The 46,000 consequences of crime

Some say that’s way too many

Wayne McKenzie


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.

Wayne McKenzie
Mike Freeman

“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.

Jenny Roberts
Jenny Roberts

“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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One Comment on “The 46,000 consequences of crime”

  1. A good start for public defenders is to obtain a statement from the person accused of a crime. That would be much more than what most big city attorneys bother to do. But, then again, attorneys are trained in the circumvention of the law. Below is an excerpt from my book -Liberty & Mental Health – You Can’t Have One Without the Other –
    I wanted to hunt down and kill the Los Angeles deputy sheriff who had twisted my arm behind my head and kept it there while I was strapped to a bed. This was done to me while I was in a coma in the jail ward of the county hospital. I had the skills needed, but I either closed my eyes or averted them when the deputy stood close enough to read his name tag. A few days later, I tried to kill myself from the pain, one arm still twisted behind my head, although I had managed to temporarily free the other. It was my first arrest. I worked for a small computer company; my father had been a highly decorated police officer who had been shot in the line of duty. I had been trained in troubleshooting and problem solving. My attorney, either through accident or design, helped to cover this up. Rejecting the extremes of murder and of ending my own life, I found myself on a journey that returned me to the thresholds of these paths as I sought deeper understanding.

    This was the first of ten arrests, all on misdemeanor charges. I was also lost in the system twice, resulting in three arrests on one charge and a warrant being issued in the wrong name after
    a sheriff ’s deputy entered a wrong number into a computer. Officers also committed at least three unprovoked assaults against me, aside from the times they mistook my seizure activity as a direct assault against them, and I spent over thirty days strapped to a bed while in custody, including once when officers took turns kicking me, breaking my shoulder. Almost all these instances were denied, covered up, or excused away. Once your name is entered into the system, it is quite difficult to escape from its grasp. Various officers I have spoken to over the years have mentioned to me their perceived need to take matters into their own hands as the courts have let the people down. My attorneys were pretty much worthless in providing any assistance in helping me either prepare a defense or sue the authorities and were seemingly having a primary purpose to cover up abuses, achieve no-contest pleadings, and excuse away all wrongdoings by those in authority. The harshest times I had in jail were when charged with assaulting an officer.
    Here are a few quotes from my time in Los Angeles:
    “It doesn’t make any difference if you are guilty or innocent, just plead “no contest,” that’s the way the system works.” (Los Angeles County public defender, 1988)
    “Good morning scum-buckets. How the fuck are you doing this morning, assholes.” (Wake-up call, Los Angeles County Jail, 1988)
    “We have decided to defend the public by making sure everyone charged with a crime is found guilty of something.” (Los Angeles County public defender, 1989)
    “Oh no, we’re wonderful. We don’t do things like that.” (My elected California State assemblywoman, 1992)
    However, beyond desperation, an oasis can be found. In 1992 I received honorable mention for a paper I wrote on how mental health courts could save communities money while providing
    better treatment for those with mental health issues. I also served on the committee that helped to form Nevada’s first mental health court, and my book Mental Illness: A Guide to Recovery
    was favorably reviewed in Boston University’s Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal (vol. 28, no. 4, Spring 2005).
    My new play – Scapegoats – a comedy about the mental health & criminal justice systems opens in Reno Sept 26th – The Potentialist Workshop 836 E. 2nd St.

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