Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Collateral consequences

Last week in a news article, I caught wind of this website under development:


The site is a project by the American Bar Association, funded by the National Institute of Justice under a 2007 Congressional mandate. It is an attempt to identify all the potential consequences for criminal convictions in each state, and to provide a tool that can be used by the public to research these.

Only a few States have been added so far, and Nebraska is not among those.  Neighboring Iowa, however, is one of the early ones, and can provide some insight into the potential ramifications of various kinds of criminal convictions on such things as business and professional licenses, public housing, and employment.

Suffice it to say that the fine or jail term is just one of the bad things that can happen when someone is convicted of a crime.  The collateral consequences can last a lifetime, and have a significant negative impact on one's life and livelihood.  How do you suppose a registered sex offender fares in the world these days?

I suspect that people who think about these collateral consequences have a couple different reactions.  Some   think that they are a terrible over reaction that creates and sustains a permanent underclass. Others think, "don't do the crime if you can't do the time."  Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle: some of these consequences are quite appropriate in serving the interests of public safety; others may be overbroad and should be either eliminated or changed to reduce the length or severity of their impact.

Basically, I believe it is in the public interest for people who have been convicted of crimes and served their sentence to be gainfully employed and to be able to find suitable housing.  Disabilities imposed by law that impair this ought to be carefully weighed, and in many cases should be limited to a defined duration. If an ex-offender has demonstrated that he or she is no longer a risk for an appropriate length of time, the disability should be mitigated or expire in many circumstances.

While I truly believe in second chances and in the possibility of rehabilitation, at the same time I have little sympathy for sex offenders, chronic offenders, and offenders whose victims were children.  When in doubt, I would prefer to err on the side of protecting others, rather than making life easier for the offender.


Steve said...

I think I get the gist of your post, and I can understand how this "underclass" composed of convicted criminals who have trouble finding jobs, housing, and suffer other residual punishment is a drag on society. On the other hand, is it in the best interest of an employer or landlord to hire or lease to someone with a history of criminal behavior? Does anyone want to hire an office assistant who formerly embezzled money from the PTA? Does a landlord want to rent a house to someone who was once dealing drugs? All but the most vengeful of us would like to see these people become productive members of society and pull their own weight, but which of us is willing to help make that happen?

I'm not sure how you'd propose to limit this collateral damage unless it involves creating another protected class under anti-discrimination laws. If we have controversy over adding protection for gays, imagine the reaction to providing legal protection for criminals.

Tom Casady said...


I'm not sure, either. Big difference, though, between the PTA embezzler working as an office assistant with access to the books and receipts, and working as baker, guitarist, barber, truck driver, golf instructor, or massage therapist.

I guess my best suggestion is to be careful, if you're a legislator, that you don't enact something that causes a problem more serious than the one it seeks to solve. And, the passage of time is significant. If the PTA embezzler goes several years on the straight and narrow, at some point in time, I will look at her differently.

Steve said...


I agree.

Mike Burda said...

Mr. Casady writes, "Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle: some of these consequences are quite appropriate in serving the interests of public safety; others may be overbroad and should be either eliminated or changed to reduce the length or severity of their impact."

I agree. IMHO, the answer usually sits in the middle. Appreciate the post, as it simply brings forward the additional consequences of crime.

This post does not address the damage to families, loved ones and employers that those involved in crime generate.

Thanks again, Mr. Casady, for an illuminating post.

Anonymous said...

I worked at the State Pen for ten years. One thing that really amazed me was the illiteracy rate among the inmates. I don't know the official statistics but I would bet that around fifty percent of the inmates read and write at less than third grade levels.

The really sad thing is that many of these illiterate inmates are way above average intelligence. Even worse is that the illiterate inmate coming into the system will PROBABLY head back on to the streets years later and still be illiterate.

D.O.C has a program that allows inmates to train dogs. This is a great program. However MAYBE a better program could be set up that would let qualified inmates teach other inmates how to read and write. If the Unicameral would provide funding for two professional educators to supervise a program I am sure there are many inmates capable of teaching their fellow inmates. The return on investment with a program like this could be tremendous.

Gun Nut

Steve said...

Gun Nut:

Unfortunately, I'm afraid about 50% of high school students read and write at the third grade level, too.

Anonymous said...

Steve, Sorry but I think %50 is a rather high percentage! Kids get diplomas that can't even write their addresses, let alone fill out or understand a job application. I agree that time spent incarcerated would be best spent in learning basic reading and writing skills. That's a good idea. It's a shame that this is what public education has come to...not for all but for many. Then again, that's probably another blog!

Anonymous said...

These stats may not be the best, but seem significantly greater than 50% locally, assuming junior standards are higher than that expected of a third grader. http://www.lps.org/post/detail.cfm?id=4737

Steve said...


The results only tell you what percent meet, or exceed, the standards. It does not tell you what the standards are, or if it means they can read/write at a level that will even get them through life without significant problems. One would hope that the standards are high enough that anyone meeting them would have no difficulty with everyday life, work, etc. However, as one who works for LPS, I can tell you that many of the tests (at least in math) are so simple (not to mention being multiple choice) that even a monkey would have a good chance of getting a passing grade. One example of a test question for seventh graders: You have $20, and you spend $8 on movie tickets. How much money do you have left? A - $20, B - $30, C - $12, D - $1. When I was in school, we learned how to subtract in second grade, and few (if any) would have missed this question on a second grade test.

Anonymous said...

I SO agree with you, Steve.