Collateral Consequences in the American States*


  • The author gratefully acknowledges the criticisms, comments, and advice of those who improved this article: Caroline Beer, Tony Gierzynski, Lisa Holmes, Alan Howard, Ray La Raja, Amy Lerman, Lisa Miller, Greg Petrow, Brian Pinaire, Adam Schiffer, Vesla Weaver, Richard Winters, the anonymous reviewers, and SSQ's editors. Special thanks to Peter VonDoepp. Unfortunately, none of these people share with me the blame for errors of fact or analysis.

Direct all correspondence to Alec Ewald, 512 Old Mill, 94 University Place, Burlington, VT 05405 〈〉.



This article seeks to analyze varying collateral-consequences policies—laws restricting the rights and privileges of people who have had contact with the criminal-justice system, particularly those with conviction records—in the American states.


State policies in eight areas are examined, coded, and combined into an eight-point scale, which then serves as the dependent variable for a regression analysis. The analysis models such restrictions as products of ideological and partisan, racial, and criminal-justice-based predictors.


Neither Democratic Party influence nor crime levels appear to influence significantly state collateral-sanctions levels; more liberal citizen ideology predicts slightly more lenient policies, while harsher restrictions accompany rising state incarceration rates. Racial variables press in opposite directions: within the model, scores rise as a state's black population increases, but fall as the percentage of African Americans in the state legislature rises.


Formally creatures of civil rather than criminal law, these “collateral” restrictions appear to possess important affinities with other punitive policies in the United States, yet also resist unambiguous linkage to ideological, criminal-justice, and racial predictors.