Collateral Consequences of a Conviction

Jasmine Tyler brilliantly summarizes the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. She wrote, “[c]onvictions can lead to reduced access to employment and voting rights, as well as denial of aid for higher education, termination of parental rights, eviction or exclusion from public housing, prohibitions on receiving benefits such as TANF and food stamps, ineligibility from serving on a jury, and many others.”

Collateral consequences of a criminal conviction and mass incarceration have negative outcomes for individuals, family, law enforcement, community, and society. Incapacitating individuals will not create better outcomes; it limits their opportunities through employment, social barriers, and stigmatization. Incarceration of individuals and families harms social network, informal social control bonds, social capital, collective efficacy and human capital, which will begin to dissolve within high-incarcerated communities. To move away from these destructive consequences, Maryland needs to adopt better policies to integrate people who were incarcerated back into society.

Once a person is labeled or stigmatized as a criminal, it will be much more difficult for the person to find meaningful work. For a person to be denied employment due to a criminal conviction is a form of discrimination, which “the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] EEOC has stated that an absolute bar to employment based on the mere fact that an individual has a conviction record is unlawful under Title VII.” Barring a person from employment will exacerbate problems, not just for finding a job, but also for family stability and meeting payment deadlines for housing, utilities and other necessities.

Also the longer a person is incarcerated the harder it will be for them to find employment due to a criminal record and spotty work history. The collateral consequences of a criminal conviction, recently from drug violations, exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system. In Maryland’s prison system, 72 percent of African Americans in 2010 were incarcerated, which many of them might have a difficult time obtaining a job, especially when African Americans serve longer sentences than other citizens. After being arrested six out of the ten respondents did not receive job training. The person might lose job skills and not develop new relevant skills due to ineffective employment and job-training programs in prison and jail as well as programs outside of incarceration.

Academic researchers found advances in information technology and employer liability incentivized businesses to conduct criminal background checks. From these factors 80 percent of employers reported using background check technology on job candidates. The Job Opportunities Task Force found over 60 percent of employers would not hire a person with a criminal record. The discriminatory practices involved during hiring disproportionately harms African-Americans and Latin Americans than other racial and ethnic groups. Devah Pager’s famous article found African-Americans without a criminal record have a harder time finding a job, compared to Caucasians with a criminal record. She stated, “[i]t seems that employers, already reluctant to hire blacks, are even more wary of those with proven criminal involvement.”

Another barrier from a conviction is housing. A person can be denied housing assistance based on a criminal record, just as a person can be denied employment. If a person is denied housing, this will exacerbate negative factors contributing to recidivism.Health Care for the Homeless, Inc. conducted surveys of individuals who have experienced incarceration, which the person did not have stable shelter. About one-third of the respondents claimed before incarceration they had unstable housing, but after incarceration the percent doubled. After six months of being released, 63 percent of the respondents were still unable to find stable housing. The survey responses clearly illustrate the difficulty to find stable housing for previously incarcerated individuals. The main housing barriers stem from the inability to find work and a past criminal record. At the same time, there is little effort to provide housing services for people re-entering society; the survey found only three in ten respondents received some type of housing assistance.

According to Health Care for the Homeless, Inc., “The connection between homelessness and incarceration is bidirectional: incarceration can lead to homelessness, and homelessness often results in incarceration.” Homelessness can lead to incarceration because “laws that criminalize homeless by regulating private activity in public spaces are a contributing factor to arrest and rearrest.” Incarceration might pave a path to homelessness because of the inability to find employment and housing due to criminal record.

In Baltimore, “more than 4,000 experience homelessness on any given night.” A year in Baltimore, approximately 30,000 individuals will not have shelter, and, across the state, 50,000 people will not have stable shelter. The people in Baltimore who do not have shelter are mainly “single, African-American adult males.” Many individuals who don’t have stable housing are arrested and rearrested in Baltimore. They are mainly arrested for non-violent offenses – a rate of 80 percent, which 31 percent had charges of “loitering, sleeping in public, and panhandling.”

Eliminating the right to vote is another collateral consequences from felony convictions and mass incarceration damaging democratic values and harming individual civil rights. Many Americans convicted of felony will lose their right to vote, not just those who commit election or voter fraud, but everyone, including minor nonviolent drug-related offenses. Some will have a lifetime ban, while others will be temporarily. As of now, only two states have no felony disenfranchisement laws. In the U.S., nearly 6 million individuals are not eligible to vote because of a conviction. In Maryland, 63,000 Americans classified as “felons” will be denied the right to vote due to a past criminal conviction. Nearly two-thirds of disenfranchised individuals are African Americans.

