News Release ~ 05/29/2014

Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar Releases Major Report on the Consequences of Arrest and Conviction Affecting At Least 65 Million People in America; Focus is Roadmap to the Restoration of Rights and Status

Washington, DC (May 29, 2014) – At an event this morning at the Open Society Foundations in Washington, DC, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) is releasing a major new report -- Collateral Damage: America’s Failure to Forgive or Forget in the War on Crime – A Roadmap to Restore Rights and Status After Arrest or Conviction. With more than 65 million people in America having some form of a criminal record, the universality and import of the problem this nonpartisan report tackles is tremendous.

NACDL's Task Force on the Restoration of Rights and Status After Conviction held hearings all over the country, featuring testimony from more than 150 witnesses from every corner of the criminal justice system, as part of the research leading to this report. Included among the witnesses were those who have faced unfair, irrational, and often life-altering barriers arising from a brush with the criminal law. Many of their stories are captured in the report. And many more are available in the complete transcripts of the Task Force’s hearings.

With more than one in four adults in the United States having some form of a criminal record, and more than 2.2 million people currently behind bars in the United States, more than any other nation in the world, the vast impact of the problem of collateral consequences and legal barriers to reentry is undeniable.

  • More than 19 million people in America have a felony conviction on their record.
  • There are 14 million new arrests each year.
  • The burden of the collateral consequences of a conviction, just as arrests figures and so much else about America’s criminal justice system, is racially and ethnically disparate. For example, a criminal record hits black job seekers harder than white job seekers.
  • The U.S. lags behind other countries in the area of the restoration or rights and status.
  • Giving people the opportunity to move beyond a criminal record enhances public safety and saves money.
  • These secret collateral consequences are frequently the result of legislative bodies reflexively and irrationally creating laws as a response to the crime-du-jour, most often without seeking out the appropriate data to craft sound policy.
  • At last count, the American Bar Association’s National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction (http://www.abacollateralconsequences.org/) has identified more than 45,000 separate collateral consequences in existence. 

Often without any nexus whatsoever to the offense charged and/or for which an individual has been convicted, many people who have a brush with the law lose everything from their voting rights and their Second Amendment right to bear arms, to access to federal student loans. Some even lose their homes as a result of draconian laws designed to exclude entire families from public housing as a result of the alleged misdeeds of a single family member.

Former Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. and Congressman Danny K. Davis (Illinois' 7th District) were among the witnesses who testified before NACDL’s Task Force, and they will both be speaking at the report launch this morning. In their joint foreword to the report, Governor Ehrlich and Congressman Davis wrote: "As a result of our experiences, we have come to appreciate how facilitating reintegration contributes to public safety and strong communities, and to a general perception that the legal system is fairly administered. We believe that our nation would be well-served by reforming policies and practices that can convert even one adverse encounter with the law into a permanent Mark of Cain. We therefore join in NACDL’s call for a national conversation about how this goal can best be accomplished."

NACDL President Jerry J. Cox said: "This report embodies what NACDL is all about. Our members, leaders and staff took a vast problem we see every day in our practices, one that probably touches the lives of all families in this country, and we studied the problem. NACDL’s Task Force listened to all the different types of stakeholders in the reform of the criminal justice system, and now we are taking action. This report is more than the culmination of three years of intense research, it is the beginning of what must be an invigorated movement to right what is clearly wrong. People simply should not have to carry the burden of their past mistakes for the rest of their lives. As the report clearly demonstrates, it makes for poor public policy and undermines rather than enhances public safety by incentivizing recitivism as opposed to successful reentry." 

NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer said: "A vast, half-hidden network of legal penalties, debarments, and disabilities that arise not from the penal laws but from ancillary statutes and regulations now stigmatizes the more than 65 million people in this country who have a criminal record, millions more with each passing year. Worse, a growing obsession with background checking and commercial exploitation of arrest and conviction records makes it all but impossible for someone with a criminal record to leave the past behind. The time for a national conversation and a movement away from the failed policies of the past is upon us, and NACDL is proud to help lead the way with this important report and its set of recommendations."

As part of the movement launched today to change the national conversation about the secret sentences imposed upon people who have a brush with America’s criminal justice system, NACDL is collecting stories from those who have been affected by the collateral consequences of an arrest or conviction and any barriers to reentry: www.nacdl.org/restorationsurvey.

The report’s ten core recommendations are set forth at the bottom of this news release. A link to the complete report, as well as the full transcripts of all six hearings, is available at: www.nacdl.org/restoration/roadmapreport. A link to NACDL’s Restoration of Rights Project – a collection of individual downloadable documents that profile the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to relief from the collateral consequences of conviction – is available at: www.nacdl.org/rightsrestoration. And a link to a wealth of additional NACDL and other resources on the topic of the restoration of rights is available: http://www.nacdl.org/restoration.

NACDL gratefully acknowledges the work of NACDL’s Task Force on the Restoration of Rights and Status After Conviction, working closely with NACDL’s Director of State Legislative Affairs Angelyn C. Frazer, without whom this report would not be possible. The members of the Task Force are as follows: Rick Jones (Co-Chair, New York, NY); Vicki H. Young (Co-Chair, San Francisco, CA); Lawrence S. Goldman (New York, NY); Elissa B. Heinrichs (Newtown, PA); Margaret Colgate Love (Washington, DC); Penelope S. Strong (Billings, MT); Geneva Vanderhorst (Washington, DC); Christopher A. Wellborn (Rock Hill, SC); and Jenny Roberts (Task Force Reporter, Washington, DC).

Contact Information

Ivan Dominguez, Director of Public Affairs and Communications, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org

REPORT RECOMMENDATIONS

NACDL makes 10 key recommendations, all supported in the report with the findings of NACDL’s Task Force on the Restoration of Rights and Status After Conviction and providing detailed, concrete steps for effectuating each:

  1. The United States should embark on a national effort to end the second class legal status and stigmatization of persons who have fulfilled the terms of a criminal sentence.
     
  2. All mandatory collateral consequences should be disfavored and are never appropriate unless substantially justified by the specific offense conduct.
     
  3. Discretionary collateral consequences should be imposed only when the offense conduct is recent and directly related to a particular benefit or opportunity.
     
  4. Full restoration of rights and status should be available to convicted individuals upon completion of sentence.
     
  5. Congress and federal agencies should provide individuals with federal convictions with meaningful opportunities to regain rights and status, and individuals with state convictions with mechanisms to avoid collateral consequences imposed under federal law.
     
  6. Individuals charged with a crime should have an opportunity to avoid conviction and the collateral consequences that accompany it.
     
  7. Employers, landlords and other decision-makers should be encouraged to offer opportunities to individuals with criminal records, and unwarranted discrimination based on a criminal record should be prohibited.
     
  8. Jurisdictions should limit access to and use of records for non-law enforcement purposes and should ensure that records are complete and accurate.
     
  9. Defense lawyers should consider avoiding, mitigating and relieving collateral consequences to be an integral part of their representation of a client.
     
  10. NACDL will initiate public education programs and advocacy aimed at curtailing collateral consequences and eliminating the social stigma that accompanies conviction.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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