These external resources are a collection of sites consulted over the course of this project. Though we do not endorse all opinions or information contained herein, taken together these sites, articles and publications provide a great place to learn about the American Criminal Justice system and how it applies to those with a criminal record.
NELP is a national research authority and advocacy organization dedicated to improving employment opportunities, building a stronger safety net, and enforcing fair labor standards on behalf of the working poor and the unemployed. The organization has a number of campaigns around fair hiring for people. One of the organization's projects is “Ensuring People with Convictions Have a Fair Chance to Work”
To learn more about collateral consequences of conviction, visit the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction; an interactive database of nearly 50,000 federal and state statutes and regulations that impose penalties, disabilities or disadvantages on convicted felons, in addition to any sentence imposed by the court. Users can search by keyword, triggering offense or type of consequence.
The Reentry Services Directory was developed by the National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC) to help individuals who have been incarcerated and their families find local reentry services. On this site you will find compiled a list of organizations and service providers who can address different reentry needs, including housing, employment, and family reunification. To view available resources in your area, click here and select your state.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is considered to be one of the most profound critical thinkers on issues of race, racism, and its intersection with criminal justice.
Mass Incarceration, Visualized (video)
The Sentencing Project is a national leader in research and publication on sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration.
The U.S. Department of Education
The U.S. Department of Education published the Beyond the Box Resource Guide to help colleges and universities remove potential barriers to pursuing higher education faced by the estimated 70 million citizens with criminal records, including considering the chilling effect of inquiring early in the application process whether prospective students have ever been arrested. The guide also encourages alternatives to inquiring about criminal histories during college admissions and provides recommendations to support a holistic review of applicants.
Alexander, M. (2012). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. [Kindle version]. Retrieved from
This book claims that the American prison system is our new form of social control, replacing slavery and the old Jim Crow laws. The author methodically describes how our current system of mass incarceration is a well-disguised system designed to maintain a racialized caste system in the U.S. with African Americans and Latinos being disproportionately incarcerated and kept in a permanent second-class status. The New Jim Crow argues that those bearing the label of felon are legally discriminated against based on their criminal status, rather than race; locked in a world of legalized discrimination and permanent social exclusion. On the surface, Michelle Alexander appears to be one of the many critics of the criminal justice system, but she further asserts that the crackdown was less a response to the actual increase in drug crimes than a deliberate effort through the implementation of legislation covertly designed to push back the gains of the civil rights movement. While I agree that the premise of the drug war and its subsequent tough on crime laws being ‘colorblind’, the enforcement of drug laws have not been applied equally to all groups with police disproportionately targeting impoverished communities of color. This book is particularly important to my case study because it deals with the social consequences that accompany the label of felon; namely the lifelong stigmatization that follows a former offender. While this book did not form the basis of my case study, the text offers support for my claim that there are a host of federal civil disabilities that result from a federal felony conviction. The author raises many of the thousands of general restrictions for those convicted of a felony and provides a platform for me to assert that many of the restrictions/ penalties imposed are specifically for drug related offenses.
Goffman, E. (2009). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. [Kindle version]. Retrieved from (Original work published in 1963)
how people cope with their stigma and discreditable identities. looks at the various strategies that stigmatized individuals employ to deal with the rejection of others and the complex and often competing images of themselves that they project to others. This book challenged my thinking and made me re-examine my notions about stigma and identity. Moreover, it reminded me that in spite of lack of gender equality, the theories and concepts herein are remain applicable across gender, class, race, ethnicity, and ability.
Fanon, F. (2008). Black skins, White masks. (C. L. Markmann, Trans.). New York: Grove Press. (Original work published in 1952).
