By Mai P. Tran, Program AssociateIndividuals returning home from prison face collateral consequences, or legal and policy restrictions, penalties, and disadvantages that impede their successful reentry and reintegration in their communities. Examples of such consequences include restrictions on employment and licensing, student financial assistance, welfare benefits, and public housing. The following Q & A feature with Margaret Love (pictured right), executive director and editor of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC), provides an overview of the newly launched resource established in 2014 to promote discussion of the collateral consequences of a criminal record, and how to restore legal rights and overcome social barriers.
What is the Collateral Consequences Resource Center and its overall mission?
The Collateral Consequences Resource Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising public awareness of the legal restrictions and stigma that burden convicted people long after their court-imposed sentences have been served.
The website is the center’s first endeavor, and there we will provide commentary and opinion on current events and case law developments relating to criminal records issues. We hope the website will bring together different groups that frequently operate in silos. For example, criminal defenders and legal aid lawyers don’t always communicate on these issues, though they are of central importance to the clients of both communities. Practicing lawyers in turn don’t always communicate with legal scholars or researchers or legislators. Employers and human resources personnel don’t make it a practice of communicating with lawyers unless they have to, but they are part of another community that we’d like to loop in to what has, for many of us, been a lawyer-oriented conversation. And of course there is the very important community of those most closely affected by collateral consequences—individuals who have a criminal record. Linking up these different communities through our website is very important to us.
Eventually the center expects to get more involved in hands-on activities, including legislative advocacy and court cases. We also hope to provide advice and assistance to practitioners and courts, both criminal and civil, and to those advocating for change in the law. Our board is broadly representative of the communities we hope to reach, and we expect shortly to announce the addition of a former trial judge and a social scientist.
What are the top three highlights from your site?
- I think the original commentary and analysis we have posted to date make pretty interesting reading, whether or not you’re a lawyer! One recent post is an interview with an Indiana legislator who pushed through that state’s new expungement law. He lays out a roadmap for successful reform that will be invaluable to advocates.
- The state-by-state Restoration of Rights material is a unique legal resource that I’ve been keeping up-to-date for over a decade, and is useful for anyone seeking information about how to avoid or mitigate collateral consequences.
- The third thing I’d point out to people visiting the site for the first time is the wide variety of resources available for practitioners and advocates. There’s no better way to find out what’s there than to take your own tour. And we are always looking to add resources people bring to our attention.
Can you give us a brief background on the Restoration of Rights resources available on the site, and what users can find there?
The Restoration of Rights resource originated with a project funded by a Soros Justice Fellowship, which I turned into a book published in 2004 called Relief from the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction: A State-by-State Resource Guide. In that book, I went state-by-state, describing what each state provided by way of restoration mechanisms. Many states have a variety of relief mechanisms and their systems are comparatively quite functional. In the decade since the 2004 book was published, I have kept the material up-to-date and expanded it considerably.
The audience you target is wide-ranging—from lawyers, to criminal justice practitioners, courts administrators, scholars, researchers, policymakers, legislators, and individuals with criminal records. How is your resource center able to meet the diverse and unique interests and needs of this diverse audience?
Josh Gaines (the deputy director of the center and its web developer) and I try to keep an eye out for what’s going on in the world that relates to criminal records issues, through Google alerts and through matters that colleagues bring to our attention. I find experts from diverse communities who can write about current events or about their own activities. If they don’t have time to write about it, I’ll write about it myself, or do an interview with them.
You write a lot of articles on current issues relating to consequences of having a criminal record. If you were to highlight a recent one, which would it be, and why?
The law review article I had the most fun writing is one in the St. Thomas Law Review about what the president could learn from the states in pardoning, which gave me an opportunity to look more closely into how states manage their pardon programs. It turns out that almost all of them do it better than the federal government. It gave me an opportunity to make recommendations on how the federal system could be improved, which is a theme I’ve developed ever since I left the Justice Department 17 years ago.
It has also been fun preparing the second edition of Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions: Law, Policy, and Practice with my co-authors, Jenny Roberts and Cecelia Klingele—a lot more fun and less hard work than it took to put together the first edition. I expect it to come out in the spring of 2015.
Will you be updating the center site regularly?
It is a challenge, but we aspire to update our resources in real time and include new posts at least once a day. Anyone who wants to write for us is welcome to bring us material. Don’t forget that we have only been “live” for less than a month and there are only “one and a half” of us working on it, so we are very much still a work in progress.
Margaret Love practices law in Washington, DC, specializing in executive clemency and restoration of rights, and sentencing and corrections policy. Recognized as a national expert on clemency and related issues, she regularly consults with legislatures, clemency and parole authorities, governors’ offices, and other agencies and organizations on the development and operation of mechanisms for relief from the adverse effects of a criminal record.