The Effect of Collateral Consequence Laws on State Rates of Returns to Prison

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Formal restrictions on a person following arrest or conviction are referred to as "collateral consequence laws" and exist in all states in the US. In recent years, scholars, policy makers and advocacy groups have expressed concern that many of these laws hinder reintegration, increasing the likelihood of future crime. In addition, these laws may interfere with the ability of former offenders to meet conditions of release following incarceration, such as maintaining stable employment and housing or paying child support.

In this dissertation I examine the effect of states' collateral consequence laws in the categories of voting, access to public records, employment, public housing, public assistance, and driver's licenses. I examine the impact of these laws on state rates of returns to prison, as measured by percent of prison admissions that were people on conditional release when they entered prison, the percent of exits from parole that were considered unsuccessful due returning to incarceration; the percent of exits from parole that were returned to incarceration for a new sentence, and the percent of exits from parole that were returned to incarceration for a technical violation. I also run an additional fixed effects analysis on the effect of restrictions on Temporary Assistance for Needy Children (TANF) over a seven year period.

Ultimately, limitations in the data restrict the conclusions that can be drawn regarding the impact of these laws. Results from the analysis are mixed, indicating that these laws may not have a uniform impact. Surprisingly, these analyses give some indication that collateral consequences may be related to lower rates of returns to prison for technical violations, however future research is needed to confirm this relationship. Possible explanations for these relationships are discussed, as are future research possibilities that would address limitations in the data. Data from the fixed-effects analysis does indicate preliminary support that states that imposed harsh restrictions on TANF saw an increase in state rates of returns to prison, however the analysis will need to be expanded to include state-level controls in order to draw any firm conclusions.