Originally Published in the Baton Rouge Advocate and The Cannon Online*
Rest easy Mr. Raccoon, Louisiana law protects you from receiving care from a convicted felon.
A few months ago, my dog, Oscar, encountered a family of raccoons raiding my neighbor’s garden. The lone prisoner was a young raccoon. I separated the injured raccoon from Oscar in the hopes I could save its life. I’m that kind of guy. I immediately went to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website to determine the rules around keeping an injured wild animal. I was amused at what I learned — under no circumstances is a convicted felon permitted to care for an injured wild animal. No exceptions!
As the state director of Right on Crime and a former parole and probation officer, I’m constantly dumbfounded by the restrictions formerly incarcerated citizens face after they’ve served their time.
Caring for an injured raccoon is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to collateral consequences of criminal convictions that have no bearing on public safety. Often, these restrictions become barriers to successful re-entry into society.
The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction reports that there are more than 40,000 collateral consequences “imposed by the statutes and regulations of the 50 states (and) the federal system.”
While some felony convictions call for long-lasting consequences when public safety is at stake, many of these collateral consequences are preventing individuals with criminal backgrounds from obtaining employment, an occupational license, renting an apartment and obtaining life insurance — and the list goes on and on, despite any nexus to public safety. Harboring an injured raccoon is just one example.
In 2019, the Louisiana Legislature passed Act 229 that allows formerly incarcerated individuals who provided hospice care while incarcerated to work in hospice care after their release. This bill removed a barrier for those who wanted to continue their good work and earn a living.
Right on Crime brought the issue of collateral consequences to the attention of the Legislature last session. A Senate resolution was passed requesting the Louisiana Law Institute to study the more than 900 employment-related collateral consequences in law. More than 500 of those may be triggered by any felony whatsoever, and more than 200 may be triggered by any crime at all, even low-level misdemeanors.
There is bipartisan agreement that collateral consequences have proven to negatively impact public safety, our economy, and the costly rate of recidivism. Next year, state legislators will finally have the opportunity to critically review and remove unnecessary barriers to gainful employment for thousands of Louisiana citizens who have served the time for their worst mistakes.
More than 40,000 people in Louisiana are on probation or parole for a felony conviction and likely a large handful of those 900 arbitrary collateral consequences unknowingly affect them. Thanks to my dog, Oscar, we now know obtaining permission before helping an injured animal is another. Sorry, Mr. Raccoon, it’s your discerning guess on that next helping hand.