A new online database allows users to search for state and federal laws and rules that hinder people with a criminal record from finding work, securing licenses or housing, obtaining an education, or keeping their families together. The site was launched yesterday on Capitol Hill by the American Bar Association Section of Criminal Justice. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said, “To promote successful reentry, it is important that prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges understand the full consequences of convictions, so they can make the best possible decisions. More to the point, it is crucial that policy makers understand the full set of collateral consequences already in the law, so that they know whether new sanctions are truly necessary or appropriate and so they can think about removing sanctions that undermine the ability to reenter society without making the public safer.” Greg Ridgeway, deputy director of the National Institute of Justice, also spoke.
The ABA noted that people with conviction records face barriers that extend beyond their sentences. State and federal laws and rules restrict their access to many government benefits and opportunities, making it difficult for them to return to society successfully. The website is designed to make lawyers, lawmakers and policy advocates aware of the the scope and impact of such laws and disqualifications, and also help affected individuals understand their rights and responsibilities. The database currently hosts information on federal statutes and regulations, as well as similar research from nine states: Vermont, Minnesota, Iowa, Nevada, Texas, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and New York. Data from other states will be coming online over the next 18 months.