In this book written over sixty years ago, Fanon explores the psychological causes and effects of colonialism and racism on both the colonizer and the colonized. He explores the ways in which black men in the Antilles were indoctrinated by their colonizers to think that there black identity was primitive and backward, forcing them to revoke their own languages in order to assimilate by taking on the dominate colonized language. Fanon concludes that the colonized black man in his attempts to emulate the colonizer developed identity crises and psychological inferiority complexes. This book appears to be an angry and unapologetic argument against white notions of superiority through the a study of the psychological damage resulting from the oppressive control and influence of whites over blacks, denying ones own humanity, and other connected experiences, which I found to be fascinating. Although this book utilizes case studies to document the plight of black people, it is by no means an easy read, due to the author’s predisposition for psychoanalytic discourse, its complex vernacular and perhaps problems in translation from French to English. Excerpts from this text regarding oppression will frame my discussion of how complex defensive behaviors tend to affect one’s level of functioning. Additionally, this book is a reminder to not get caught up in the dominant society's concept of who and what defines your humanity.
Brown, L. (1986). Confronting internalized oppression in sex therapy with lesbians. Journal of Homosexuality, 12(3-4), 99–107.
This article focuses on the treatment of sexual dysfunction with lesbian clients; explaining the roots of this dysfunction and finally suggests a theoretical framework for clinical intervention. The author highlights the impact of internalizing into ones core identity and self-concept all or part of the ideology of inferiority held by the culture at large; in this case misogyny and cultural homophobia which she believes is the core of the lesbian self-concept, sexual dysfunction, and psychological distress. Finally, the author suggests ways of identifying and working directly with the many manifestations of subtle and ingrained negative and degrading cultural stereotypes. While the author proposes to offer a theoretical framework for working with lesbians, what followed seemed more like competencies for working with this population rather than how a clinician could describe, relate, explain, predict, and/or control said phenomena against a particular theory. However, I agree with the author that manifestations of internalized oppression have become much harder to detect when seeking to unravel the underlying beliefs a person for a marginalized group holds regarding what is deemed natural/normal/acceptable versus that of the dominant culture. This article is useful for examining the internalized oppression of marginalized groups. The negative stereotypes and expectations of the dominant culture can similarly influence members of oppressed groups’ core self-concept, ultimately affecting their ability to cope in a way that do not produce psychological distress to themselves or others. It is particularly important in my practice to utilize continued self-reflection and not project my own personal frustrations, fears, and personal biases onto others.
Nussbaum, M. C. (2009). Hiding from humanity: Disgust, shame, and the law. Princeton University Press.
In this book, the author explores how shame and disgust are used in the law and argues against the use of shame punishments because they contribute to an offenders’ loss of dignity. She discusses the ways in which shame and disgust are used as mechanisms for social control that create social hierarchies that exclude and stigmatize. Finally she argues that disgust should never be the basis for criminalizing an act, nor should it play a role in criminal law as it currently does. The author draws on a wide variety of sources from psychoanalytic theory and classical philosophy, law and political philosophy, which can be rather dense at times. Nussbaum offers a convincing argument and challenges the reader to question the labeling of beliefs, practices and characteristics as disgusting and rail against the systematic mistreatment of people who embody what others have deemed as undesirable beliefs, practices or characteristics. I agree with Nussbaum’s argument that the politics of disgust must be replaced with an inclusive "politics of humanity". Many of the authors’ points corroborate the claims of the argument in my case study- that practices of shaming aim to oppress socially vulnerable groups, produce humiliation, and promote exclusion. Although I will not rely heavily on this article, this source will provide supporting evidence to my argument. As clinicians we should practice critical self-reflection of our assumptions, values, and beliefs in order to be aware of behavior that could reproduce stigmatization.
Sayer, A. (2005). “Moral and Immoral Sentiments and Class.” The moral significance of class. Cambridge University Press, p. 139-168.
Sayer examines the subjective experience of class inequalities along side virtues and moral sentiments he believes they could not be understood separately without being one-sided. It is argued that moral and evaluative distinctions to create boundaries and to discriminate between people are responses to class and a normal part of the lived experience. The focus of the thesis is not entirely based on class and but gender as well. Finally, he outlines a selection moral sentiments and emotions for understanding the experience of class, looking particularly at shame and othering. Much of this chapter is informed by Adam Smiths theory of moral sentiments and it was clear the author found ‘shame’ the most fruitful concept for understanding inequalities given that it took up much of the chapter. Sayer suggests that sentiments such as the shame construct that occurs with and between persons may help explain the universal phenomenon of ‘othering’ (labeling, segregation and stigmatization of those perceived as deviants). Class is not merely a matter of income, education level, or manners but has to do with the constant conflict between those who have power and those who don't; it affects not only our material wealth but our access to things, relationships, including the esteem or respect of others and hence our sense of self-worth. It shapes the kind of people we become and our chances of living a fulfilling life. As a clinician I this author remind me to remain vigilant to not make choices that reduce the dignity and social participation of others. Excerpts from this chapter will be used to support my argument that in order to avoid stigma and judgments of worth, some choose to conceal their shame.
