Searchable on-line inventories of collateral consequences: How they operate and how they are maintained
There are currently only three on-line collections of collateral consequences, one national and two state-specific (Ohio and North Carolina). All three can be searched and sorted, and all three are regularly updated, making them indispensable practice tools for lawyers and essential guides for advocates and people with a criminal record. Each of these inventories is described below by the individuals who helped create them and now administer them. They explain how the inventories were created and how they are maintained, and how they operate to inform and assist people interested in understanding the legal and regulatory restrictions that affect people with a criminal record, as well as the lawyers and other advocates who assist them.
Note that the three inventories each deal differently with the problem of linking specific consequences with the crimes that trigger them. Ohio’s CIVICC inventory has the greatest granularity, allowing searches by specific provision of the state criminal code. North Carolina’s C-CAT inventory is somewhat less specific, linking specific collateral consequences with the “crime characteristics” that make the consequence applicable, including the type and degree of crime. The national inventory (NICCC) is less specific still, stating triggering offenses for each consequence in terms of broad categories of crimes (e.g., “any felony” or “crimes of moral turpitude”). This approach not only reflects the way most state laws imposing collateral consequences are drafted (Ohio consequences are a conspicuous exception), but it also has the advantage of allowing cross-jurisdictional comparisons and analysis.
The descriptions that follow confirm that a great deal of time and money, not to mention the commitment of dedicated and skilled professionals, goes into keeping the inventories current, given the passage of new laws every year. Thankfully, much legislating nowadays is in the direction of helping people avoid or mitigate these consequences, through judicial certificates and record-sealing mechanisms, rather than imposing further burdens and restrictions. (See the CCRC report on 2018 laws, and its recent interim survey of laws enacted already in 2019.)
NATIONAL INVENTORY OF COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES (NICCC)
by Josh Gaines (CSG)
The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction (NICCC) is a searchable online database that catalogs collateral consequences imposed by the statutes and regulations of all 50 states, the federal system, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia and U.S. Virgin Islands. The NICCC was originally commissioned by Congress in 2007, and compiled over a four-year period by the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section. In 2017 the Council of State Governments Justice Center took charge of the project’s maintenance under the National Reentry Resource Center, a project of the Bureau of Justice Assistance. In 2018, after updating content and reformatting the original structure to facilitate access and use, the Justice Center re-launched the NICCC.
Based on lessons learned from the project’s earliest years, the 2018 overhaul rebuilt the NICCC website by significantly revising the database’s structure and functionality. The new format improves the NICCC in two major ways: 1) It expands access to a broader audience of criminal justice stakeholders, particularly reentry service providers and justice-involved individuals, and 2) it helps promote the future viability and sustainability of the NICCC.
The first improvement was a response to the growing demand for collateral consequences information from stakeholders with less formal legal knowledge than the policy-makers and legal practitioners that the NICCC was originally designed to serve. The solution was to identify each consequence in the database through a set of searchable plain-language keywords that point to the various rights, benefits, opportunities, and fields of employment the consequence impacts. More intuitive search features were also added to make it easier for users to find relevant consequences regardless of their level of technical expertise. Additionally, the way that consequences are described in the database was significantly revised to support the new search features and make the information easier to understand.
The second improvement was a response to the realities of maintaining a database as enormous and complex as the NICCC, which catalogs over 40,000 provisions of law that are always changing from year to year. The challenge was to organize the data in a way that would create an efficient review and updating process, without significantly compromising the utility of the database or its content. The addition of keywords and other ease-of-use features went a long way toward making this possible.
But the biggest obstacle to efficient maintenance was determining how to maintain the statutory and regulatory text accompanying each entry that would need to be updated as the laws change. That challenge was resolved by eliminating statutory text and instead providing direct links to state or trusted sources of law. In addition to solving a major maintenance hurdle, this approach has the added benefit of presenting users with the most current version of the law rather than a potentially out-of-date statutory excerpt.
Over a year’s worth of work went into implementing these changes and initial reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. The NICCC is receiving increased attention from both policymakers and the reentry community, and improvements to accessibility have positioned the Justice Center to provide effective outreach and training about the NICCC and collateral consequences to a far broader audience. The improvements will also allow the NICCC, going forward, to remain as current as states’ legislative schedules permit.
Work on the NICCC, and the engagement surrounding it, has demonstrated the continued need for reliable, current, and accessible information about collateral consequences. The number of collateral consequences, and of people subject to them, continues to grow even as states take steps to mitigate the negative effects of a criminal record. Inventories like the NICCC shine a spotlight on these barriers, increasing their profile in policy discussions, and providing various users with critical information that was largely unavailable before. The continued maintenance and refinement of the NICCC aims to build on these achievements with aid and input from stakeholders across the criminal justice community.
NORTH CAROLINA’s C-CAT
by John Rubin (UNC-SOG)
In 2012, the Indigent Defense Education Program at the School of Government, The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, launched the Collateral Consequences Assessment Tool, which we call C-CAT for short. C-CAT is a searchable database, accessible online at no charge, of formal collateral consequences imposed or authorized by North Carolina law. Each entry includes a description of a specific consequence, such as revocation or suspension of a job license, along with the characteristics of the crimes that trigger the consequence, whether the consequence is mandatory or discretionary, and the duration of the consequence, among other information. Initially, we thought the tool would be of greatest use prospectively, helping criminal defense attorneys, judges, prosecutors, and others in the criminal justice system understand the potential repercussions of criminal convictions of different offenses. We learned that many others use the tool, including professionals assisting with reentry of people who already have a criminal conviction. The tool also has helped policy makers understand the magnitude of the barriers that collateral consequences pose.
