A new website, launched by the American Bar Association and the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice, is revealing many of the overlooked punishments that accompany criminal convictions—those punishments not administered by the court. The website, Collateral Consequences, gives users a resource to find, in one place, all federal and state legal consequences of a criminal record.
For example, after a guilty plea, former offenders often find themselves unable to vote, unable to work in many professions, and even unable to live where they want to live. These lifelong punishments are often unknown at the time one is considering entering a plea.
As Daryl Atkinson, a staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, reflected after his prison term, forty months of incarceration was “a blip on the radar screen of life…[and yet] when I’m released I face this web of invisible punishments that I knew nothing about.”
While “collateral consequences” have always been a part of our legal system, the ABA and DOJ note that over the past twenty years, they have become more problematic because “they are more numerous and more severe, they affect more people, and they are harder to avoid or mitigate.”
Collateral Consequences is meant to provide a resource for those accused of crimes and their lawyers. The website allows users to search state and federal laws that would affect the ability of people with criminal records to reenter society. Users can search by state, types of restrictions, and types of offenses.
So far, the website includes information on state laws in nine states: Colorado, Vermont, Minnesota, Iowa, Nevada, Texas, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and New York. The remaining states are expected to be added within 18 months.
The DOJ and ABA hope the website will be used by those facing a potential life-long criminal record to be aware of the “legal limbo” they may face before they are caught in it.