Criminal Justice

Shackles After Prison

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USA Today covers the issue of collateral sanctions for crimes, penalties that extend beyond a  prison term, in some cases lasting for life. In addition to the familiar disabilities affecting voting, jury service, and gun ownership, these penalties include limits on the jobs ex-cons can do, the places they can live, the government benefits they can receive, and the kinds of families they can form (since some states prohibit adoption by people convicted of certain criminal offenses). Critics worry that restrictions like these interfere with rehabilitation:

"What we're seeing around the country is prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges all coming to an understanding that just because someone has committed a crime and had to pay a price for it, doesn't mean they should be relegated forever to second-class citizenship," says Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University and chairman-elect of the American Bar Association's criminal justice section….

"We've created a class of people who essentially don't fit in," says Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice think tank in Washington….

"If someone goes home to no house, no job, no nothing, they're probably going to end up stealing again," says Margaret Love, who led the American Bar Association task force on collateral punishment.

Gabriel "Jack" Chin, a professor at the University of Arizona Rogers College of Law, says, "If we have a legal system that says if you have been to prison, we're going to make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to have housing and a job, it's a counterproductive policy."

The story mentions the recent report by Richard Glen Boire of the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics on collateral punishment of marijuana offenders, which are often more severe than the official sentences they receive and more severe than the collateral punishment imposed on predatory criminals. USA Today also alludes to the increasingly severe residence restrictions imposed on "sex offenders," which in some cases banish them from entire cities. Regarding a model state law addressing collateral sanctions, the paper reports, "the National Association of Attorneys General…has urged caution. The organization passed a resolution last year asking that the model law allow states to keep sex-offender registries and restrictions on ex-offenders that have clear public safety benefits."

The distinction between sex offender registries and "restrictions on ex-offenders that have clear public safety benefits" is appropriate. Likewise the suggestion (by an attorney working on the model law) that "the sanctions relate to the crime," so that "a pedophile should not be allowed to work at a day care center, or an embezzler to work at a bank." In a similar vein, it makes little sense to prohibit someone who was convicted of a nonviolent felony (especially if it was a victimless crime) from ever owning a gun.

NEXT: Lose Your Patience, Lose Your License

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  1. Please leave bud smokers alone. They are not bad people

  2. This is one of those cases where if the media where the public servents they claim to be they could do some real good by explaining this issue in reasonable terms. Instead we get Nancy Grace, Dateline trolling for perverts on the internet and 24/7 coverage of every kidnapped child in a nation of 300+ million people. Is there any wonder voters and legislatures pass stupid laws after the media bombards them 24/7 with news of the “preditors in our midsts”?

  3. This is very timely, as I have been researching sex offender registration laws for my own job. The “exclusion zones,” which range from prohibiting offenders from living anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 ft. away from a school, child-care center, or (in extreme cases) “places where children congregate” has closed off major cities to many offenders. Also of interest may be the GPS monitoring that is required in some states. These devices basically give the Department of Corrections information on the offender’s every movement, ideally to warn them if they are going near a school. Although, as my boss likes to say, if they are overcome with the desire to rape a child they are going to cut it off their ankle regardless of the consequences.

    It is an interesting question. Were it any other demographic, these types of restrictions would be unconscionable. On the other hand there is hardly a more indefensible group than actual high classed sex offenders (the abominable cases of some juveniles being so classified not withstanding). What do you all think?

  4. Much like cigarette taxes, it’s easy to beat up on certain people and make it look like you’re fixing a problem. As far as sex offenders go I’m of the unsubstantiated opinion that people that are on sex offender lists probably don’t belong there most of the time. I just haven’t researched properly enough or maybe research hasn’t been done. A registered sex offender that lives near a park where I take my kids (I found him on the sheriff’s website) was convicted specifically of kidnapping a relative for a non sex related purpose. I don’t know the circumstances of his trial or plea bargain but that seems a bit over the top for him to be branded a danger to children everywhere. I don’t know how many registered offenders are in similar situations but like someone other than me trying to decide what’s obscene, the whole thing just rubs me the wrong way.

  5. Where I live, urinating in public can get you on the “sex offender” list for life.

  6. I have yet to hear an answer from the “Megan’s Law” to the question:

    If these people are so dangerous, why are they letting them out of prison?

  7. We are a country of hipocrites.How many people can honestly say they never broke a law yet sit in jugdment.Never smoked pot,had a few drinks and got home safely,cheated on their taxes.Where would Obama be if his youthful drug use would have landed him in jail?He admits it and it shows he’s honest,yet thousands fo others go to jail,not the Senate for the same thing.

  8. “If these people are so dangerous, why are they letting them out of prison?”

    This is a very interesting question. If improper and uncontrollable sexual urges are a disease, then it is reasonable to ask whether the patient should be kept until treatment is completed successfully. Of course, the problem comes in assessing the effectiveness of the cure.

  9. Judgement is objective, not based on the sins of the judge (not that I disagree that the drug laws are bad).

  10. Trevor,I’m trying to point out we have criminalised so much in this country that even trival behavior carries huge penalties.I submit that when normal otherwise lawabiding people are in fact criminals the law reaches too far.

  11. I’m with the libertarians on this one. The whole idea here seems to be a self-fullfilling prophecy.

    When somebody commits a crime, they are never allowed to fully rejoin productive society, which means they are likely to find that continuing to commit crimes is their only real option. Then, the government/upper classes can say “see, this is why we can’t allow criminals to rejoin society – they keep committing crimes”.

