People with criminal records face a daunting array of challenges. Without a job, it is impossible to provide for oneself and one’s family. Without a driver’s license, it is harder to find or keep a job. Without affordable housing or food stamps or federal monies to participate in alcohol or drug treatment, it is harder to lead a stable, productive life. Without the right to vote, the option to adopt or raise foster children, or access to a college loan, it is harder to become a fully engaged citizen in the mainstream of society. Taken as a whole, the roadblocks examined in this study paint a grim picture of a nation that, through a patchwork of state and federal laws, is actively undermining efforts toward the reintegration of people with criminal records. In doing so, this long series of unreasonable roadblocks to basic survival and responsible citizenship compromises everyone’s safety and the safety and well-being of our communities.

Today, many states are hindering the process of reintegration, but some are beginning to reexamine barriers and eliminate the unreasonable ones in order to assist people’s successful resettlement. LAC looked at the same roadblocks in each state and assigned grades that assess and rank the degree to which the states impede or facilitate reentry. Using “roadblocks” as points – the fewer unreasonable roadblocks, the better the state’s laws and policies. Conversely, the higher the score, the worse the state’s performance. States could receive a maximum of 10 roadblocks for each of the seven categories for a maximum negative score of 70 roadblocks.

Illinois received the best grade, with a score of 6.5 roadblocks and Alaska received the worst, with 46. In our previous report card study, New York State was ranked number one because of its progressive state laws and policies. While New York has further improved its score by improving its criminal record sealing provisions, both Illinois and Maryland made the most significant progress in improving its laws and policies to support the reintegration of people with criminal histories between 2004 and 2009. See After Prison: 2009 Update for further explanation of state performance.

The states with the least number of roadblocks, or the best record of performance, are:

6.5 Illinois
7 New York
10.5 California
11 Hawaii
11 New Hampshire
19 Kentucky
20 Massachusetts
20 Vermont
20.5 Oregon

The states with the most number of roadblocks, or the worst record of performance, are:

46 Alaska
42 Georgia
42 South Carolina
42 Virginia
41 Pennsylvania
40.5 Delaware
40 Missouri
39 North Carolina
37 Alabama
37 Colorado
37 Mississippi

We found no correlation between a state’s total score and its geographic size, population, or number of people being released from prison. Many of the states with large numbers of people returning from prison have erected the fewest reentry barriers. Similarly, some states with small numbers of people returning from prison have erected the most barriers, such as Delaware. Of the six states with the largest number of people returning to the community, three (California, New York and Ohio) are among those with the fewest roadblocks. This suggests that these states have the most balanced and sensible policies. On the other hand, Texas, the state with the largest prison population and with the most people being released, is in the middle tier.

The reasons why states erected the roadblocks they have, or did not do so, is beyond the scope of this study. It is not at all clear that policies creating more roadblocks are being enacted to promote public safety or reduce recidivism, nor is there any evidence that the legal barriers would have this effect. While it is likely that lawmakers responded to different political considerations over time, including the war on drugs, financial incentives in federal law, or reacting to unusual but especially disturbing crimes, further research would be necessary to determine a more definitive explanation. What is clear is that the easy rhetoric of tough-on-crime politics can produce bad reentry policies that undermine public safety. Your browser may not support display of this image.

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