Remarks Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Launch of the “National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction”

Thank you, Rich, for your very kind remarks and for all your hard work on this issue.  I can honestly say that, if not for the dedicated attention to this issue from Vermonters, and from you in particular, we would not be standing here today.

Spurred on by Rich and others of you here today, I worked to pass into law a provision requiring the National Institute of Justice at the Department of Justice to study the collateral consequences of criminal convictions federally and in every state.  Once the law was passed in 2007, I pushed the Department to implement it.  It took some time, but with the support of Attorney General Holder and the hard work from the American Bar Association, that provision led to the important National Inventory you launch today.

Collateral sanctions can include restrictions on the ability of people to obtain certain types of licenses, work in certain industries, live in particular places, or go back to school.  Some of these sanctions can severely undermine the ability of those released from prison to become contributing members of society. 

As a former prosecutor, I believe there should be serious consequences for criminal activity.  I also know well that most of those convicted of crimes will return to our communities, and we should be doing everything we can to give them the skills and opportunities they need to reintegrate successfully, rather than returning to a life of crime.  That is the right thing to do, and it makes us all safer.  It is why I worked hard to pass the bipartisan Second Chance Act and continue to work with Senator Portman to reauthorize that important bill despite partisan resistance.

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.

I applaud Attorney General Holder for taking a strong interest in this issue.  Under his leadership the National Institute of Justice contracted with the American Bar Association to conduct this study, which resulted in the website being launched today.  Attorney General Holder highlighted this effort in a 2011 letter to every State Attorney General in which he wrote: “I encourage you to evaluate the collateral consequences in your state – and to consider whether those that impose burdens on individuals convicted of crimes without increasing public safety should be eliminated.”

The website you demonstrate today will take us still further toward helping our criminal justice systems work better, providing second chances to convicted individuals, and making our communities safer.  I am honored to join you in launching this important enterprise, and I thank you for all your hard work to improve criminal justice in the United States.


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