Collateral Consequences Explained

More than 1.6 million North Carolinians, or 1 of every 5 adults in North Carolina, have criminal records. These criminal records range from charges that were dismissed to misdemeanor and felony convictions. Every type of criminal record triggers a variety of disabilities known as “collateral consequences.” While often unknown to individuals at arrest or conviction, the impact of these collateral consequences is potentially more severe than that of their criminal punishment. Collateral consequences isolate individuals from gainful employment, affordable housing, and family supports—the pillars upon which successful reentry relies. Accordingly, collateral consequences undermine community safety, waste state resources, and permanently position individuals with criminal records as second-class citizens.

Civil Disabilities

Hundreds of state and federal statutes deny privileges and rights to individuals based on their criminal convictions. These disabilities attach at the time of conviction, but are distinct from the direct consequences of a criminal conviction (incarceration, fines, and probation). While much focus is given to the direct consequences of criminal conviction, these further civil penalties are often unknown to defendants and attorneys at the time of pleas. Their impact is severe, far-reaching, and long-lasting. They include loss or restriction of a professional license, ineligibility for public funds including welfare benefits and student loans, loss of voting rights, ineligibility for jury duty, and deportation for immigrants.

Private Bias

Coupled with barriers imposed by the state, individuals with criminal convictions are denied many other opportunities because of the personal biases of employers and landlords. Most applications for employment and housing ask about an individual’s criminal history. Similarly, 92% of employers run criminal background checks on applicants and often refuse to hire anyone with a criminal record.

The large volume of collateral consequences isolates an entire population from opportunity and community supports, thereby contributing to high rates of recidivism which damage communities across North Carolina. Whether motivated by community safety, fairness, economic vitality, or cost savings, it is in everyone’s interest to respond aggressively to the destructive impact of the collateral consequences of criminal convictions.

For more information please refer to the three Power Point presentations below and links to other supporting documents. Also, please see our Reentry Resources link.