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.”

Racial Disparities Race Matters: Seminar Videos Upcoming Programs Resources on Race and Collateral Consequences  Additional Resources on Race and the Criminal Justice System 

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 justice 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%).


Upcoming Programs

In celebration of Second Chance Month (April!), NACDL will host "Race + Criminal Legal System: Collateral Consequences - Part II" on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 at 4:00pm ET (1:00 pm PT).

After an engaging discussion in Part I unpacking the specific harm that collateral consequences have caused to communities of color, we will now take a deep dive into how past criminal convictions can impact an individual’s ability to participate in certain industries, e.g. the legal profession, the cannabis industry, and other entrepreneurial opportunities. “Race + Collateral Consequences Part II” will feature an exciting group of panelists including Robert Patillo, Executive Director of the Rainbow PUSH Atlanta Peachtree Street Project (moderator); Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of Drug Policy Alliance; Kevin Garrett, Fellow at the Texas Jail Project; and Tracey Syphax, Author and Entrepreneur, From the Block to the Boardroom, LLC. Discussion will be centered on how over policing, over incarceration, and the use of prior convictions to restrict economic opportunities among communities of color serves to prevent the accumulation of wealth and power, perpetuating the cycle of marginalization.

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Race and Collateral Consequences Videos from Race Matters I Seminar


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