An important takeaway for a resource like C-CAT is that it requires ongoing work and funding. We developed C-CAT with financial support from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation for legal research and technical assistance. Individual donations have so far enabled us to maintain the database and employ a research attorney to keep the law up to date. Based on feedback from reentry professionals and other users who are not lawyers, we also believe it would be worthwhile to develop a more user-friendly “C-CAT 2.0.”
The strength of C-CAT is that it accurately and thoroughly untangles the extensive, complicated, and sometimes bewildering tangle of laws that impose collateral consequences. To develop, maintain, and improve a tool such as C-CAT, ongoing funding is essential. Fortunately, the Indigent Defense Education Program at the School of Government is currently able to handle the load. Given the importance of understanding the impact of collateral consequences for justice-involved individuals, we continue to believe the end-product is worth the effort.
by Pamela Thurston (OJPC)
The Ohio CIVICC database is an ongoing project of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC, which provides database content) in partnership with the Ohio Public Defender’s office (OPD, supplying the technical infrastructure). The work began in March 2010, and the experimental CIVICC website first went online about a year later. Currently CIVICC contains 1092 “civil impacts” of conviction, of which 684 have been newly enacted and/or amended since March 2011.
CIVICC is an online public resource, anonymous and free of charge. Its “relational database” structure enables users to see which collateral consequences are linked to which specific offenses under Ohio law. This approach has been both necessary and possible in Ohio, in part because consequences that affect wide swaths of business activity and employment are triggered by specific offenses listed in the relevant statutes (in some cases more than 100 offenses per consequence). CIVICC’s two-way search capability adds complexity to the database design and the labor of building it, but the feature is also much in demand. Currently, more than half of all searches on CIVICC begin with an Offense search. For each offense that can be either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the facts, CIVICC displays two lists of related consequences: one set likely to apply after a misdemeanor conviction for the offense, and the much longer list of impacts that may follow a felony conviction for the same offense.
For each civil impact in the database, CIVICC supplies a context and summary name, a note about its duration, whether it is mandatory or discretionary, and a link to the official text of the operative statute or rule. A detail page for each impact also provides a searchable narrative description, a list of triggering offenses or offense types, and the type of case outcome that will cause it to apply. Users need to know that many collateral consequences in Ohio can be triggered by events well short of a conviction: some by a conviction that has been officially “sealed” or “expunged,” some by successful completion of a diversion program, and some by mere arrest or indictment.
CIVICC was originally intended to be (1) a criminal defense tool, (2) a reentry resource, and (3) an instrument for analyzing and shaping public policy. Experience has shown that it is in fact used for all these purposes. System reports show that online queries come from community organizations, employers, courts, government agencies, public library users, public defenders, treatment providers, law firms and academic institutions, both within and outside Ohio. OJPC’s own use of CIVICC has included helping individuals with criminal record to obtain record sealing, expungement and/or certificates of relief from Ohio courts; helping community colleges align their course offerings and career guidance with the needs of individual students; helping employers and workforce agencies avoid the twin hazards of over- and under-inclusion; and supporting constructive policy change through public reporting, amicus briefs and legislative testimony.
Capacity limits, both financial and human, present the greatest challenges to CIVICC’s ideal completion and vitality. OPD consistently devotes tremendous electronic resources to hosting CIVICC and keeping it sound; but ever-tighter budget restrictions limit its capacity to make technical improvements in logic and interface. For OJPC, project grants funded CIVICC’s initial design and construction but could not sustain it as a public utility. Current funding for database content comes from a publicly-bid contract with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections – a sensible approach because that agency leads the statewide Ex-offender Reentry Coalition, whose public members are among CIVICC’s most constant users. The state contract funds about 1100 hours of work on CIVICC per year. In a state with a less active legislature and a less complex agency infrastructure, 1100 hours of qualified attorney time might well keep CIVICC accurate and up to date. Ohio, however, proliferates new and amended laws and rules at a dizzying pace. CIVICC presently contains 1149 criminal offenses and 1092 civil impacts, embodied today in 43,677 database records. With this many records and the rapid pace of legislative and regulatory change, 1100 attorney-hours are not enough to complete the database expansion still needed and also ensure the timely updating of its existing content.
This tension could evaporate if the Ohio legislature and regulatory agencies were to heed the voices calling for a reduction in collateral consequences in lieu of their continual expansion. I don’t anticipate that happening soon, but several legislative changes in recent years have diminished CIVICC’s website traffic by reducing the number of people who need to use it – a positive sign. Further changes in law might address concerns about the proliferation of “informal” collateral consequences. New laws providing for automatic expungement of many convictions after a specified number of years – a change consistent with research findings – would greatly restrict the opportunities for excluding workers based on a criminal record, whether formally or informally. Until such changes occur, however, I believe CIVICC will be a needed resource in Ohio.
 A recent example is the report Wasted Assets: the cost of excluding Ohioans with a record from work,” by Michael Shields of Policy Matters Ohio and Pamela Thurston of Ohio Justice and Policy Center, http://bit.ly/WastedAssets.
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