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Christopher Uggen Dirty Bombs and Garbage Cases AS AM ERICA’ S CORRECTIONAL POPULATIONS HAVE ROCKETED UPWARD since the 1970s, researchers have quite properly focused attention on prisons and prisoners. Yet exam inations of the US punishm ent record m ust look beyond prison gates, as crim inal justice sanctions also trig­ ger a range of formal and inform al collateral consequences. For those so punished, em ploym ent restrictions and other collateral sanctions com plicate and confound efforts to assum e the rights and duties of citizenship. I here suggest two broad approaches for scaling back some of the deleterious effects of punishm ent w ithout compromising public safety. The first approach involves reducing the scope and num ber of collateral sanctions imposed automatically w ith a felony conviction. The second approach involves creating fewer records in the first place by redirect­ ing low-level offenses away from the criminal justice system. DEFUSING DIRTY BOMBS In com bining conventional explosives w ith a small am ount of radio­ active m aterial, so-called dirty bom bs can induce fear and panic, contam inate property, and require massive cleanup efforts (US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2007). The w ide-ranging collateral conse­ quences of criminal sanctions affect individuals and their families m uch as such bombs affect social groups. Just as dirty bombs, restrictions on em ploym ent, housing, educational benefits, governm ent assistance, family rights, and civic service rarely kill. Nevertheless, they make such social research Vol 74 : No 2 : Summer 2007 707 an awful mess for people w ith criminal records that they may similarly be characterized as “weapons of mass disruption.” Even after serving their tim e and com pleting all other obligations, the crim inal justice system ’s clients carry the stain of th eir conviction w henever they attem pt to apply for a job, secure an apartm ent, or enter a voting booth (Pager, 2003; W estern, 2006). Paradoxically, such disruptions m ake it all the more difficult for individuals to secure the sort of steady employ­ m ent and stable family life that reduces the likelihood of subsequent criminality (Laub and Sampson, 2003). For the past decade, researchers have been chasing down the far-flung consequences o f these sanctions for individuals and social groups, or the collateral dam age w rought by collateral sanctions (Mauer and Chesney-Lind, 2002). Activists have lobbied—in some cases quite successfully—to pare back the m ost onerous and least defensible am ong them , such as restrictions on the voting rights of those who have served th eir sentences (King, 2006). There is no evidence that restoration of voting rights would constitute a threat to public safety. If anything, voters appear less likely rather than m ore likely to commit subsequent offenses (Manza and Uggen, 2006). W hile such reform s have salutary effects, however, they neces­ sarily proceed in piecemeal fashion. W henever a state re-enfranchises a certain class of felons, for example, the beneficiaries of this policy change still rem ain subject to the same occupational licensing, hous­ ing, and other restrictions th at existed prior to the reform. To follow the dirty bom b analogy, efforts to com bat radiation sickness would have no effect on air or w ater contam ination or the safety of affected buildings. Of course, some collateral sanctions are no-brainers. If a schoolbus driver harm s a child, for example, it is only prudent to restrict the driver from occupations th at involve contact w ith children. If such sanctions were im posed on an individualized basis at sentenc­ ing, w ith domain-specific restrictions narrowly tailored to the person and the crime, the task of offender reintegration would be far simpler. Of course, such systemic reform s are unlikely, given an already over­ 708 social research burdened court system and the political and institutional barriers to change. Nevertheless, the tim e has come for a reasoned reassessment of the relative costs and benefits of sanctions that keep large classes of form er felons from, say, becoming bartenders or securing student financial aid. Expungement clinics and executive pardons offer one avenue for restoration of civil rights and privileges...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 707-711
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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