Mailbom, H.L. (2010). The descent of shame. Philosphy and phenomenological research, LXXX (3), 566-594.
Shame is defined as a negative feeling a person experiences when they fail to live up to particular standards held by the public, or an internalized “public.” A theory of a “proto-shame,” a common ancestor to the shame humans experience and the submissive behavior in social animals, explains why shame affects the sense of self as a whole, depends on a particular audience, and is affected by rank. The author concludes that shame is a group-based, or heteronomous, human emotion shaped, in part, by proto-shame’s traits of resource conservation and conflict resolution based on rank. With a thorough literature review, the author creates a sufficient non-evolutionary context for an evolutionary explanation of shame, and attempts to acknowledge the issues her arguments do not sufficiently explain, such as shame that results from group approval. When discussing the role rank plays in the experience of shame, the author relies heavily on evolutionary explanations, largely ignoring the plethora of theories explaining the way modern humans have shaped the ability of dominant groups to control social norms. The concept of shame as a social function, and the role of dominance in shame, could be very useful in the study of subordinate groups within prison, as well as prisoners as a subordinate group in relation to non-prisoners. When working with clients, social work clinicians should strive to help clients separate feelings of shame from other emotions, work through it and move on, so that they can live life more fully. As a clinician I must avoid getting stuck in the shame freeze with clients or following them down the endless shame vortex. It is particularly important in my practice to help clients move their energy powerfully outward rather than turning it against themselves.
Harvey, David. (2007). A brief history of neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.
The origins and consequences of neoliberal ideology are discussed as well as a differentiation of the theory of neoliberalism versus its practice are discussed and it is argued that neoliberalism play two roles, to restore high rates of profitability for capitalism or to restore the power of the capitalist ruling class. Neoliberalism is defined as a system of “accumulation by dispossession,” through the “privatization and commodification” of public goods; “financialization,” in which any kind of good (or bad) can be turned into an instrument of economic speculation; the “management and manipulation of crises”; and “state redistribution,” in which the state becomes an agent of the upward redistribution of wealth (159-164). Finally, the author contends that the fundamental feature of neoliberalism the disciplining and disempowerment of the working class. For those unfamiliar with the term neoliberalism, this book provides an excellent introduction to the concept; although it is not so brief as the title suggests. I agree with Harvey’s argument as to what this new form of political economy sought to accomplish which is the reconstitution of upper class power by the global economic elite. The author proposes that neoliberalism has not so much been about increasing wealth, but about redistributing it as evidenced by the dramatic increase in the wealth of the economic elite, massive increase in CEO salaries, accompanied by a decline in wages for the poorer sectors of the population; which reinforces the class division. When working with clients, social work clinicians should keep in mind how the widespread use of neoliberal ideology impacts programs and services (or the lack thereof). This text is important to my case study as it provides the basis from which I will explore how the moral philosophy of neoliberalism influences (shapes/hinders) ones autonomy and ability to rebuild a meaningful life.
