This is the title of an important symposium piece by Eisha Jain published by the Stanford Law Review, in which she urges that “racial reckoning in policing” include consideration of the negative credentialing effect of arrest records. Using the sociological framework of “marking,” Jain shows how unjustified arrests “both magnify and conceal race-based discrimination.” She argues that “Reckoning with race in the criminal justice system requires recognizing that the problem is not just the police: It is with a legal regime that entrenches racial subordination through criminal records.”
The good news is that many of the criminal record reforms of the last several years provide for automatic or expedited expungement or sealing of non-conviction records. (See our 50-state chart on “Process for expunging or sealing non-convictions” and our Model Law on Non-Conviction Records recommending automatic expungement.) But the bad news is that even the laws streamlining the sealing of non-conviction records in two dozen states frequently fail to extend to records of uncharged arrests, which can linger in police files and repositories long after court records have been sealed. In the hands of police agencies, they may lead to further policing abuses. Disseminated through background checks and the internet they limit employment, housing, and other opportunities. When considering how to neutralize the effect of non-conviction records, jurisdictions must concern themselves with this neglected source of racial inequity.
Here is the abstract of Professor Jain’s article:
This Essay argues that racial reckoning in policing should include a racial reckoning in the use of criminal records. Arrests alone—regardless of whether they result in convictions—create criminal records. Yet because the literature on criminal records most often focuses on prisoner reentry and on the consequences of criminal conviction, it is easy to overlook the connections between policing decisions and collateral consequences. This Essay employs the sociological framework of marking to show how criminal records entrench racial inequality stemming from policing. The marking framework recognizes that the government creates a negative credential every time it creates a record of arrest as well as conviction. Such records, in turn, trigger cascading consequences for employment, housing, immigration, and a host of other areas. The credentialing process matters because it enables and conceals race-based discrimination, and because a focus on the formal sentence often renders this discrimination invisible. This Essay considers how adopting a credentialing framework offers a way to surface, and ultimately to address, how race-based policing leaves lasting marks on over-policed communities.
See the full essay here.
On Monday, the CCRC posted the abstract of an extensive new law review article, Prosecuting Collateral Consequences, 104 Georgetown L. J. 1197 (2016). The article, by a brand new University of North Carolina Law Professor, Elisha Jain, argues that new awareness of the collateral consequences of criminal conviction has extended the largely unreviewable discretion of public prosecutors into civil public policy decisions like deportation and licensing.
This should not be news to anyone who has followed the developing scholarship in the field, but it is a point worth making at some length. The article makes unmistakable a point that is only now emerging among many participants in the criminal justice system: that because the collateral consequences of conviction are often, particularly as to minor crimes, more important than the direct consequences of conviction, sophisticated defense lawyers, prosecutors, and judges will make negotiating about collateral consequences a central feature of the plea bargaining process.
A new article published in the Georgetown Law Journal argues that collateral consequences are becoming a valuable tool for prosecutors in the plea bargaining process, enabling them to leverage their existing power to control the outcome of criminal cases. In Prosecuting Collateral Consequences, Eisha Jain of the University of North Carolina law faculty attributes this trend to a new awareness of collateral consequences made possible by initiatives like the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction, which show that even minor convictions can trigger serious civil penalties. She explains the “structural incentives” that offer prosecutors an opportunity to avoid or trigger important civil penalties, or to bargain for enhanced criminal penalties in exchange for circumventing a particularly unwelcome collateral consequence (like deportation or eviction).
Jain concludes that, for some prosecutors, “enforcing collateral consequences serves as an administratively efficient substitute for a criminal conviction” and a way to “promote their own policy preferences.” In this fashion, prosecutors’ largely unreviewable discretion is extended to “an array of legal consequences, regulatory policies, and public interests.”
Eisha Jain, a fellow at Georgetown Law Center, has posted on SSRN an important and (to us) alarming article about the extent to which mere arrests are beginning to play the same kind of screening role outside the criminal justice system as convictions. In “Arrests as Regulation,” to be published in the Stanford Law Review in the spring, Jain argues that arrests are increasingly being used systematically as a sorting and screening tool by noncriminal actors (including immigration authorities, landlords, employers, schools and child welfare agencies), not because they are the best tool but because they are easy and inexpensive to access.