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Mechanisms to Restore Rights State Reform Federal Reform Coalitions Collateral Consequences News & Media Additional Resources on Restoration of Rights
Collateral damage occurs in any war, including America's "War on Crime." Ironically, our zealous efforts to keep communities safe may have actually destabilized and divided them. The vast expansion of the nation's criminal justice system over the past 40 years has produced a corresponding increase in the number of people with a criminal record. One study estimated that around 77.7 million individuals - nearly one out of every three American adults - have a criminal record. At the same time, the collateral consequences of conviction have become more severe, more public and more permanent. These consequences affect virtually every aspect of human endeavor, including employment and licensing, housing, education, public benefits, credit and loans, immigration status, parental rights, interstate travel, and even volunteer opportunities. Collateral consequences can be a defendant's most serious punishment, permanently relegating a person to second-class status. An arrest alone can lead to permanent loss of opportunity.
It is time to reverse this course. It is time to recognize that America's infatuation with collateral consequences has produced unprecedented and unnecessary collateral damage to society and to the justice system. It is time to celebrate the magnificant human potential for growth and redemption. It is time to move from the era of collateral consequences to the era of restoration of rights and status.
"The country was built on the belief that each human being has limitless potential and worth. Everybody matters. We believe that even those who have struggled with a dark past can find brighter days ahead. One way we act on that belief is by helping former prisoners who've paid for their crimes -- we help them build new lives as productive members of our society."
- Former President, George W. Bush
"Ban the Box" - Fair chance hiring policies help to remove barriers to employment by prohibiting an employer from inquiring into an applicant's criminal background until after a conditional offer of employment. The best "ban the box" policies do the following: (1) are applied statewide; (2) apply to both public and private employers; and (3) have standards limiting criminal history inquiries to recent convictions with a business nexus to the job.
Expungement/Sealing - Expungement results in deletion of any record that an arrest or ciminal conviction ever occurred. A sealed record is removed from general review; the record still exists and can be reviewed under limited circumstances.
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Supported by NFCJ
Occupational Licensing - Reforms regulating the consideration of a criminal record by occupational licensing agencies.
Restoration of Voting Rights - An estimated 5.8 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction. Laws vary between states with some states permanently disenfranchising all people with felony convictions to states that restore voting rights upon completion of their sentence. Maine and Vermont are the only states that do not disenfranchise people with criminal convictions.
Clemency & Pardons - Clemency is the power of a Governor to commute a prison sentence to a lesser term than was initially imposed. A pardon is a form of clemency meant to indicate forgiveness of a crime.
Recent years have seen a national, bipartisan movement towards criminal justice reform that seeks to promote successful reentry and remove the collateral consequences of conviction faced by returning citizens. Across the country, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are supporting policies designed to improve reentry outcomes, including expanding expungement eligibility and record sealing, easing restrictions on occupational licensing, and working to reduce unnecessary barriers to the successful reentry of people returning from periods of incarceration. As the Collateral Consequences Resource Center's 2019 annual report states, the United States has seen "an extraordinarily fruitful period of law reform... one that began around 2013 and has continued to gather steam into 2020." In 2019, 43 states, the federal government, and the District of Columbia enacted 153 laws aimed at lessening the many obstacles to voting, employment, and many other areas of daily life that formerly incarcerated individuals face. These reforms included laws that restored eligibility for voting, jury service, and public office, streamlined record-clearing laws, regulated occupational licensing, and automated record relief, among others.
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See below for current legislation NACDL is tracking related to restoration of rights.
This year we've seen a host of federal legislation introduced in Congress that would provide some level of relief from the collateral consequences of a conviction. These bills include legislation that would restore federal voting rights to people with felony convictions (H.R.1 and H.R. 196/S. 1068), legislation to require the federal government and federal contractors to "ban the box" (Fair Chance Act - H.R. 1076/S. 387), and legislation to restore Pell Grant elibility for incarcerated individuals (REAL Act - H.R. 2168/S. 1074). There's movement with the Fair Chance Act, as it passed the House as part of a larger package related to military defense (the National Defense Authorization Act). And the REAL Act has received bipartisan support inlcuding from the nation's largest association of prosecutors, the National District Attorney's Association (NDAA).