Looking into why approximately 97% of federal drug offenders plead guilty, this report alleges that federal prosecutors routinely coerce drug defendants to forego a trial by pleading guilty or face an excessive prison sentence. The author explores the tactics U.S. prosecutors use such as charging or threatening to charge defendants with offenses that carry harsh mandatory sentences and by seeking additional mandatory increases known as sentencing enhancements -- in order obtain guilty pleas. Using interviews with defense attorneys, federal prosecutors, and judges, as well as reviewing cases, examples are provided to illustrate how prosecutors prey on drug offenders, regardless of the offenders role in the crime, some of whom are first time offenders with little or no relationship to gangs or drug dealers besides being a girlfriend or family member or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Hobson’s choice offered by prosecutors is no choice at all; a defendant’s punishment should fit the crime and not be based on his willingness to accept a plea deal to avoid a harsh prison sentence. The Sixth Amendment is supposed to guarantee ones right to trial, yet trials only account for less than five percent of all convictions. In spite of these immoral and unjust practices, they are not deemed a violation of ones Constitutional rights nor are they resulting ‘trial penalties’ deemed a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The powerful case studies littered throughout this report reminds the clinician reader that tough on crime policies resulting in mass incarceration due to the war on drugs not only ruins lives but also communities, rendering low-income black and brown people outcasts and untouchables. Yet, this is not just a problem for the poor people of color or substance abusers taking a plea deal verses draconian punishment is a reality for all persons charged with a drug related felony.
Wacquant, L. (2009). Punishing the poor: The neoliberal government of social insecurity. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Examining the relationship between punishment and poverty under neoliberalism, it is argued that prisons are the neoliberal answer to social insecurity and increased inequality as evidenced by the cutbacks in social welfare programs through the implementation of welfare reform, with the diversion of funds to penal budgets. The rise in prison populations is shown to not be as a response to increasing crime but in proportion to the dismantling of welfare and the deindustrialization of the urban core. Incarceration serves the function of removing undesirables from view with mandatory minimum prison sentences while extending state surveillance and control beyond the prison itself through parole, supervised release, probation and welfare. One can hardly argue with the logic that the decrease in the number of people receiving assistance and the reduction of social security expenditures led to an increase in the number of crimes committed by those living in marginal neighborhoods. The text raises the notion that the prison is not just a technical implement for law enforcement but the basis of a political institution designed to curb the urban disorders created by economic deregulation. And it reveals that neoliberalism, with the privatization of formerly public goods and services and the shift from the welfare state to an unprecedented carceral state focused on imprisonment-- is extremely damaging to the fundamental ideals of democratic citizenship. This book challenged my thinking and made me re-examine my notions about power and resistance for historically stigmatized, exploited, and excluded groups. Although I will not rely heavily on this text, this source will provide supporting evidence of the damages of neo-liberalism (public abdicating power to corporations) and increased inequality between the richest and the poorest Americans.
Allard, P. (2002). Life Sentences: Denying Welfare Benefits To Women Convicted of Drug Offenses. The Sentencing Project.
This report focuses on the effects of the lifetime welfare ban permanently denies welfare benefits such as food stamps and case assistance to women with drug related convictions. The author notes that there are 42 states enforcing the welfare ban in in part or in full, which affects over ninety thousand women and, in turn, their children. The lifetime welfare ban increases the challenge of successful reentry after incarceration, as it takes away transitional income, which is helpful in meeting basic needs and limits formerly incarcerated women’s access to programs and services, such as drug treatment and job training. Finally, the authors recommend repealing of the lifetime welfare ban. Restrictions such as these severely impact individuals from accessing necessary public services and disproportionately affect women of color who make up over fifty percent of those convicted of drug offenses. Interestingly, the ban only refers to drug convictions; convicted murderers, rapists, burglars, child molesters and other criminals are still eligible for entitlements without conditions. These additional consequences can be seen as intentional way of punishing former offenders by limiting or denying them basic rights and privileges to access to services and programs that would aid them in their efforts to successfully reintegrate. The denial of fundamental rights to all citizens including former offenders threatens to us all with the prospect of undermining basic democracy. As a social work clinician, I am reminded that these forms of exclusion created around the experience of enduring punishment can negatively affect ones sense of self and autonomy. It is a reminder of professions aim of social justice; to dismantle the barriers to these essential rights, opportunities, and resources by advocating for structural change. On a personal level, it is a reminder that I should continually endeavor to engage in work that sheds light and addresses social marginalization.
Harris, P.M. & Keller, K.S. (2005). Ex-Offenders Need Not Apply. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 21(1), 6-30.
