Editor’s note: Earlier this week Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that The Justice Department has christened the week of April 24-30 “National Reentry Week.” In the announcement, the Attorney General highlighted “the major steps [taken by the Obama administration] to make our criminal justice system more fair, more efficient, and more effective at reducing recidivism and helping formerly incarcerated individuals contribute to their communities.” The announcement prompted Art Beeler, a former warden in the federal correctional system and current member of the North Carolina Sentencing Commission, to consider the place that collateral consequences ought to have in our national dialog about reentry, recidivism, and public safety.
As a warden with the Federal Bureau of Prisons for more than twenty years, I know that successful evidence-based reentry programs are essential if we are going to reduce recidivism and increase public safety. So it was with great interest that I read U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s letter celebrating reentry week. I applaud the growing focus on reentry programming, which is essential, but I believe that we must acknowledge that we will never achieve the goal of reintegrating those convicted of crimes back into society without fully addressing the problem posed by collateral consequences. The federal government has already taken some steps a to reevaluate collateral consequences imposed by federal regulations, as the AG notes in her letter, but successful reentry efforts demand a full reevaluation of the intent and effect of collateral consequences at both the federal and state level.