People released from prison and the agencies that try to help them experience on a daily basis the barriers people with criminal records face when trying to reintegrate into society. But until this study, no one has had the complete story. The Legal Action Center's (LAC) study offers the most comprehensive picture to date of the legal roadblocks that confront people with criminal records in each state and the District of Columbia, and in the nation as a whole. This report is intended to be a reference for people with criminal records and their families, as well as for policy makers, elected officials and service providers.
Most legal barriers are created by state laws and practices, but some, significantly, are created by federal law. LAC studied how states apply five federal laws that restrict access to public assistance and food stamps (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (P.L. 104-193)); housing (Housing Opportunity Program Extension Act (P.L. 104-120) and Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (P.L. 105-276)); parenting (the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) (P.L. 105-89)); and mobility (Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriation Act (P.L. 102-388)). Since states have some flexibility in how they apply all of these federal laws, LAC examined the extent to which the various states avail themselves of the right to modify or override federal bans. However, since states cannot opt out of or change the Higher Education Act's (P.L. 105-244) ban on student loans and other assistance for people with drug convictions, LAC did not address this law on a state-by-state basis. It is important to note, however, that in 2005 Congress did amend the Higher Education Act to prohibit only those individuals who get convicted of a drug crime while receiving student aid from eligibility for federal educational assistance.
A note on methodology: LAC first researched relevant federal laws, including how states exercised the latitude allowed by most of the federal laws. Then, for each state, we analyzed state laws and regulations pertaining to civil legal barriers facing people with past criminal records. When statutes or regulations did not directly address a particular issue, we researched case law to determine if the courts provided further clarification. Finally, in the absence of statute, regulation, or case law, we spoke with officials from the relevant state agency to determine whether there was any applicable administrative policy. In all, we surveyed over 27 different kinds of laws and practices.
The original research conducted for this project occurred during the summer of 2001 through the fall of 2002. The updated research was conducted from 2007 to March 2009. As changes in state laws and regulations have come to our attention, we have made them. However, all changes may not be reflected here. To keep the information current, we encourage readers to inform us of any changes in state laws and regulations since the completion of the research. Since state laws and regulations constantly change, we advise those using the state-specific legal information to verify the accuracy of the information before relying on it as the basis of legal action.