The Reintegrative State
77 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2018 Last revised: 9 Apr 2018
Date Written: July 1, 2017
Public concern has mounted about the essentially permanent stigma created by a criminal record. This is no small problem when the U.S. criminal history database currently stores seventy-seven million criminal records, and poor people and people of color constitute a severely disproportionate number of them. A criminal record makes it harder for people to find housing, get hired, attend college, and reunite with their families. Yet these very things have the greatest chance of helping people lead law-abiding lives and reducing recidivism. Scholars, legislators, and advocates have confronted this problem by arguing for reforms that give people with a conviction a second chance. States have responded. By one count, from 1994 to 2014, over forty state legislatures passed 155 statutes to mitigate the civil collateral consequences of a criminal record. Although states have recognized that they have an interest in reintegrating their citizens with convictions, most people with criminal records cannot return to full citizenship. The stigma of a conviction follows them for a lifetime, even for the most minor crimes.
This Article takes a systematic look at state reforms and integrates them into a more workable and effective whole, which I call the Reintegrative State. It makes four contributions to the growing literature on collateral consequences and criminal records. First, it argues that there is a state interest, if not obligation, to create an intentional and sequenced process to remove civil legal disabilities triggered by a conviction and to mitigate the permanency of public criminal records. Second, this Article argues that reintegrating people with convictions back into society is consistent with the state’s interest in punishment and public safety, especially in light of criminology research showing that a significant number of people stop committing crimes. Third, it critiques current state experiments with reentry initiatives as piecemeal, discretionary, inadministrable, and limited to a narrow segment of people with criminal records. Fourth and finally, this Article argues that the state can and should be the external force that destigmatizes a person with a conviction by reestablishing that person’s legal status. To do so effectively, the state must incorporate reintegration approaches throughout the criminal justice system — not just after sentencing or after release. The Reintegrative State envisions a holistic framework for helping those with criminal records re-assimilate into society.
Keywords: criminal, reentry, ex-offender, criminal justice, legislation
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