  12. It’s also worth noting that a lot of these employment restrictions go to all sorts of jobs that you wouldn’t expect. We’re not just talking about keeping bank robbers from working as tellers or embezzlers from working as accountants or whatever. All sorts of licensed work, including barbers, electricians, landscapers (at least in some states), pest control, real estate sales, any number of health care positions (from technicians and assistants with a year of vocational school all the way to physicians), and numerous other jobs are off limits.

    And since we are now in a service economy, and a lot of those are service sector jobs, that puts a huge fraction of the jobs off limits to reformed cons who have served their time.

    Like Dan T. said, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  13. This is one of those cases where if the media where the public servents they claim to be they could do some real good by explaining this issue in reasonable terms. Instead we get Nancy Grace, Dateline trolling for perverts on the internet and 24/7 coverage of every kidnapped child in a nation of 300+ million people. Is there any wonder voters and legislatures pass stupid laws after the media bombards them 24/7 with news of the “preditors in our midsts”?

    I agree with John 100%.

    If you listen to the media, one would think that there’s a predator on every corner just lurking and waiting to steal your child all the time. And the intertubes are nothing more than an online catalog for child predators.

    I know people, smart people, who have said to me “I would never let my kid use the internet. It’s all child molesters out there”

  14. Another thing so bad about these collateral consequences is that from what I’ve read they are so under the table. The judge, jury, DA, defense attorney and the defendant in criminal trials are all unaware of all of the possible collateral consequences of a conviction and so the jury and judge are giving a verdict and sentence unaware of the consequences and likewise for the advesaries during the plea negotiations. It’s like “we sentence you to a 500 dollar fine, 2 years of probabation, and this mystery grab bag of other legal disabilities!” And the collateral consequences, unlike regular sentences, are not porportionate to the crime: every felon loses the vote in some states whether their felony was murder or drug trafficking. That violates the whole idea of “just desserts.”

  15. You can’t argue with drug prohibitionists. See my comments in this blog discussion for a good example of the total irrationality we are up against. I posted it in another comment on the reason blog but the conversation has continued since.

  16. D.Green,and they can’t understand all their argumants were used for proabition.It brought posion drink and Al Copone and took an amendment to stop the carnage.

  17. Prison reform is IMHO the most overlooked political issue. We are doing horrible things in our prisons, resulting in horrible consequences. Most folks couldn’t care less, or if they do, they’re in favor of the suffering of convicts.

  18. I’m with the libertarians on this one.

    Oh, yes. Soon, Dan T will be ours!

  19. “””D.Green,and they can’t understand all their argumants were used for proabition.It brought posion drink and Al Copone and took an amendment to stop the carnage.”””

    Of course it took an amemdment to pass prohibition too. A lot of people bought into prohibition.

    I think it goes to the personal attribution error. When these people see other people with drug issues it’s that person’s fault, yet when they have drug issues themselves, its a fault of circumstance. Isn’t that right Mr. Limbaugh!

  20. Dan T.

    I’m with the libertarians on this one.

    If this isn’t a drinking rule, it should be.

  21. If you want to understand the Salem witch trials, just substitute “child molester” for witch. I also agree with Taxtix’s point.
    We had the McMartin daycare case years ago in California, where the scales dropped off my eyes, and I realized that mob belief is delusional, self-perpetuating, and unstoppable. You know, at some point they will be rounding all of us up for questioning making children safer.

  22. I wonder how long it’ll be before we see the first use of eminent domain specifically to create a park in order to trigger the exclusion of sex-offender registrees? Do a little GIS work, tear down a house every interval, put up a play structure and a drinking fountain, and pretty soon you can declare your community sex-offender free.

  23. “If these people are so dangerous, why are they letting them out of prison?”

    A possible corollary to this might be the notion of simply bringing back “penal colonies” and “permanent exile”.

    My suggestion would be to use Las Vegas. Surround it with a three-mile-deep perimeter of land mines and anti-aircraft batteries, and presto, “Escape from New York” meets “Cherry 2000”.

  24. If these people are so dangerous, why are they letting them out of prison?

    I know two law enforcement folk who are married, and I asked them this. Their answer was, “Overcrowding. The nation’s prisons are basically full.”

    “…of nonviolent drug offenders,” they neglected to add.

  25. “When somebody commits a crime, they are never allowed to fully rejoin productive society, which means they are likely to find that continuing to commit crimes is their only real option”

    I tend to agree. I mean is it really logical to prevent thieves from taking jobs handling money? And personally, in protest of these collateral punishments, I only let registered sex offenders watch my kids.
    How dare they not let violent offenders purchase firearms?
    And I personally have lobbied my state representatives to get them to change the law and allow felons to vote. I will sleep much better when I know that in a tight race for president, their is a potential that the “felon vote” could decide who is the leader of the free world.
    The above reasons are why blanket condemnations of collateral punishments are necessary. I can’t possibly think of any circumstance where collateral punishments do any good.

  26. What pisses me off the most is when drug traffickers receive unfair sentences and collateral punishments. Everyone knows violence has never been associated with the sale of illegal narcotics and I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.

  27. Bill…

    No one is claiming that there shouldn’t be collateral punishments that effectively prevent a crime that someone is prone to. It’s only when you get into the “He did drugs therefore he’s more likely to shoot someone” line of thinking that most people find offense.

    That is, if you’re not just a troll.

  28. If you’re ever accused, not actually convicted, just accused, of a sex crime involving a child, it doesn’t matter if you’re innocent your life is ruined forever. You’re more than likely going to be found guilty because they don’t need evidence. I’ve seen it happen to people. It’s not like some other crimes, even a crime like murder where you can someday start over. With a sex offender wrap you never can. You’re punished for life. Once you’re accused you might as well put a bullet through your head. Your life is over. After you talk to the cops or bond out go home get any affairs in order and then shoot your self in the head. Take up your innocence with God. You’ll find no justice in this life.

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