After interning at an organization in the criminal justice field for a service learning class, I have noticed the undeniable prevalence of collateral consequences. After a person has finished serving a sentence and is released back into society, they are not given the same rights and privileges as a law-abiding citizen. Instead, unintentional civil penalties arise that prohibit the offender from being a functional member of society. These consequences have tremendous impacts that are far-reaching and long-lasting. These sanctions are not part of the sentence given by the court, but have proven to be one of the most harmful outcomes of a criminal record. Such consequences include loss or rejection of housing, employment, education, public assistance and voting rights.
It is true that the criminal justice system places highest priority on public safety, but it seems as though they have put too much into this and have forgotten about the rights of the people. These consequences make it almost insurmountable to socialize back into mainstream society, live productive lives, and not end up back in the system. To ensure public safety and to make the transition from prison life back into society more effective and reduce recidivism, policies need to be constructed and adapted for minor misdemeanors to be dealt with in a non-criminal way. I think that the bill recently approved in the Vermont Legislature to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana is one step forward in combating the residual effects of a criminal record. Other such reforms will need to be created to ensure the protection and rights of all citizens.
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