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Piling On: Collateral Consequences and Community Supervision

By Christopher Uggen & Robert Stewart. Full text here.

While there has been great legal, media, and policy interest in the collateral effects of imprisonment, far less attention has been devoted to collateral consequences during and after periods of community supervision. Such consequences are wide-ranging, placing limits on education, employment, family rights, gun ownership, housing, immigration status, political participation, public assistance, and travel, to name a few. This Article examines how these restrictions affect non-incarcerated felons—those living in their home communities while completing terms on probation or parole. Though many such restrictions are surely merited in individual cases, they are typically applied globally to all convicted felons rather than being tailored to particular offenses or individuals. We borrow the term “piling on” from American football to represent the combined and cumulative weight of such restrictions, drawing on interview data to illustrate this process. Taken together, collateral sanctions can impede successful completion of probation and parole—and, perhaps, compromise rather than enhance public safety. With the rapid growth of community supervision over the past four decades, such effects have taken on greater meaning for attorneys, researchers, policy makers, and, most importantly, people convicted of criminal offenses. This Article thus surveys the landscape of “invisible punishment” and community supervision. The first section briefly describes the legal consequences of involvement with the criminal-justice system and how they affect probationers and parolees in the United States. Next, we catalog the individually separable economic, social, physical, and civic consequences of felony conviction most salient for those living under community supervision. Finally, we conclude by sketching some reform proposals to help distinguish necessary and useful collateral consequences from restrictions that appear to do more harm than good.