The ultimate goal of the criminal justice system, broadly defined, is social inclusion, sometimes called reintegration. Following a crime, and the outcomes of any court process associated with that event, the societal aspiration is that the individuals involved in that rupture of the social order –the defendant, the victim, the others harmed by the event– will become fully functioning members of the community. As a society, we pay little attention to the goal of helping victims of crime get back on track. Society also places significant obstacles in the way of those found guilty of those crimes. We barely recognize that others impacted by criminal behavior, such as children who witness violence or customers defrauded by usurious lending practices, have also suffered. Thought leaders and policymakers around the country are increasingly aware of the expansive consequences of crime, in particular the statutory and regulatory barriers known as “collateral consequences,” which include occupational licensure, housing, voting, and other employment restrictions.
Given the extent of impediments to reintegration, both for those convicted of crime and for crime survivors and others who are impacted, LJAF is exploring the development of an agenda focusing on addressing the consequences of crime and removing the impediments to reintegration. The LJAF portfolio of work on the phenomenon of fines and fees illustrates the potential for this strategy. Over the past few years, LJAF has supported partners who have documented the extent and impact of fines and fees in the justice system. Little was known about the ways that these financial penalties are imposed, on whom fines and fees are imposed, how those monies are collected, and the impacts of fines and fees on those who receive them. This careful documentation of the extent of fines and fees has been accompanied by support for legal research, legislative education, public awareness and financial analysis of the impact of the practice. LJAF will continue to expand investments in reforming fines and fees to prevent the many harms that result from taxing poverty and trapping those who can least afford to pay in a cycle of debt and incarceration. The hope is that these multiple strategies will create a reform agenda so that poor people are not unduly burdened by financial obligations that only exacerbate their poverty and serve no justice purpose.
In the coming years, we will explore the application of this approach to other barriers to reintegration for individuals convicted of crimes. The web of collateral consequences is complex and a focus on a single barrier to reintegration may overlook the cumulative impact of the justice system on individuals already struggling to achieve their goals in life. As we take on this large topic, we will be mindful of this need to strike the right balance between the cumulative consequences of criminal convictions and the need to take on individual barriers. At the same time, LJAF will explore the points of intervention between the justice system and victims of crime to determine the effectiveness of interventions to help victims get back on track after commission of a crime. The field of victim services and victim advocacy has been historically under-evaluated, yet these points of contact can prove meaningful in improving the lives of millions of Americans whose lives are impacted by crime.