sentence—if they plead guilty.

Of course, the best outcome for the defendant is to be found innocent or be acquitted of all charges. This will allow the defendant to avoid both incarceration and the collateral sanctions of being a felon. But many people accused of crimes know this is probably not going to be an option.

Going to trial can be risky, especially if the defendant lacks the resources necessary to hire private attorney services. The offer of a shorter sentence becomes an especially attractive option if the defendant knows that a guilty verdict at trial will automatically earn him a long prison term.

The trade-off is that the defendant becomes a confessed felon, for life.

When we talk about second chances for ex-convicts, we are assuming that they got a first chance. But as civil rights attorney Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow discusses, thousands of people are in prison, simply because they were too poor to access the resources needed to give them a fighting chance in court.

According to Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama, our criminal justice system treats you better if you’re guilty and rich than if you’re innocent and poor. According to the Bureau of Justice, between 90 and 95 percent of people in prison today confessed to crimes to accept a plea bargain.

As a society, instead of painting the incarcerated with a broad brush, we need to understand what factors may have led to their incarceration. One of the main factors is prosecutorial discretion.

Prosecutorial Discretion


Research into the difference between the plea bargains and trial outcomes showed the plea bargain produced vastly different outcomes for people of color. The primary factor was prosecutorial discretion.

Prosecutors have been found to use threats to pressure defendants into accepting plea bargain. They want to secure a conviction, even when the evidence of a crime is flimsy.

What other factors determine the outcomes? According to the Bureau of Justice, gender and age showed limited and inconclusive correlation to outcomes. However, not surprisingly, race played a huge role.

Black defendants are less likely to received reduced sentences from the plea bargaining process, largely because of prosecutorial discretion. Considering that 95 percent of elected prosecutors are white, and that inequality often tracks across racial lines, black people have good reason to mistrust the American justice system.

For more information, read these insightful Equal Justice Initiative articles discussing this issue:

a. Article Title: “Study Finds 95 Percent of Prosecutors Are White”

Website: https://eji.org/news/study-finds-95-percent-of-prosecutors-are-white/

b. Article Title: “Research Finds Evidence of Racial Bias in Plea Deals”

Website: https://eji.org/news/research-finds-racial-disparities-in-plea-deals/



Types of Collateral Consequences


People leaving prison expect their re-entry into life outside to be hard. They have to re-earn the public trust. They are told that if they knock on enough doors and work hard, they can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

It seems obvious that successful reintegration includes having the rights of citizenship. But the full implications of legal decisions are often unfamiliar, not only to the general public, but also to attorneys and courts. The very rights won in the civil rights movement are stripped away with a felony conviction. People who serve their time are still kept shackled.

It’s as if the law is designed to look at ex-felons as having a shattered character. That’s not coming from me. That’s coming from the United States Commission on Civil Rights in the June 13, 2019 report Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption, and the Effects on Communities. [i] In this report, the commission majority approved several key findings:

1. Collateral consequences of a felony (conviction) intensify the punishment beyond the court-imposed sentence and unduly hinder a returning citizen’s ability to reintegrate into society.

2. Many collateral consequences have no connection to the crime or to public safety.

3. The public, the lawyers, and the courts often are unaware of the entirety of the collateral consequences, the length, their connection to public safety, and whether they are discretionary or mandatory. The convicted person generally lacks notice of the collateral consequences, yet he or she might be restricted from adopting a child, getting a real estate license, or becoming a lawyer.

Some examples of lifetime bans for people convicted of felonies in certain states include:

a. Adoption – See adoption laws by state:

https://adoptionnetwork.com/criminal-background-checks-for-adoption-by-state

b. To become a lawyer. See the laws by state:

http://www.ncbex.org/assets/BarAdmissionGuide/NCBE-CompGuide-2019.pdf

c. To sell real estate – See the laws by state:

https://helpforfelons.org/can-a-felon-become-a-real-estate-agent/

There are new editions uploaded annually. Google the following:

“Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements 2019”


4. There is barely sufficient evidence that collateral consequences keep additional crimes from happening. In fact, studies show that collateral consequences that are irrelevant to public safety increase recidivism, mainly because they keep a returning citizen from receiving personal and family support.


Has our justice system’s perspective been helpful in achieving justice, or is it more a matter of revenge? As you review these findings, you’ll see that it seems like it’s been the latter. Fortunately, our society is beginning to wake up to the fact that the system is not working and is, in fact, inhumane.

My intent is to make the general public aware of the unreasonably harsh consequences of felony convictions in order to provoke thought on the underlying intent and motivation of the laws and regulations. Right anger can help us protect and serve something good. Discontent with an unfair system can create a commitment to human integrity and the social fabric.

Society uses punishments to deter those who would violate conventions—but the punishments must be just. Through a politics of fear and anger, our society has become irrational. We are keeping millions of people from growing beyond what they did and achieving what they can become.

