Collateral Consequences of Incarceration

Collateral Consequences of Incarceration - The National Incarceration Association

Kate Boccia – The National Incarceration Association

I’ve recently learned of a new phrase in the criminal justice reform arena. ‘Collateral consequences’ so I decided I needed to understand more about this.

For the returning citizen (ex-con) the collateral consequences are the direct consequences of a criminal conviction that are NOT part of the civil state penalties (i.e. Incarceration, fines or probation.) They are further actions that are triggered as a consequence of the conviction. Loss of professional license, ineligibility for public funds, and loss of voting rights among thousands of other consequences that makes coming home and staying home nearly impossible.

As I think about the effect of collateral consequences on the returning citizen, something dawned on me. Has anyone thought about the collateral consequences of the community and businesses? Have you ever really understood that incarceration has a collateral consequence that reaches deep into each and every one of us?

As a mother of a Georgia inmate, his incarceration has had a profound consequence on the way I have lived for the past 4 years. The pain that goes along with being dragged through the mire of the criminal justice system and the fear of the unknown world of incarceration has directly affected how I do business and who I do business with. It has changed the way I vote, and it has changed the way I see the world. It has changed me.

Now keep in mind, I don’t have the same losses forced on me as my son will when he returns, but I have collateral consequences none the less. My income is less because I had to give up a full time job so that I can advocate for my son, hence I pay less taxes. Because my income is less, my spending has decreased. In fact I have not spent a fraction of what I did pre-prison years, except to support my son. Between phones, commissary, gas to visit, quarters for vending during visits, books, magazines, shoes, shirts, etc., I have spent nearly $50,000, this doesn’t even count legal fees or my time. Money that I can’t get back, and money that I didn’t spend in my community.

On top of the loss of money, I no longer find the need to have a spontaneous meal out on the town, I no longer find the need to buy that pretty bobble, and I no longer have the desire to support things that have no depth or meaning. You see, when you have someone you love in prison, you are basically in prison right along with them so being frivolous with your time and money becomes painful, especially considering how meagerly they live.

Multiply this by the 55,000 families that have a loved one in prison and I think the numbers speak for themselves. Families that are torn apart by mass incarceration have an enormous responsibility to forsake things in order to help their loved ones, they also must prepare to support them when they return, because returning citizens are barely able to find work due to the collateral consequences of their conviction. And 90% of them will return one day.

Our business leaders and owners need to understand that my son’s incarceration and the collateral consequences it had on my family directly hit them in their wallet and our law makers need to also understand that they have collateral consequences as well. The families of the incarcerated are joining forces, becoming one voice. You see one thing we haven’t lost is our ability to vote. This is what I call freedom.