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.