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Lawyers' group spotlights post-conviction restoration of rights

When Jerry J. Cox, the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, says that the lifetime stigma often attaching to persons owing to a criminal record is a problem “that probably touches the lives of all [American] families,” he might not be far off the mark.

Statistics supporting Cox’s view are unequivocal and in abundance. Reportedly, more than 25 percent of adults across the country have had a brush with the law resulting in a permanent criminal history. In many millions of instances, that has led to felony convictions and lengthy lock-up terms in prisons across the country, including in North Carolina.

What the NACDL has cited as a prominent concern relating to criminal records is the lifelong and damaging repercussions that often follow them. The organization recently released a report addressing the matter and calling for broad legal and social changes that will better enable persons who have suffered a criminal conviction to reintegrate into their communities following completion of their sentences.

The NACDL’s report refers to the “collateral damage” that is visited on both a convicted person and the larger society when continued punishment is meted out long after a criminal sentence has been completed. Many persons are barred from voting for the remainder of their lives. Some can’t get jobs or loans. Others are prohibited from bearing arms. Some must register with police authorities every time they move. The military is not an option for many. School doors and select training opportunities are closed to many past offenders.

The NACDL thinks that the post-conviction consequences are far too severe in millions of cases, and that this has a broadly negative effect across society generally. Cox states that too many people are forced “to carry the burden of their past mistakes for the rest of their lives.”

That onus undermines the incentive to reintegrate with the larger community in meaningful ways. It fuels recidivism that results in further brushes with the law. It results in higher economic and social costs.

The NACDL report makes a number of specific recommendations to promote the restoration of rights for persons who have paid their debt to society. A key inclusion and lead-off point is the call for greater understanding of the problem and what is essentially a national debate on the subject that will lead to change.

Source: NACDL.org, "Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar Releases Major Report on the Consequences of Arrest and Conviction Affecting At Least 65 Million People in America; Focus is Roadmap to the Restoration of Rights and Status," Organizational news release, May 29, 2014 

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