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Ex-cons' Sentences Don't Always End With Release

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
In New Jersey, some ex-convicts can't get a driver's license. In Alabama, a misdemeanor drug conviction means a ban on adopting a child. In 12 states, former felons are ineligible for food stamps.

As record numbers of people leave prison, thousands of ex-criminals are pouring into communities. They've served their time, but their conviction bars them from many jobs, state and federal aid and some types of housing.

Policymakers are beginning to consider whether the hodgepodge of state laws and regulations are protecting the public or creating an underclass of ex-cons who, after serving their sentence, cannot return to society. Congress will consider the issue later this year. And a nationwide legal conference will vote on a model state law this month.

"What we're seeing around the country is prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges all coming to an understanding that just because someone has committed a crime and had to pay a price for it, doesn't mean they should be relegated forever to second-class citizenship," says Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University and chairman-elect of the American Bar Association's criminal justice section.

The number of people released from prisons and jails has increased 16% since 2000, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in June.

"We've created a class of people who essentially don't fit in," says Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice think tank in Washington.

'Trying to do the right thing'

Stosh Klos, 23, admits he ran with the wrong crowd in his teens and in college. He's been arrested once for marijuana possession, another time for sharing his pain pills with friends after he got his wisdom teeth pulled. When he was 19, he was convicted of driving while intoxicated.

"I wasn't going after my goals or caring about how it would hurt me going down the road," Klos says. "I had no idea of the severity of it."

Klos graduated from the University of South Florida last year with a degree in business and marketing, but he's had a tough time finding a job in his field and obtaining the professional licenses he would need to be a stockbroker, financial manager or real estate agent. Now, he's working two construction jobs and refurbishing a house as an investment property.

"I'm trying to do the right thing," Klos says. "But I'm afraid this is going to hinder me for the rest of my life. I understand you've got to pay the penalties, but you just want to ask someone for a second chance."

Lawmakers are interested in people such as Klos and are trying to standardize these extra sanctions, often called collateral punishments.

"If someone goes home to no house, no job, no nothing, they're probably going to end up stealing again," says Margaret Love, who led the American Bar Association task force on collateral punishment.

Gabriel "Jack" Chin, a professor at the University of Arizona Rogers College of Law, says, "If we have a legal system that says if you have been to prison, we're going to make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to have housing and a job, it's a counterproductive policy."

A study released this month by the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that seeks to decriminalize marijuana, found that a person convicted of a marijuana offense may face tougher punishment outside the courthouse than the sentence given by the judge.

Attorney Richard Boire, who conducted the analysis, found that punishments triggered by a marijuana sentence include restrictions on professional licenses, ineligibility for many jobs, loss of financial aid for education, housing and food, driver's license suspension, bars on adoption and bans on voting and jury service. In some states, the sanctions last for life.

"With marijuana offenses, it's common thought that it's a slap on the wrist," Boire says. "But it's not just 30 days in jail. The unseen part is the sanctions that in some cases can last a lifetime."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he'll ask Congress to take a comprehensive look at collateral punishments when it considers the Second Chance Act of 2007 later this year. He says communities must help people make the transition from prison back into society or they will end up back in jail.

"We're supposed to live in a society where if a person does the crime, they do the time. That's not the reality. You do the crime, but you continue to do the time, sometimes for the rest of your life," says Jesselyn McCurdy, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, a non-partisan group of lawyers, judges and law professors who draft model laws for states, will vote next week on a measure for states to reconsider collateral punishments.

'Other ramifications'

The National Association of Attorneys General, however, has urged caution. The organization passed a resolution last year asking that the model law allow states to keep sex-offender registries and restrictions on ex-offenders that have clear public safety benefits.

The National District Attorneys Association also supports some collateral sanctions as an "important element in protecting the public."

"Ex-offenders must be held accountable and accept that in addition to incarceration that their illegal behavior may cause other ramifications," the group says.

Richard Cassidy, an attorney in Burlington, Vt., who led the effort to draft the model law for the uniform state laws group, says the goal is not to endanger public safety but to guarantee that the sanctions relate to the crime. A pedophile should not be allowed to work at a day care center, or an embezzler to work at a bank, he says.

"If you look at the numbers of people who have some sort of criminal history in the United States, it's huge," Cassidy says. "We're creating an underclass of citizens, and that's probably not in our best long-term interest."

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Author: Donna Leinwand
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Copyright: 2007 USA TODAY
Website: Ex-cons' sentences don't always end with release

Herb Fellow

New Member
The laws truly need to change. My son had a rough time finding work after prison.
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