The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has released a brief outlining the effects of collateral consequences on people with criminal records and why they should be limited. There are over 44,000 estimated collateral consequences, which range from individuals with a criminal history facing barriers to obtaining financial aid for college admission, voting jury service, obtaining housing, qualifying for military service, securing employment, and maintaining legal status as an immigrant. Each year there are around 620,000 people who are released from federal and state prisons and return to their communities with these collateral consequences imposed on them, making assimilation back into society much more difficult. The effects of these collateral consequences extend beyond people with criminal records to affect not only their families but communities as well.
The Commission found that collateral consequences exacerbate punishment beyond the criminal conviction after an individual completes their court-imposed sentence. Many collateral consequences are unrelated either to the crime for which a person has been convicted or to a public safety purpose; when they are unrelated the collateral consequence generally negatively affects public safety and public good. For instance, evidence shows that harsh collateral consequences unrelated to public safety increase recidivism by limiting or barring formerly incarcerated persons' access to personal and family support.
Many times, the general public, attorneys, and courts often lack knowledge of the totality of the collateral consequences in their jurisdiction, how long they last, whether they are mandatory, or even relevant to public safety or merely an extended punishment beyond a criminal sentence. The absence of public and judicial awareness of collateral consequences of conviction undermines any preventive effect that might follow from attaching such consequences to criminal convictions.
The Commission has voted for policymakers to avoid punitive mandatory consequences that do not serve public safety or bear no rational relationship to the offense committed. They specifically want Congress to limit discretion of public housing providers to prevent them from categorically barring people with criminal convictions, eliminate restrictions on food stamps and, require federal courts to give comprehensive notice of federal restrictions on individuals rights after they enter a guilty plea, upon conviction, and upon release.
Overall, collateral consequences do not benefit public safety in many cases and negatively impact a person's assimilation back into society after incarceration. The limits on collateral consequences will allow for lower crime rates and prevent recidivism in the long run, as not being able to obtain a job or housing due to a previous criminal record would not allow individuals to have the financial means or stability to live on their own. Cutting back on these collateral consequences will have a positive effect on not only those who have been release but their families and communities as well.
For more, check out the briefing that was published by the U.S Commission on Civil Rights