Category Archives: Criminalization of Poverty
Pilot Study Preliminary Report: “Got Clean Slate? New Study Suggests that Criminal Record Clearing May Increase Earnings”
Pilot Study Preliminary Report: Jeffrey Selbin & Justin McCrary, Got Clean Slate? New Study Suggests that Criminal Record Clearing May Increase Earnings, SSRN Aug. 2014. Abstract below:
The more staggering impacts of the decades-long wars on crime and drugs are well-known. Almost seven million Americans – one in 35 adults – are incarcerated or under correctional supervision (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013). As many as one in four adult Americans has a criminal record, mostly for arrests and misdemeanors (NELP, 2011). By age 23, almost half of all African American men, more than a third of white men, and almost one in eight women have been arrested (Brame, et al., 2014). Arrest, conviction and incarceration records create collateral consequences that too often serve as a lifelong obstacle to employment, education, housing, public benefits and civic participation (National Institute of Justice, 2013).
Perhaps spurred by these disturbing trends, public defender offices, civil legal aid providers and law school clinics have established “clean slate” programs to help people avail themselves of criminal record clearing remedies. Studies consistently find that people with criminal records have dramatically reduced job prospects and income. However, until now we have had only anecdotal evidence that clean slate programs improve employment outcomes or earnings for people with criminal records. Gainful employment is critical to successful reentry for the tens of millions of Americans with a criminal record because it has the potential to reduce recidivism and related social and economic consequences for individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities.
Through a retrospective study of clients served by the East Bay Community Law Center’s Clean Slate Clinic, we analyzed the impact of obtaining criminal record remedies on their subsequent earnings. To our knowledge, this study is the first quantitative assessment of whether clean slate programs improve reported earnings. Through econometric techniques to control for the effects of changes in the larger economy on earnings, we can report two preliminary findings:
(1) People with criminal records seek clean slate legal remedies after a prolonged period of declining earnings. This finding has implications for the delivery of clean slate legal services to people with criminal records, including targeting earlier intervention to help prevent deteriorating economic circumstances.
(2) Evidence suggests that the clean slate legal intervention stems the decline in earnings and may even boost earnings. It is too early to tell if the boost is significant and sustained, but halting the decline in earnings suggests that the intervention makes a meaningful difference in people’s lives and is a key component of an effective community reentry strategy.
New Report: National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, No Safe Place: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities (2014).
New Article: Kenneth Stahl, Mobility and Community in Urban Policy, Urban Lawyer forthcoming 2014. Abstract below:
Urban policymakers have long debated whether to focus on people or on places. Should the government give poor people the means to leave deteriorated neighborhoods, or attempt to bolster such neighborhoods by reinforcing the social norms of the community? Should cities direct the police to crack down on low-level crime, or foster informal connections between the police and local institutions? Definitive answers to these questions have been elusive, but Robert Sampson’s new book GREAT AMERICAN CITY, perhaps the most ambitious work of urban sociology in a generation, provides some needed insight. Using a massive set of data, Sampson demonstrates that people are ineluctable products of their local environments, and he concludes that “place-based” policies that focus on building community are more likely to be successful than policies premised on the assumption of individual mobility and choice.
This essay revisits the “people v. places” debate in light of GREAT AMERICAN CITY. Though the book is sure to have a tremendous impact on that debate, Sampson devotes relatively little attention to the policy implications of his work, and thus I attempt to articulate and probe what I see as the book’s major policy implications. Principally, I interpret Sampson’s work as an implicit challenge to the predominant public choice model of local government, which conceptualizes urban residents as mobile individuals who make locational choices regardless of social context. Seen in this light, GREAT AMERICAN CITY raises important questions about the wisdom of policymakers’ longstanding reliance on the public choice model, but also leaves much to speculation. I further argue that Sampson’s findings – particularly regarding the difficulties that disadvantaged neighborhoods face in overcoming the stigma of crime and poverty – give reason to doubt the viability of some of the place-based policies he champions, which risk further stigmatizing such neighborhoods. Finally, I argue that in light of Sampson’s findings, efforts to aid disadvantaged communities might be most effective if they undertook to induce people to stay in such communities, a possibility that Sampson does not explore. I conclude that, despite some shortcomings, GREAT AMERICAN CITY is worthy of the highest praise, for it clarifies a wide range of questions for policymakers and opens broad vistas for future research.
New Article: Beth A. Colgan, Reviving the Excessive Fines Clause, 102 Calif. L. Rev. 277 (2014). Abstract below:
Millions of American adults and children struggle with debt stemming from economic sanctions issued by the criminal and juvenile courts. For those unable to pay, the consequences — including incarceration, exclusion from public benefits, and persistent poverty — can be draconian and perpetual. The Supreme Court has nevertheless concluded that many of these concerns lie outside the scope of the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. In interpreting the Clause, the Court relied upon a limited set of historical sources to restrict “fines” to sanctions that are punitive in nature and paid exclusively to the government, and to define “excessive” as referring to — either exclusively or primarily — the proportionality between the crime’s gravity and the amount of the fine.
This Article takes the Court at its word by assuming history is constitutionally relevant, but it challenges the Court’s limited use of history by providing the first detailed analysis of colonial and early American statutory and court records regarding fines. This robust historical analysis belies the Court’s use of history to announce historical “truths” to limit the scope of the Clause, by showing significant evidence that contradicts those limitations. The Article uses the historical record to identify questions regarding the Clause’s meaning, to assess the quality of the historical evidence suggesting an answer to such questions, and then to consider that evidence — according to its value — within a debate that incorporates contemporary understandings of just punishment. Under the resulting interpretation, the historical evidence articulated in this Article would support an understanding of a “fine” as a deprivation of anything of economic value in response to a public offense. “Excessive,” in turn, would be assessed through a broad understanding of proportionality that takes account of both offense and offender characteristics, as well as the effect of the fine on the individual. The proposed interpretation more faithfully reflects the history and its limitations, and broadens the Clause’s scope to provide greater individual protections.
Report: Marc Mauer & Virginia McCalmont, A Lifetime of Punishment: The Impact of the Felony Drug Ban on Welfare Benefits (Sentencing Project, Revised version 2014).
-Thanks to Juliet Brodie for the the heads up!