NACDL is proud to have several projects aimed at examining the collateral consequences of these convictions. The goal is to provide policy recommendations and laud existing best practices that jurisdictions can engage in to effectively decrease the economic, political, and social stigmas associated with a criminal conviction.
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Pre-Trial Suppression & Fourth Amendment Issues
This Trial Guide is a topical and practical handbook examining the nuts and bolts of the most current Fourth Amendment & Pre-Trial Suppression issues encountered in modern criminal cases.
Defense Counsel Playbook for Eyewitness ID Cases
This Trial Guide was written to help counsel use existing case law to its strongest advantage, and to create a framework for appellate challenges urging courts to adopt leading cases.
Ultimate Cross 2.0
This special CLE compilation program includes the highest-rated presentations on Cross-Examination techniques from NACDL's most recent seminars (2017-2019).
Forensic Sciences in Criminal Cases: A Multidiscipline Primer
In order to challenge forensic evidence, experts, reports and findings commonly encountered in the courtroom, an attorney must first have a basic understanding of the forensic issues that they will be confronting.
Coalition Building to Restore Rights & Status
Free to Drive Coalition - Convened by the Fines & Fees Justice Center and Civil Rights Corps, the Free to Drive Coalition (of which NACDL is a member) is committed to the principle that restrictions on driving privileges - including suspensions, revocations, or renewals of driver's licenses or registration - should never be used to coerce debt payment or punish people who don't appear in court.
Justice for Work Coalition - Convened by the R Street Institute, Justice for Work (of which NACDL is a member) is a coalition of organizations spanning the political spectrum with a mission to lower the barriers that unfairly restrict economic participation for those caught up in the justice system.
Restoration of Rights Project
The Restoration of Rights Project (RRP) is a free online resource that includes summaries and analyses of state and federal law relating to restoration of rights and status following arrest or conviction. Maintained and regularly updated by the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC), the RRP covers four primary topics: civil and firearms rights; pardons; expungement and other record relief; and employment and licensing. A national page summarizes each jurisdiction’s laws, state-by-state profiles provide in-depth information, and 50-state comparison pages include charts and state-by-state summaries. CCRC’s work on the RRP and its derivative projects is supported by a grant from Arnold Ventures.
On August 23–25, 2018, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) hosted its 17th Annual State Criminal Justice Network (SCJN) Conference and 2nd Annual Presidential Summit in Atlanta, Georgia — Shattering the Shackles of Collateral Consequences: Exploring Moral Principles and Economic Innovations to Restore Rights and Opportunity. On June 4, 2019, NACDL released its conference report and videos of the conference.
On Thursday May 29, 2014, NACDL launched Collateral Damage America's Failure to Forgive or Forget in the War on Crime - A Roadmap to Restore Rights and Status After Arrest or Conviction.
Over 100 people attended the report launch. Poignant testimony was provided by Lamont Carey, a business owner and individual with a conviction; several policy analysts; former Governor Robert Ehrlich; former Congressman J.C. Watts; and former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik who also has a conviction on his record.
Do you know that April is recognized as Second Chance Month?
Second Chance Month is a nationwide effort to raise awareness of the obstacles faced by over 70 million Americans with a criminal record and unlock opportunities for them to succeed. Since its inception in 2017, NACDL has been activitely involved in hosting activities and providing opportunities for its members to become engaged.
- "Thousands of Illinois Drivers Would Get Their Licenses Back Under a Criminal Justice Reform Bill,"
- "How Utah Got Automatic Expungement,"
- "“The Reintegration Agenda During Pandemic: Criminal Record Reforms in 2020”,"
Restoration of Rights News Releases
News Release ~ 06/28/2017
Joint Announcement: Restoration of Rights Project -- The Collateral Consequences Resource Center and its partner organizations, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and the National HIRE Network, are pleased to announce the launch of the newly expanded and fully updated Restoration of Rights Project.
