New Report Looks at Collateral Consequences of Laws in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia
Date:  11-19-2014

Impact of arrests and convictions on housing, employment, food stamps and voting are some of the topics covered
Some of the findings from The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs report “The Collateral Consequences of Arrests and Convictions under D.C., Maryland, and Virginia Law” include:

The problem of collateral consequences of arrest and conviction – penalties that are imposed not by penal laws or sentences but by ancillary rules, statutes, or practices that make it harder to get a job, housing, and other necessities – is significant and growing in DC, Maryland and Virginia.

  • In DC alone, some 60,000 residents have past conviction records. About 8,000 more people are released each year, and each year police make about 35,000 arrests.

  • The disproportionate impact on minorities makes this very clearly a civil rights problem. For example, although African-Americans make up less than 48% of the city’s population, over 92% of those sentenced by the DC Superior Court in 2012 were African-Americans, whose overall rate of incarceration in DC is some 19 times the rate of whites.

  • As to employment, the Council on Court Excellence estimated that nearly half of those in DC who have been incarcerated “may be jobless with little prospect of finding consistent work.” Strong evidence suggests that this inability to find work is directly related to past arrest or conviction history, and that it is a major contributing cause of recidivism.

  • Although there have clearly been improvements in licensing and employment law, DC, Maryland and Virginia law still leave licensing boards and employers significant discretion to deny employment because of past criminal history. A license, which is needed for many occupations, can be denied by a licensing authority in DC, for example, when it determines, in its discretion, that there is “a potential direct relationship” between the offense and the license. Limits on use of criminal history to deny a license or job in the area are not subject to effective judicial enforcement.

  • Arrest and conviction history have serious effects on the ability to find public or private housing. None of the three jurisdictions restricts private landlords from denying housing based on criminal history, and Maryland and Virginia specifically authorize it.

  • Although federal law requires public housing authorities and subsidized housing owners to have discretion to exclude applicants because of specified types of activity (primarily convictions for drug-related or violent crime), only DC has sought to limit that discretion. Even in DC, private owners of subsidized units have gone beyond their federally authorized discretion in denying housing.

  • DC has made need-based welfare and food stamp benefits fully available to otherwise qualified citizens with drug convictions, while Virginia and Maryland have not. The two states also restrict jury service by individuals with certain convictions, and Virginia still provides in its constitution for the permanent disenfranchisement of anyone convicted of a felony unless the Governor exercises discretion to restore an individual’s voting rights. All three jurisdictions restrict firearms possession.

    Read the complete report including finding and recommendations for eradicating collateral consequences in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia here.