Monday, October 19, 2015

judge tries to mitigate collateral consequences

A New York Times editorial tells the story of a courageous judge who is trying to make up for the failings of the justice system.
In May, a federal judge in Brooklyn took the extraordinary step of expunging the conviction of a woman he had sentenced to five years of probation more than a decade earlier for her involvement in an insurance fraud scheme that netted her $2,500. 
Calling her “a minor participant in a nonviolent crime,” a Federal District Court judge, John Gleeson, decried the “dramatic adverse impact” the woman’s conviction has had on her ability to get a job to support her four children. “There is no justification for continuing to impose this disability on her,” Judge Gleeson wrote. “I sentenced her to five years of probation supervision, not to a lifetime of unemployment.” [My emphasis.]
The move was significant because there is no federal law that allows for expungement — the permanent sealing of a criminal record to the general public. In fact it appears to be the first time that a federal judge has expunged a conviction for this reason. It should not be the last.
Judges must certainly get wind of what happens after being convicted of crimes in their courts. This one did. Surely they can recognize that their pronouncements cause pain far out of proportion to the crimes.

The editorial tells the awful truth:
Some 70 million to 100 million people in the United States — more than a quarter of all adults — have a criminal record, and as a result they are subject to tens of thousands of federal and state laws and rules that restrict or prohibit their access to the most basic rights and privileges — from voting, employment and housing to business licensing and parental rights.
 A quarter of the U.S. population is prohibited from access to the most basic rights and privileges. 

The editorial makes clear that expungement won't solve the whole problem. For too many, sex offenders in particular, their records have been loosed on the Internet, with no way to control what happens to the information.

This judge may not be the only brave judge out there but we need more who are willing to do the right thing even when their positions are on the line.

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