News Release ~ 12/21/2015
Nation's Criminal Defense Bar Praises New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's "Historic" Blanket Pardon Affecting Thousands of Non-Violent, Former Teenage Offenders -- Washington, DC (Dec. 21, 2015) – Today, the Office of New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo officially announced a plan to pardon many thousands of people who were convicted of a misdemeanor or a non-violent felony at the age of 16 or 17, but who have had no other convictions since. The criteria that applicants must meet are provided here.
News Release ~ 10/01/2015
Bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act Introduced; Nation's Criminal Defense Bar Calls Certain Provisions "An Important Move In The Right Direction" -- Washington, DC (Oct. 1, 2015) – This morning, in action unprecedented in recent decades, a broadly bipartisan group of U.S. Senators announced the introduction of the "Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act," a bill that appears to include certain provisions aimed at reversing America's overly harsh, overburdened and ineffective criminal justice system.
Restoration of Rights Media Items
Setting the Stage: Moral and Economic Obligations to Restoring Rights and Opportunity
This panel explored the moral principles and economic innovations that are essential in alleviating collateral consequences of an arrest or conviction. The panel also examined racial implications associated with collateral consequences. Key Issues: ban the box, certificates of relief, tax incentives, licensing.
Panelists: Mark Holden, General Counsel & Senior Vice President, Koch Industries; Teresa Hodge, Co-Founder & Director of Strategy & Innovation, Mission: Launch; Marc Levin, Vice President, Criminal Justice Policy, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Right on Crime
Moderator: Rick Jones, Immediate Past President, NACDL, and Executive Director, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem
Shattering the Shackles of Collateral Consequences: Exploring Moral Principles and Economic Innovations to Restore Rights and Opportunity
NACDL’s 17th Annual State Criminal Justice Network Conference and 2nd Annual Presidential Summit | August 23-25, 2018 | Atlanta, GA
Advocacy Call on Occupational Licensing
On Thursday, June 21, 2018, NACDL hosted a discussion about the model legislation and a review of states that have enacted occupational licenses. Speakers included Lee McGrath, Managing Attorney of the Institute for Justice Minnesota office and IJ’s Senior Legislative Counsel; and Joshua House, an attorney with the Institute for Justice.
The Institute for Justice has developed a campaign including model legislation that serves as a resource for state legislatures to institute laws designed to alleviate the barriers those with a conviction are faced with in applying for licenses. NACDL is supporting the occupational licensing model legislation (“Occupational Licensing Review Act”) and the “Model Collateral Consequences Reduction Act.”
One of the primary barriers for those formerly incarcerated who are reentering the workforce is the ability to obtain an occupational license. While incarcerated, many individuals are trained and employed in industries that require a license. However, even upon reentry they are unable to apply for these licenses that would enable them to work in those very fields that could essentially help end the ever-revolving recidivism door.
Turning Shackles into Bootstraps: Why Occupational Licensing Reform Is the Missing Piece of Criminal Justice Reform, Center for the Study of Economic Liberty at Arizona State University, November 2016
Learn more about NACDL's State Criminal Justice Network. Angelyn C. Frazer-Giles, Host. Doug Shaner, production supervisor. Music I Will! Rise Above (Jared C. Balogh) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.
Ep.25 - NACDL's Restoration of Rights Database
Ep.25 - NACDL's Restoration of Rights Database -- Today, NACDL launched a new, publicly available database – NACDL's Restoration of Rights Project. This new section of NACDL's online Resource Center houses NACDL member and former U.S. Pardon Attorney (1990-97) Margaret Colgate Love's comprehensive work on this topic in a user-friendly format. It promises to be an indispensable guide for defense lawyers as well as members of the public affected by the collateral consequences of a conviction and those re-entering society or the workforce after a conviction. In this episode, we speak with Margy Love as well as NACDL Resource Counsel Vanessa Antoun, and others, about this important new tool. Learn more about NACDL. Steven Logan, production supervisor. Music West Bank (Lezet) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 and Walkabout (Digital Primitives) / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.