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Convictions block too many from voting and jobs, Civil Rights Commission says

Felony convictions can haunt people long after they've served their time, limiting access to everything from voting rights to housing. A report out Wednesday from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission says these "collateral consequences" have too much impact on convicts after they have reentered society.

More than 620,000 are released from prisons each year and are then subject to a variety of "invisible punishments" limiting their opportunities and rights. Many of those, the commission concluded, have nothing to do with the crimes committed.

"When the collateral consequences are unrelated in this way, their imposition generally negatively affects public safety and the public good," Commission Chair Catherine Lhamon wrote in a letter to President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The commission's majority offered eight recommendations, including:

  • Public safety should be the focus of any collateral consequences.
  • Laws should be reviewed to ensure they effectively reduce recidivism and protect the community.
  • Restrictions on food stamps should be eliminated and restrictions on public housing limited.
  • Nonviolent criminal records should eventually be sealed from public view.

The report cited the decision by Florida voters last year to restore voting rights to felons as a prime example of countermanding such collateral consequences. But the report was finalized before the Republican-run state Legislature passed a measure creating hurdles for felons registering including paying all restitution, court costs and fines. GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to soon sign the bill.

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