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 justic system over the past 40 years has produced a corresponding increase in the number of people with a criminal recorrd. 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, inlcuding 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 unprecented 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
Common Mechanisms to Restore Rights & Status
"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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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.
State Reforms & Legislative Tracking
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 ensuring that people returning from a period of incarceration are not faced with unnecessary barriers to their successful reentry. In fact, a report by the Collateral Consequence Resource Center called 2018 “the high point of recent state efforts to restore rights and status to people with a criminal record.” Twenty states, enacted laws making it easier for people to seal and expunge their criminal records. Seventeen states, including Indiana, enacted laws limiting when and how employers and licensing boards may utilize an applicant’s criminal record.
See below for current legislation NACDL is tracking related to restoration of rights.
Restoration of Rights Legislative Report
Take Action: Please join NACDL and New Yorkers United for Justice in urging Governor Cuomo to exercise his clemency powers.
Federal Restoration of Rights Legislation
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. This 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 bipartisansupport inlcuding from the nation's largest association of prosecutors, the National District Attorney's Association (NDAA).
Act Now: Currently pending in Congress are several bills that would provide relief from collateral consequences. Visit NACDL's Legislation Action Center to reach out to your eleted officials in support!
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.
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 Collateral Consequences Center and its partner organizations, NACDL, 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, which is an online resource that offers state-by-state analyses of the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to restorationof rights following arrest or conviction.
Restoration of Rights Project
Comprehensive Text on Collateral Consequences
NACDL Reports on Collateral Consequences
- Shattering the Shackles Report
- Collateral Damage Report
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.
Shattering the Shackles Report
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.
Restoration of Rights Task Force Restoration of Rights Hearing Transcripts
Collateral Damage Report & Videos
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.
Second Chance Month Events
Social Media Graphics from 2019 Second Chance Month Campaign
Below, please find information on newly released reports, NACDL letters & testimony and other resources.