About 70 million Americans have a felony conviction. A felony conviction impacts an ex-felon’s ability to successfully reintegrate into society by making it harder to vote, work, find housing, or get government assistance. We might ask, “Are the people coming out of prison who have been disproportionately sentenced going to have the same experience as those who were freed from slavery?” The first aspect to consider is whether we will make an intentional effort to help returning citizens participate in the political process.

1. Voting


About 6 million returning citizens cannot vote because of a felony conviction. See the voting rights by state at this site: https://felonvoting.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000286

2. Housing

Housing insecurity and homelessness are a huge problem for returning citizens and can lead to higher rates of recidivism. The most immediate and pressing need upon release from incarceration is often finding a place to live; eight out of ten formerly incarcerated individuals say they have faced denial of housing or ineligibility because of their or a loved one’s conviction history. Men who have been in prison are twice as likely to become homeless as men without a history of incarceration. According to the US Commission on Civil Rights, homeless people of color are more likely to have an incarceration history than white homeless people. This can be explained by the disproportionate rate of the incarceration of people of color, particularly black men.

See the information below on housing issues for the formerly incarcerated and the resources available.

Article Title: “Formerly Incarcerated People Are Nearly 10 Times More Likely to be Homeless”

Website: https://nlihc.org/resource/formerly-incarcerated-people-are-nearly-10-times-more-likely-be-homeless

Article Title: “Nowhere to Go: Homelessness among formerly incarcerated people”

Website: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/housing.html

Resource: Connecting People Returning from Incarceration with Housing and Homelessness Assistance

Locate information on local homelessness resources at the website:

https://www.usich.gov/resources/uploads/asset_library/Reentry_Housing_Resource_Tipsheet_Final.pdf

3. Employment

a. Having a job is vital to someone successfully re-entering society. Employment allows one to regain a sense of purpose and to become self-sufficient. Research also shows that employing ex-convicts contributes to a strong economy, stable communities, and helps to reduce recidivism. Of more than 44,000 federal and state collateral consequences for felony convictions, about 70 percent relate to employment. Barriers to employment affect the well-being of not only ex-felons but also their families and communities, which can have public safety implications. According to the Department of Justice, a past criminal conviction reduces the chances of getting a job by 50 percent. One in four Americans are kept out of the workforce due to a felony conviction, resulting in billions of dollars in lost output.

b. Racial Implications: According to the US Commission on Civil Rights, 60 percent of black applicants with a felony record received no job offers or callbacks, compared to 30 percent of white applicants with felony records.

c. Public Safety Concerns: Reasonable employment restrictions cover certain types of felonies. For example, a convicted sex offender should not be allowed to run a day care center. But irrational restrictions undermine the intent of promoting public safety and cost-effective criminal justice practices.

d. Disadvantages of incarceration: Some with felony records experience disadvantages that challenge their employability. These disadvantages include substance abuse, limited work experience, physical or mental health conditions, and inadequate education. They may lose their social networks and/or be connected with harmful social networks while behind bars. About 18 percent of non-incarcerated people have a high school diploma. Over 40 percent of those incarcerated do not have a high school diploma. Almost 50 percent of non-incarcerated people have college experience. Only 13 percent of those incarcerated have a college experience.

e. Occupational Licensing / Ban the Box

i. About 30 percent of US employees must have a license to perform their jobs. Occupational licenses serve the purpose of ensuring that the consumer is given quality goods and services. According to the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction, more than 13,000 licensing restrictions apply to people with a criminal conviction. Research shows that occupational licensing burdens have a correlation with recidivism.

ii. Due to the risk of continued rejection, some people are more willing to suffer through financial insecurity. It’s understandable for employers to want dependable and trustworthy workers, but with 70 million people with a criminal conviction, it’s safe to say that there’s a great probability that valuable potential employees are overlooked. As a result, ban-the-box initiatives have passed in several states. Ban the box is a civil rights campaign aimed at the box on job applications inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record. The purpose is to give returning citizens a fair chance.

iii. To learn more about regulation of occupational licenses and ban-the-box laws for felons by state: https://ccresourcecenter.org/state-restoration-profiles/50-state-comparisoncomparison-of-criminal-records-in-licensing-and-employment/

4. Public Benefits / Food Stamps

a. People coming home from prison often lack support to find self-sufficiency. Government benefits such as food stamps and welfare payments created to bridge the gaps for low-income families include TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). In 1996, the federal government passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). This welfare-reform law blocked only those with felony drug convictions—and no other kinds of felonies—from receiving assistance. Some states have lifted this ban completely or partially. Other states are reluctant to lift the ban at all.

To see which states have or have not lifted the ban at the following site:

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/02/04/six-states-where-felons-can-t-get-food-stamps

5. Psychological Distress

a. People on probation or parole are more likely to experience psychological distress than those with no criminal justice involvement. Without government support systems, they are often unable to seek mental health care. See Chapter 41 – Mass Incarceration and Reentry of Bridge the Gaps.






What Can be Done


NYU Professor of Clinical law Anthony Thompson encourages his students to question why things are done. I echo the sentiment. We have to rethink punishment as a moral concept.

