More than 700,000 people are estimated to be released from state and federal prisons every year, a population equal to that of Baltimore or Boston, and hundreds of thousands more are released from local jails. Rather than helping them successfully transition from prison to community, many current state and federal laws have the opposite effect, interfering with the rights and obligations of full citizenship in nearly every aspect of people's lives. These laws diminish public safety and undermine our nation's commitment to justice and fairness, creating roadblocks to basic necessities and working against hundreds of thousands of individuals trying to rebuild their lives, support their families, and become productive members of communities.

Here are some startling facts about existing legal barriers:

• All but two states restrict the right to vote in some way for people with criminal convictions.

• Most states allow employers to deny jobs to people who may have been arrested but never convicted of a crime.

• Most states allow employers to deny jobs to anyone with a criminal record, regardless of how long ago or the individual's work history and personal circumstances.

• Most states ban some or all people with drug felony convictions from being eligible for federally funded public assistance and food stamps.

• Most states make criminal history information accessible to the general public through the Internet, making it extremely easy for employers and others to discriminate against people on the basis of old or minor convictions, for example to deny employment or housing.

• Many public housing authorities deny eligibility for federally assisted housing based on an arrest that never led to a conviction.

Today, the good news is that that there appears to be increasing support in Congress and in the states for the repeal of these counterproductive laws and policies. A number of initiatives are currently underway that will help people with criminal records who have paid their debt to society become independent, law-abiding citizens, thereby strengthening community safety. The Legal Action Center hopes that this study will help advance efforts to reform those laws and policies that endanger public safety by excluding people with criminal records from a fair chance of reestablishing a law-abiding life.

Copyright © 2008-2009 by the Legal Action Center. All Rights Reserved.