Abstract: State Reforms to Justice-Related Collateral Consequences: Policies in All 50 States from 2010 to 2017 (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

State Reforms to Justice-Related Collateral Consequences: Policies in All 50 States from 2010 to 2017

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salong 13, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Chris Veeh, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
Carrie Pettus-Davis, PhD, Associate Professor, Director, Institute for Justice Research and Development, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Background and Purpose: The American Bar Association identified over 45,000 laws and regulations that deny an individual with a felony from such civic goods as public housing, employment, food stamps, Medicaid, voting, jury duty, and many others. These collateral consequences have created a caste system that disproportionately locks millions of people of color into a permanent underclass. The three goals of smart decarceration are simply not possible without evidence-based reforms to these policies. To that end, the current study followed a two-step approach to develop a research-driven reform agenda to collateral consequences policies. First, a comprehensive review of all state-level reforms to collateral consequences policies was completed to identify the types of policy reforms with political momentum. Second, we reviewed evaluations of current policy reforms to identify whether research aligns with the types of reforms that have so far received support from state government officials.  

Methods: For the comprehensive review of state-level reforms, we used the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Statewide Sentencing and Corrections Legislation database and LexisNexis State Net to identify every bill enacted between 2010 and 2017 focused on reforming collateral consequences policies.  Next, evaluations of current policy reforms were identified using the academic databases of EBSCO Academic Search, Web of Science, and ProQuest.  All searches used the keywords of collateral consequences, civil disability, felony disenfranchisement, or post-conviction. Only documents published between 2010 and 2017 and written in English were reviewed.

Results: Results found 244 reforms were undertaken by either legislation or executive order between 2010 and 2017. These reforms were then grouped into 13 different categories, including: employment, expungement, sealing, certificate of relief, food stamps, Medicaid/disability, voting, housing, status of offense, guardianship and custody, identification documents, education, and notice of civil disability.  Reforms targeting employment, particularly policies to adopt ban-the-box, were by far the most popular comprising approximately one-third off all state efforts. The reforms with the next highest momentum included expungement, sealing, and certificate of relief. When we looked to the research, we found support for ban-the-box in expanding public sector jobs but equivocal evidence for private sector employment because of statistical discrimination. Certificates of relief were found to have the best evidence to support their further expansion. Overall, peer-reviewed research testing the effectiveness of reforms to collateral consequences policies was very sparse.

Conclusions and Implications: Smart decarceration will only occur once our lawmakers are able to summon the political will to roll back the complex web of restrictions on individuals with a felony history that have been built up over the past four decades. Our aim in this current project was to provide a first step in developing a research-driven reform agenda of collateral consequences policies. Reforms to employment restrictions, such as ban-the-box, are currently a popular approach but lawmakers should be mindful of how these policies are structured to limit the influence of statistical discrimination on people of color. Certificates of relief have shown less political momentum, so lawmakers need to be better informed of its promising results when enacted.