Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Collateral Consequences

“After retirement from the active practice of law in 2003, I volunteered at the Georgia Justice Project (GJP) and was involved with the representation of a group of clients who faced eviction from public housing because of their criminal records. After a collaborative effort of volunteer lawyers and staff from King & Spalding and GJP, with the support of the Casey Foundation, most of the lease terminations were suspended, preventing these individuals from becoming homeless. This work sparked an interest in the collateral consequences of arrests and convictions…This interest expanded into an awareness that civil barriers to reentry exist, not only for housing, but also in the areas of employment, state and federal benefits and even the right to vote.” From the forward to Collateral Consequences of Arrests and Convictions: Policy and Law in Georgia, written by volunteer lawyers H. Lane Dennard Jr. and Patrick C. DiCarlo. Click HERE to learn what GJP is already doing to help people contend with the aftermath of an arrest or conviction. Would you like a free copy of the book? Email

The book is the first comprehensive study of its kind to examine the impact of state law and policy on ex-offenders reentering society after serving time. Among the central findings of the study is that the dissemination of arrest and conviction records creates unreasonable consequences for ex-offenders seeking employment, housing, public assistance and the right to vote. The result, the study suggests, is a state system that produces unavoidable roadblocks for ex-offenders, making recidivism more likely.

The study comes on the heels of a recent national study by the Legal Action Center in Washington, D.C., that ranked Georgia as the third worst state in the country for the number of legal barriers facing people with criminal records. Compounding this problem is the fact that, as of June 30, 2005, Georgia had the second highest incarceration rate in the country. The overall impact of these barriers to reentry for ex-offenders – or even those simply arrested but not convicted – constitutes a significant social and economic drain on the country and particularly the state of Georgia, the study suggests. The Georgia Department of Corrections has estimated that reducing the recidivism rate in Georgia by 1 percent would save Georgia taxpayers $7 million a year.

“This book systematically explores and seeks solutions to the most serious problem facing the American penal system today – reintegration of inmates into society when their terms are completed,” said Charles A. Shanor, professor at Emory University School of Law.

“This study deserves careful bipartisan action by policymakers looking to avoid a scandalous waste of lives and to reduce the enormous costs of incarceration.”

The book takes particular aim at how criminal records are recorded and shared in Georgia. According to the study, when someone is arrested, even without a conviction, a record of that arrest is maintained by the Georgia Crime Information Center. The GCIC is a division of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation charged with creating a statewide, central repository for the collection, maintenance and dissemination of all local law enforcement and criminal justice records. These criminal histories are made available to public and private entities based on so-called “Purpose Codes.” For example, some level of information may be sent with consent to an ex-offender’s prospective employer and/or public housing authorities.

The study suggests that the system is awash with serious problems, among them:

1. Studies indicate that records of arrests are not timely updated with dispositions in the cases. This is particularly important when arrests are thrown out or do not result in convictions;

2. The criminal histories go back 20 years or more; and

3. The language used to characterize the arrest may exaggerate the seriousness of the offense.

“When decisions made in areas like public housing and employment are based on incorrect and /or incomplete histories, it has a devastating effect on the ex-offender,” the study suggests.

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