Election 2012 Issue Brief - Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions

Background

In North Carolina, an estimated 1.6 million people have criminal convictions.

  • 95% of incarcerated individuals will eventually leave prison and return home.
  • Nearly 50% of those entering prison are repeat offenders.
  • It costs $23,000 annually to incarcerate an individual.
  • North Carolina’s prison construction costs break down to $80,000 per prisoner.

Collateral Consequences: An individual with a criminal record—even if it’s just an arrest with no conviction—may face many barriers that make it difficult to earn a living, reintegrate into society (if he has been in prison), and avoid recidivism. Some of these barriers are encoded in law and may include the loss or restriction of a professional license, ineligibility for public benefits and student loans, loss of voting rights, ineligibility for jury duty, and deportation.

Personal Bias: Employers and landlords are, in most cases, allowed to act on their personal biases and deny an individual employment or housing based on his criminal record. State and federal laws do little to protect against such discrimination.

Recidivism: These barriers to economic security and reintegration into society isolate an entire population from opportunity and community supports, leading to high rates of recidivism.

The current system of incarceration in North Carolina is not working. It’s eroding the safety of our communities, draining state resources, and failing those who have paid their debts to society. 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 records.

Questions for Candidates

  • The collateral consequences of criminal records create barriers that hurt the economic security of families, endanger public safety and increase recidivism. How can we facilitate the reintegration into society of North Carolinians with criminal records?
  • A few counties across the state have adopted “ban the box” policies, which means they don’t ask about an applicant’s criminal record until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. What is your opinion of “ban the box” policies and how, if at all, would you expand them?
  • Some states automatically expunge any arrests that don’t lead to conviction from a person’s record. Others give ex-offenders to chance to expunge their convictions on a graduated time frame. North Carolina’s laws currently provide limited opportunities for relief of collateral consequences, such as expunge or certificates of relief. What is your opinion of these current opportunities for relief and how, if at all, would you expand such opportunities?
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