Another consequence of a conviction is family instability; the parent is locked away missing special social, emotional, and economic support moments for their children and other family members and friends. Social and emotional ties might begin to wither away the longer a person is away from their children. When a parent is incarcerated, the children take hardest hit. As Nicole D. Porter wrote, “incarcerated parent miss out on key events that serve to cement familial bonds and to signal to a community that they intended to support their children both financially and emotionally.” The “absence at these significant moments can weaken their relationship to the child and years later the child’s own relationship to their incarcerated parents.”

Children of incarcerated parents “are more likely to exhibit low self-esteem, depression, emotional withdrawal, and inappropriate or disruptive behavior in the school” and “are at a higher risk of becoming delinquent or engaging in criminal behavior.” Overall, African-American children suffer the most from their parents being incarcerated “with one out of every fourteen have a parent in prison.” In Baltimore City jail alone, 89 percent are African American adults, while only 64 percent of Baltimore’s population is African American adults. The youth population in Baltimore City follows the same path as the adult population; 99 percent of youth in Baltimore jail are African-American. The disruption of family stability from collateral consequences of a conviction has a drastic impact on individuals, families, communities, and society.

Criminologists found higher rates of incarceration associated with reduced public safety. Todd Clear found incarcerated men as weakening a “boys’ sources of positive” male role modeling and incarcerated women adds stress to already stressed families and children. He also found mass incarceration of impoverished communities damages human capital of the community, thus damaging “informal social controls” that hold a community together and increasing crime.

The effect of an individual on families is the same destabilizing result that mass incarceration has on communities, but the results are more pronounced in impoverished communities and communities of color. Incarcerating more individuals does not increase public safety; in fact, mass incarceration reduces public safety if a criminalization strategy is in place.

Collateral consequences of a conviction are a major problem for our criminal justice system creating economically, socially, and racially disparate outcomes and incarceration rates for individuals, families, communities, and society. The mark of a criminal record will have long-lasting consequences for individuals to obtain employment, housing, food benefits, and the right to vote. The mark of a record also has devastating effects on children, families, communities, and society. There are a variety of recommendations to lower the chance of recidivism and soften or eliminate the impact of collateral consequences:

  1. “Ban the box” on applications: By checking the box that you have a conviction will most likely diminish your chances of getting the job or even receiving a call back. To improve employment opportunities for convicted persons, Maryland should adopt “ban the box” for all job applications. Eliminating the box will encourage people who have been convicted of a crime to apply for those jobs, and it will allow for employers to not discriminate job applicants.
  2. Shielding nonviolent convictions from employers: Shielding nonviolent convictions from public view will help millions of individuals get back to work and not be denied employment. Many with minor drug offenses or other nonviolent convictions will be excluded from work because of computerized criminal records, so shield certain records will increase employment opportunities.
  3. Provide incentives to businesses to hire and train individuals with criminal records: Businesses do not want to hire people with criminal records because of liability. There should be a set of mechanisms for businesses in Maryland to hire and train individuals with criminal records. Hiring and training individuals with criminal records will give them a chance to show their skills and dedication rather than deciding their fate by a criminal record.
  4. Expand employment and educational programs for people with criminal records: Education is an important factor for individuals to find a well paying job. In our polarized, technically advanced job market, people with lower educational skills will move toward the lower paying jobs. Expanding educational and employment funds and programs for convicted individuals will reduce the chance of recidivism.
  5. Provide and expand housing funds and programs for people with a conviction: Housing is an essential need for people coming from the criminal justice system. Providing more funds will help people have housing. Stable housing will keep families together and most likely keep and prevent a person from the criminal justice system. It is more costly to house people in jails and prisons than expanding housing assistance.
  6. Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) should be more flexible in their treatment of people with criminal records: For felony convictions, a person can be denied housing. Reducing PHAs treatment of people with criminal records will help them obtain housing easier. Evicting a person out of public housing could breakup families and possibly leads to homelessness.
  7. Find opportunities to increase low-income housing capacity through partnerships: Different public and private partnerships should be established to increase and provide more low-income housing assistance. Developing partnerships to create opportunities for expanding housing assistance to low-income individuals to obtain housing would benefit society by creating jobs and lowering correction costs of incarcerating individuals.
  8. Consider the needs of children in determining the sentencing of parents, particularly women, with children under 18 years old: Children are hurt the most when a parent is incarcerated. Incarcerated parents damage the social relations they have with their children and community. The child of an incarcerated parent has an increased risk of being convicted of a crime.
  9. Expand prevention and treatment options that allow parents and children to live together during the recovery process to keep strong community and family bonds: Develop new and expand old options to keep family stability and strong informal community social bonds. Keeping families together will keep the community together. The removal of parents from children and the community destroys informal social controls, social capital and social bonds in communities creating destabilizing communities and families with high crimes rates and eroding human capital.
  10. Restore voting rights for people with convictions: A criminal conviction should never impede an individual’s voting rights.

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