Some say that’s way too many
Collateral consequences are the additional state and/or federal penalties offenders often face once they’ve completed their jail sentences. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), there are over 46,000 collateral consequences listed in their database — many of them unbeknownst to the former offenders until after they leave prison.
Blacks and other people of color who are former offenders are disproportionately affected by collateral consequences. “Every collateral consequence is coded as a particular variety of consequence, and sometimes in two or even more categories,” states the ABA website.
The 16 categories include employment, occupational and professional licenses and certification, business licenses, government contracts, loans and grants, judicial rights, education, housing, political and civic participation, motor vehicle and recreational licenses. Specific “triggering offense categories” include crimes involving fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation or money laundering, crimes of violence (murder, manslaughter, assault, battery and arson), weapons offenses, child support violations and sex offenses.
“We have way too many collateral consequences,” stated Hennepin County Prosecutor Mike Freeman in a recent MSR phone interview. “You commit some less-serious felonies and you can’t get a student loan. You can’t rent an apartment. You can’t get all sorts of jobs. I think that’s too much.
“I fought for many years [for] ‘ban the box’ [legislation],” continued Freeman. “They [employers] ought not to be able to ask about your involvement in the justice system unless you have been convicted of a serious crime… In my view, the only question they should be able to ask you is if you have been convicted of a felony. I’ve advocated that at the legislature for 10 years.”
Collateral consequences and other barriers to successfully reentering society after prison and the impact they have on society was discussed last month at the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) annual convention in Minneapolis.
“Some of these [consequences] are permanent and some are temporary,” explained American University Washington College of Law Professor Jenny Roberts. “There are so many and so many areas.”
“The collateral consequences sometimes are not fully explained” to the individual, added William Shepherd, a former Florida prosecutor now in private practice.
Fully informing the individual of collateral consequences “is an absolute legal representation imperative,” said Freeman. “First and foremost, it’s the obligation of a defense attorney to tell their client exactly what a guilty plea or conviction means, not only in terms of potential sentencing but potential impact for the rest of their life.
“A defense attorney that doesn’t do that, in my view, thoroughly commits malpractice. I think both the prosecutor and the judges also have a responsibility because collateral consequences are so profound.”
“There is no sensible relationship to the consequences and the crime,” stated U.S. Appeals Court Judge Bernice Donald, who added that only state legislatures can pass laws to change these categories and restrictions. “Judges don’t make the laws — the legislators write the laws.”
Freeman reiterated that being convicted of “some crimes” should disqualify the former offender from working in that area after they complete their sentence and are released from prison. “If you are going to work in a nursing home and you’ve got a criminal history of abusing seniors, you ought not to be there. If you have been caught with embezzlement, you probably shouldn’t be an accountant.”
“Collateral consequences is the gift that keeps on giving long after you leave prison,” noted New York City Department of Probation’s Wayne McKenzie. “We’ve got to be a lot better on redemption.”
“No other country approaches this issue like we do” in America, said Roberts on collateral consequences, adding that the impact can be far-reaching. She recommended “a more rational approach: This is about the impact on families and communities.”
“I think everyone [in the justice system] takes the impact of collateral consequences seriously,” concluded Freeman.
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.