America's "War on Crime" and its Unintended Collateral Damage


For decades, the United States justice system has taken a tough-on-crime stance – so tough, that it has earned the title "War on Crime." There are winners and losers in every war, and while the intent was to make our nation safer, the War on Crime has left millions of Americans with collateral consequences of criminal convictions. We may have gone too far.

In a recent publication by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), its members suggested a reversal of course; one that could restore the justice system to what it was intended to be.

Collateral consequences are imposed by the legislature and apply to individuals convicted of certain criminal offenses. This can include voting restrictions and restrictions on government aid programs. What the NACDL recommends is doing away with sweeping collateral consequences and only permitting them when the specific offense warrants it.

The NACDL also stresses the need for restoring rights and privileges to criminal offenders once they are done serving out their sentence. This gives offenders the chance to turn their lives around and earn back their privileges by displaying good character.

The United States incarcerates more of its citizens per capita than any other nation in the world. This not only costs our taxpayers about $60 billion, it perpetuates a vicious cycle. By focusing on offender punishment rather than rehabilitation, criminal offenders in the U.S. have a much higher rate of recidivism and ending up back in prison.

Many criminal sentences, particularly for drug offenses, are exceedingly disproportionate to the crime. In response, the current administration has pardoned a number of U.S. prison inmates and also significantly scaled back penalties for many offenses. The NACDL suggests that there is still more work to be done, namely, changing the way our nation does collateral consequences.

Every citizen is entitled to certain rights and privileges, both of which are severely limited upon a criminal conviction. By allowing criminal offenders the opportunity to earn back those rights and privileges, and incentivizing employers, landlords, etc. to give opportunities to offenders, our nation should see a drop in crime rates. For more information, read "Collateral Damage: America's Failure to Forgive or Forget in the War on Crime."