The term "collateral consequences" refers to restrictions that follow the completion of a criminal sentence. Throughout European and early American history, these revocations of civil rights were viewed as the civil death of those who experienced them. Historically, this applied primarily to rights related to inheritance and property and was utilized alongside capital punishment to settle the affairs of someone who committed a serious felony.i Modern collateral consequences began to appear in 1898 with the case of Hawker v. New York, in which the court upheld the state's exclusion of those with felonious records from the practice of medicine.ii Restrictions such as this, combined with the expansion of government welfare programs from the 1960s onward, led to an increasing number of benefits withheld from those who have committed crime. The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction has identified over 44,000 legal collateral consequences in existence today.iii
Collateral consequences impact all avenues of life: education, housing, employment, voting, and more. Nearly 80 percent of all collateral consequences are permanent, or infinite, while the rest have specified time periods of duration.iv Consequences are separated into those that are automatically imposed and those that decision-makers impose.v Regardless of the type of consequence, at sentencing, defendants typically have very little knowledge of the number, or extent, of legal barriers they will face due to a criminal record.
More than 30,000 collateral consequences impact either employment or occupational licensing, greatly hindering an individual’s ability to find employment upon reentry.vi Some states bar those with a criminal record from involvement in industries like landscape, architecture, acupuncture, or automotive parts.vii Other states restrict licensing for work as a barber, cosmetologist, or manicurist.viii Some of the consequences are logical, with a clear connection between public safety and the restriction in place, but others, like limitations on voting rights, lack that nexus.
Collateral consequences are not just present on the state level; there are legal barriers on the federal level as well. Federal law prohibits those with a felony on their criminal record from some significant welfare programs and benefits. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) automatically bans those with a record of certain sex or drug offenses from living in public housing.ix A federal law, passed in 1996, bars those who have committed certain drug offenses from receiving welfare funds including the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).x However, states are permitted to opt out of this exclusion. Today, 15 states still have restrictions on TANF recipients, while eight states have retained exclusions related to SNAP.xi
Even after paying their debt to society, the 70 million men and women with criminal records in America continue to face systematic and often lifelong barriers to second chance opportunities. As Christians, we ought to celebrate redemption and allow people to give back to society at their highest potential. After someone has completed their traditional sentence, Prison Fellowship believes only restrictions to personal liberty that have a demonstrated and substantial link to protecting public safety should be permissible. Even in these limited cases, the restrictions should be anticipated at the time of sentencing as part of the defendant's proportional punishment, and notification of all such consequences should be given to the defendant during the trial process.
Accordingly, Prison Fellowship has supported advocacy campaigns to lift bans that prevent people with criminal records from voting and accessing student financial aid, nutrition assistance, housing access, occupational licensing, and other employment opportunities. We played a leading role in passage and reauthorization of the Second Chance Act, which provides funding for reentry programs like mentoring and job training. We continue to be an active voice highlighting the power of redemption and second chances, as demonstrated in testimony before Congress regarding the importance of entrepreneurship among the formerly incarcerated and challenges to reentry.xii
Prison Fellowship also diligently works on the issue of collateral consequences at the state level. In 2019, we worked with Texas policymakers to pass reforms amending the state’s Occupation Code to require licensing authorities to ensure a direct correlation exists between the restriction to an occupational license and an individual’s offense.xiii Additionally, Prison Fellowship directly ministers to men and women returning to the community from prison through faithful church partners and volunteer mentors across the country. Further, since 2017, Prison Fellowship has spearheaded Second Chance Month® each April. This nationwide movement has been formally recognized by the president, Congress, and dozens of states seeking to raise awareness about the barriers faced by returning citizens and to unlock second chances for people with a criminal record.
Collateral Consequences map is a visual depiction of the number of legal barriers individuals face in each state.
Top 10 Federal Collateral Consequences: There are more than 44,000 collateral consequences across the nation, this list breaks down ten of the top federal barriers.
Written testimony and video coverage of Prison Fellowship’s Jesse Wiese’s testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security for February 2020 hearing on Collateral Consequences.
Testimony submitted by Prison Fellowship to the House Committee on Small Business for October 2019 hearing on Entrepreneurship Opportunities for formerly incarcerated.