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The blanket application of collateral consequences impede successful re-entry into society, increase risk of re-offending for persons convicted of crimes and should be administered on a case-by-case basis, said Mathias H. Heck, Jr., chair of the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section on behalf of the association, during a public hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Task Force on Over-criminalization on June 26 in Washington D.C.
“Persons convicted of a crime ordinarily expect to be sentenced to a term of probation or confinement, and perhaps to fine and court costs,” said Heck, who is also the Montgomery County, Ohio, prosecutor. “What they often do not anticipate is that conviction will expose them to numerous additional legal penalties and disabilities.”
These collateral consequences of conviction can include disenfranchisement, deportation and loss of a professional license and educational benefits. Some of these legal penalties can result be temporary, while others may last for the rest of their lives.
“Some collateral consequences serve an important and legitimate public purpose, such as keeping firearms out of the hands of persons convicted of crimes of violence,” Heck said. “Others are more difficult to justify, particularly when applied automatically across the board to whole categories of convicted persons.”
When it comes to securing employment, which is a key component in reducing recidivism, collateral consequences of convictions are a tremendous barrier.
“Without question, if the substantial barriers to employment for ex-offenders exist, the United States will remain on top of the world in recidivism rates,” said Heck.
Heck also stressed the importance of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction Project, which is funded by the National Institute of Justice.. It is a database of more than 45,000 federal and state collateral consequences of conviction and serves as a free, user-friendly resource for the public, attorneys, judges and policymakers. Its completion was spearheaded by the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section.