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The heavy price of conviction

What is the worst thing that the state of Michigan can do to someone convicted of a crime? The obvious answer is the correct one: the state can sentence that person to spend years of their life in prison. But when people try to think of the next worse thing the state or federal government can do, the answers are not nearly as clear or obvious.

The reality is that those who have been convicted, spent time in prison or jail, and are then released face a wide array of punishments. Though some are formal punishments (such as parole), most are informal, but are nevertheless painful consequences for the person convicted and often for their loved ones as well.

A Rutgers University researcher writes that "the reason the transition to life outside the corrections system is so hard is that there are more than 44,000 indirect consequences of a criminal conviction."

Depending on circumstances, these consequences can include restrictions on where a released person can live, study and volunteer, as well as restrictions on getting licensed to work as a driver, plumber, barber, teacher, manicurist, interior designer or midwife, among other occupations.

The formerly incarcerated can only find they face restrictions on their ability to vote, obtain a driver's license or passport, or to hold public office or serve in the military. Veterans can lose their health care benefits, insurance and pension.

One of most difficult aspects of these rules and regulations is that they can be mandatory or discretionary, temporary or permanent, clearly stated or vague.

The researcher writes that there are 19,000 penalties across the U.S. in the federal, state and local governments affecting employment and volunteering. More than 13,000 restrictions apply to occupational licenses and certification.

Those who have been convicted can also find obstacles in the path to bettering themselves with education: they can in certain situations be denied college admission and financial aid both during incarceration and afterwards.

People who struggle to find work or obtain education after their release from prison can also face restrictions on public assistance.

This partial list of the consequences makes it clear that the price of conviction can be much heavier than the already heavy price of incarceration.

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