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Beware the Collateral Consequences

The Heritage Foundation's John Malcolm says removing penalties imposed on released prisoners could help prevent recidivism.


Criminal justice reform has been a trending topic this semester at BC Law. A talk by John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation on April 7 was but the latest in a string of appearances by activists, legal experts, and advocates, all of them suggesting ways to rein in an exploding prison population, high rates of recidivism, and other unfavorable outcomes of the current system.

Malcolm, who is director of the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and the Ed Gilbertson and Sherry Lindberg Gilbertson Senior Legal Fellow, based his remarks in part on a Heritage Foundation report he recently coauthored, “Collateral Consequences: Protecting Public Safety or Encouraging Recidivism?”

In his talk and paper, he described the collateral consequences of criminal conviction as civil disabilities imposed by local, state, and federal lawmakers and sometimes by administrative bodies.

The problem, he explained, is that though some of these disabilities are justifiable, “collateral consequences that are applied indiscriminately, with a tenuous relationship between the restriction imposed and the offense committed, can make it more difficult for someone with a criminal record to reintegrate into society, thereby increasing the likelihood that an ex-offender will return to a life of crime and recidivate.”

Malcolm called for legislators to reassess existing collateral consequences to ensure that they, in fact, are necessary for public safety, and to create a means to protect ex-offenders from being overly burdened by restrictions, in deserving cases.

Malcolm’s appearance was sponsored by the BC Law Federalist Society.