Race and Collateral Consequences

It is legal today to discriminate against individuals with criminal records “in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discrimination against African Americans,” says Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow. “Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of education opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal.”

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The vast array of collateral consequences imposed on those with criminal records disproportionately impacts people of color, particularly Black people. Disproportionate contact with the criminal legal system, largely due to more aggressive policing and prosecution of people of color, is one reason why collateral consequences disproportionately impact people of color. Felony disenfranchisement, for example, heavily impacts Black communities:

The Welfare Act of 1996 law imposed a lifetime ban on cash assistance and food stamps for people who have felony drug convictions from state or federal courts, unless states opt out (The Sentencing Project, 2018). Today, “these restrictions particularly impact people of color, not only because people of color are disproportionately convicted and incarcerated, but also because they are more likely to meet the poverty threshold qualifying them for such public benefits” (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2019).

The disproportionate impact of collateral consequences also manifests in the disparate ways that gatekeepers, such as employers and property agents, treat individuals of different races with criminal records:

  • A study conducted in D.C. by the Equal Rights Center found that white applicants with criminal backgrounds received preferential treatment 47% of the time over Black applicants with similar records, and that property agents imposed stricter criminal record screening criteria, and sometimes greater fees, on Black applicants than on white applicants (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2019).
  • An audit study published in 2009 found that “the magnitude of the criminal record penalty suffered by black applicants (60%) is roughly double the size of the penalty for whites with a record (30%).

Past Events

Race and the Criminal Legal System: Collateral Consequences: In April 2021, NACDL held a two-part discussion on race and collateral consequences as part of the ongoing Race and the Criminal Legal System Discussion Series. In Part I, panelists discussed how the collateral consequences of a conviction have become more numerous and severe, and how they disproportionately impact communities of color. In Part II of the discussion, panelists took a deep dive into how a past criminal conviction can impact an individual’s ability to participate in industries like the legal profession, the cannabis industry, and other business and entrepreneurship opportunities. Resources and speaker biographies for both webinars can be found on NACDL’s Race and the Criminal Legal System Discussion Series page, in addition to recordings of past webinars in the series exploring public defense and policing in relation to issues of race.  

Watch Part I      Watch Part II

Race and Collateral Consequences Videos from Race Matters I Seminar


More on Race and Collateral Consequences:

Additional Resources on Collateral Consequences

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