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Colorado Legislators Take on “Collateral Consequences”

| March 7, 2012

Conservatives in Colorado should be paying close attention to new legislative efforts to address a problem that is ignored far too often: collateral consequences.

Late last year, National Review published a piece by Mitch Pearlstein, in which he explained that “[c]ollateral sanctions [or consequences] include any legal penalty, disability, or disadvantage imposed automatically upon conviction: for example, ineligibility for various jobs, such as school-bus driver or property manager for an apartment building. Collateral consequences encompass the full range of bad things and debilitating restrictions—official or unofficial, codified or not—that regularly confront people after they’ve served their sentences.”

Interestingly, Pearlstein noted that collateral consequences, which some lawmakers applaud, have a detrimental effect on marriage rates, and in the long run, this problem likely contributes to increased recidivism: “Research verifies common sense by showing that married men are less likely than single men to break the law. Getting married is thus a good way for a man to help himself avoid getting locked up. But what about single men who have already been charged with committing crimes? They are less attractive marriage partners, not just because they may be incarcerated, but because rap sheets are not conducive to good-paying, family-supporting jobs. By not marrying, they lose a major source of support in straightening out their lives. How can they escape this trap?”

It is a significant problem and one that Colorado legislators are taking seriously. On February 13th, the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill which grants courts the discretion to remove various collateral consequences that affect employment, licensing, and housing for offenders who have been held accountable and served their sentences. The bill, which is known as the Restoration for People with Criminal Records Act, would also seal records of petty offenses that were not previously sealable in Colorado. Senator Pat Steadman, the sponsor, has an extensive write-up of the bill on his website. He notes, in part that “[s]tudies have shown that the biggest indicators of success after prison are stable employment and housing, [but w]ithout these supports, people released from prison are likely to be part of our unfortunately high recidivism rate.” At the February 13th committee hearing, Senator Steadman asked perhaps the most important question of all: “Does this particular prohibition on felons really make the public safer?”

Follow the progress of the Colorado bill here. It is also worth reading Professor Michael Sweig’s interesting personal testimony on the bill here.

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RIGHT ON CRIME is a national campaign to promote successful, conservative solutions on American criminal justice policy—reforming the system to ensure public safety, shrink government, and save taxpayers money. By sharing research and policy ideas and mobilizing strong conservative voices, we work to raise awareness of the growing support for effective reforms within the conservative movement. We are transforming the debate on criminal justice in America.

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