Exploring the utilization of laws designed to limit former offenders’ access to employment, this article argues that criminal history alone cannot predict the risk of workplace crime by formerly incarcerated people, and that background checks do not reliably yield accurate information about an applicant’s criminal history. At the heart of the discussion are the competing interests of reintegration of former offenders and the prevention of workplace victimization; noting that little research has been conducted to determine whether workplace crime is fact disproportionately committed by formerly incarcerated people. Finally, various justifications for scaling back legal barriers to former offenders seeking employment are provided and suggestions for employment screening measures that balance the goals of workplace risk reduction with offenders’ need for reintegration are recommended. I cannot fathom the logic behind shutting people out of the job market with blanket hiring practices accompanied by an expectation that former offenders go forth and sin no more by reintegrating and becoming contributing, tax paying members of society. These policies although legal, are patently unfair, biased, and discriminatory and often there is no relationship between the conviction and the nature of the job and have no bearing on the persons ability to perform the job. While I understand the alleged premise behind these polices are to determine safety and security, compromising public safety by denying individual an opportunity of gainful employment thereby increasing the chances that a person will recidivate. Stereotypes, judgments, fear, and biases against those with criminal records should not be a part of the decision making for employers. As an employer, I am vigilant that our agencies hiring and employment practices are fair to all applicants and are also in compliance with EEOC’s Title VII’s basic protections. It is the social justice and advocacy role that sets social workers apart from other disciplines; as such we should endeavor to bring issues of social justice to the awareness of our colleagues as part of our advocacy work.
Carey, C. (2004). No second chance: People with criminal records denied access to public housing. New York: Human Rights Watch.
Examines barriers to affordable housing are as a result of “one strike” policies in public housing for those with criminal records. These automatic exclusionary housing policies are arbitrary; needlessly overbroad, and can exclude certain offenders (namely those with drug related crimes) for life regardless of evidence of their rehabilitation. The authors argue that the demand for public housing exceeds the supply, thus federal government has “adopted a method of ‘triage’ to whittle down the numbers of qualified applicants” instead of “dramatically increasing the availability of affordable housing.” Local public housing authorities have broad discretion when it comes to denying housing eligibility based on perception of risk. Like with exclusionary hiring practices, many of these offenses have no bearing on public safety, which is said to be the goal of strict admission policies. Housing instability post incarceration puts former offenders at risk of continued criminal justice involvement and homelessness. Former offenders have multiple and complex needs and their problems are often highly complicated and inter-related. This means that there is no on size fits all approach to working with this former offenders, social work clinicians must demonstrate a wide range of different approaches. The challenge for clinical social workers and those in direct practice is to find ways to work for social justice while respecting the individual needs of clients.
Department of Education. (n.d.). 1998 Amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965 P.L. 105-244. Retrieved from
This reauthorization bill added a provision to the Higher Education Act of 1965, to suspend eligibility for federal student assistance (grants, loans, or work assistance under Title IV of the HEA) for any student who is convicted of a state or federal offense for the sale or possession of a controlled substance. These provisions only applies to students who were convicted for the sale or possession of a controlled substance that occurred while the student was enrolled in postsecondary education and receiving federal student aid. How recent the conviction was, the number of prior convictions, and whether the conviction was for selling or possessing a controlled substance determine the period of ineligibility. A student is considered indefinitely ineligible after the third conviction for possession and after the second conviction for selling a controlled substance. A student may reestablish eligibility by participating in an eligible rehabilitation program. Interestingly, this amendment was passed without a debate or a single recorded vote and only refers to drug convictions; convicted murderers, rapists, burglars, child molesters and other criminals are still eligible for financial aid without conditions. Due to the discriminatory enforcement of drug laws, the Aid Elimination Penalty disproportionately keeps students of color out of school at a much higher rate than the general public, and especially hurts low and middle-income students, as students from wealthy families often attend college without the use of federal financial aid. As social work clinicians we should strive to be understanding and compassionate as clients attempt to deal with the consequences of their actions, even when the consequences may be unjust. Our role in circumstances such as these is help clients identify high-risk behaviors, adopt healthier lifestyles, and let go of guilt producing thoughts and to provide emotional support.