How we treat citizens who make mistakes (even serious mistakes), pay their debt to society, and deserve a second chance reflects who we are as a people and reveals a lot about our character and commitment to our founding principles.

—Barack Obama

The smear of a brush with the law and an ensuing criminal record history can follow individuals throughout their lives, continually affecting their opportunities for housing, employment, and education. Balancing public safety and the other societal demands with the needs of the individual doesn’t seem to have provided a tolerable solution.

For a vast number of Americans, a criminal record, i.e., conviction history, is a brand for life. The drastic rise in the number of incarcerated individuals in tandem with easy accessibility to their criminal records and extension of collateral consequences has caused overwhelming obstacles to the reintegration of these individuals to society. It’s not illogical that when their economic opportunities are limited, their rate of recidivism will tend to increase. Exclusion systemically of those with a criminal record from having access to necessities such as housing and employment continues their cycle of poverty and crime, which, in itself, is contrary to public safety and welfare.

Add to these facts that having a criminal record deprives people of their voting franchise, and they are ultimately left powerless with the feeling that their voice is unheard. Also, their families and communities suffer when they are unable to reintegrate after incarceration, and society is robbed of the unique contributions these individuals could make.

A collateral sanction is “a legal penalty, disability, or disadvantage . . . imposed on a person automatically upon that person’s conviction for a felony, misdemeanor or other offense, even if it is not included in the sentence.” There are over 45,000 collateral sanctions for convictions across the United States. Collateral consequences go beyond a conviction’s direct consequences, such as incarceration, probation, or fines.

They may apply in a multitude of contexts and take many forms, including time-limited or lifetime bans on employment, educational, housing, and financial aid opportunities, professional licenses, and public benefits,

Prohibitions enacted to promote public safety may be counterproductive and increase the likelihood of recidivism by seriously interfering with individuals’ ability to maintain stable family and employment relationships necessary for successful reintegration. This is logical since the ability to maintain employment and healthy relationships with the environment of family means their social networks are more likely to consist of productive and supportive individuals, thus reducing the risk of future criminal behavior.

A growing database of research shows that “if a person with a criminal record remains crime-free for a period of about seven years, his or her risk of a new offense is similar to that of a person without any criminal record.” And yet, collateral sanctions continue to increase from coast to coast. Our country’s overwhelming array of collateral consequences treats these Americans as if they are criminals for life. The new evidence shows that these tendencies are rooted in bias, not fact.

Expungement, record sealing, and other post-conviction relief proceedings may be very complicated legal matters depending on the facts of the original case. If the State of California objects, a post-conviction relief matter may assume even more complexity. John Patrick Dolan has over forty years of experience helping well-intentioned Californians clear their criminal records and continue making present contributions to the Coachella Valley as valued members of the community. Call us today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.

The Stigma Of A Criminal Record

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