Is the goal of criminal justice to take revenge by keeping a returning citizen from experiencing the law’s protection, or should we be allowing people to reintegrate into a more redemptive society with the tools they need to thrive? Because of the nature of the collateral sanctions for convicted felons, this is a “roll-up your sleeves” type of issue. To resolve this issue will take work.

1. Know what resources are available and find ways you can support ex-convicts.

  1. Help for Felons is an organization dedicated to providing direction and support to returning citizens, inmates, and felons. This website will point you in the direction of resources such as housing, employment, reentry programs, and financial assistance in each state.

Website: https://helpforfelons.org/

b. Reform Alliance—The mission of the REFORM Alliance is to dramatically reduce the number of people who are unjustly under the control of the criminal justice system, starting with probation and parole. To win, we will leverage our considerable resources to change laws, policies, hearts, and minds.

Website: https://reformalliance.com/

c. Collateral Consequences Resource Center is a non-profit organization established in 2014 to promote public engagement on the many issues raised by the collateral consequences of arrest or conviction.

Website: https://ccresourcecenter.org/

d. The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences catalogs the collateral consequences imposed by the statutes and regulations of all fifty states, the federal system, and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Each consequence is given a brief description and categorized by a number of features.

Website: https://niccc.csgjusticecenter.org/

e. The Marshall Project is a non-partisan, non-profit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system through award-winning journalism and partnerships between news outlets and public forums. The Marshall Project strives to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice.

Website: https://www.themarshallproject.org/


2. Play a part of the finding opportunities for felons.

a. Second Chance Pell Grants

i. In 1994, Congress banned Pell grants to felons. Pell grants are need-based financial aid designed to help undergraduate students from low-income families afford college. In 2015, the Obama administration launched a Second Chance program to provide Pell grants to incarcerated individuals again. Efforts are underway by criminal justice reformers to repeal the ban on Pell grants.

1. The Restoring Education and Learning Act of 2019, introduced on 4/9/2019 (H.R. 2168) is a bill focused on the reinstatement of Pell grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals. This is a bipartisan effort that would improve public safety, save taxpayer money, and curb recidivism.

2. Website: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/2168/text

b. Federal Ban-the-Box Legislation

i. S. 387 is a bill introduced on February 7, 2019. If signed into law, it would amend federal law to prevent federal employers and contractors from inquiring about a job applicant's criminal history until after the applicant has received a conditional job offer.

1. Website: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/387/text

3. Know your legislators and pending state bills.

a. Here’s the website for the New Jersey Legislature: https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/

i. Find Your Legislator: https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp

ii. Find the bills that are being put forth in the legislature: https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/bills/bills0001.asp

Some highlights of 2019 Legislation:

1. Bill S4154 revises expungement eligibility and procedures, making it easier for convicted felons to clear their records. It includes a new “clean slate” automated process to render convictions and related records inaccessible; creates an e-filing system for expungements; eliminates expungement filing fees; and appropriates $15 million to DLPS for implementation. This was signed into law in December of 2019.

2. Bill A5823, signed into law in December of 2019, removes the prohibition on voting by persons who are on parole or probation due to a conviction for an indictable offense under any federal or State laws.

Article Title: “Governor Murphy Signs Major Criminal Justice Reform” https://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/562019/approved/20191218a.shtml

b. Bill A5089, introduced in February 2019, eliminates past conviction of indictable offense as disqualifier for jury service.

4. Support in-prison programs with post-release value. Research shows that the most successful programs begin while a person is incarcerated. These include pre-release vocational training, halfway houses, work-release programs, and mental health/substance abuse programs.

  1. Prison Fellowship has a mission to restore those affected by crime and incarceration. They offer in-prison mentoring, service to children through Angel Trees (facilitating the delivery of Christmas gifts from incarcerated parents to their children), and justice reform work.

Website: www.prisonfellowship.org

  1. Federal Bureau of Prisons: The BOP contracts with residential reentry centers (RRCs), also known as halfway houses, to provide assistance to inmates who are nearing release. RRCs provide a safe, structured, and supervised environment, as well as employment counseling, job placement, financial management assistance, and other programs and services. RRCs help inmates gradually rebuild their ties to the community and facilitate supervising returning citizens' activities during this readjustment phase.

i. Website: https://www.bop.gov/inmates/custody_and_care/reentry.jsp


More Resources

Breaking the cycles that keep released convicted felons from reintegrating into their communities requires that we grow in our knowledge of the issues. Here are some additional resources:

· The New Civil Death: Rethinking Punishment in the Era of Mass Conviction, by Gabriel J. Chin, University of Pennsylvania Law Review (April 1, 2013)

· “Ex-offenders face tens of thousands of legal restrictions, bias and limits on their rights,” ABA Journal (June 1, 2013)

· Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions: Law, Policy and Practice, 2012-2013 ed., Thomson West Publishers (2013)


[i]https://www.usccr.gov/pubs/2019/06-13-Collateral-Consequences.pdf

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