With each criminal conviction the state of Nebraska matter-of-factly tells the defendants how long they will spend behind bars. Hidden from view, in the "fine-print," is a long list of additional penalties attached to these convictions.
Only upon leaving prison and while attempting to rebuild their lives, do offenders experience, firsthand, how these non-prison "collateral consequences" limit or deny their basic rights to housing, food stamps, education, voting, employment, child custody and much more.
A 2018 study conducted by the Prison Policy Initiative found that "formally incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of more than 27 percent — higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression…(and)…Exclusionary policies and practices are responsible for these market inequities."
The study concludes: "A prison sentence should not be a perpetual punishment…States should implement automation record engagement procedures and reform their licensing practices so as to eliminate the automatic rejection of people with felony convictions."
"The stigma of incarceration and disconnection from the workforce," according to a Council of State Governments report, "are among the challenges people face when trying to find a job after release from prison or jail. People who have been incarcerated earn 40 percent less annually than they had earned prior to incarceration."
Researchers at the Council of State Governments have prepared a list of 733 separate "collateral consequences" embedded in Nebraska statutes and regulations — waiting to snare persons convicted of a crime. Some consequences kick in automatically.
Here are examples of how Nebraska’s post-prison penalties make the prison-to-society transition more difficult for ex-offenders.
"Ineligible for training in vehicle identification inspections." A mandatory penalty with an indefinite duration for conviction of any felony and crimes involving fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation or money laundering.
"Ineligible for commercial motor vehicle license." A mandatory penalty with a variable duration for conviction of any felony, controlled substances offenses, crimes involving fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation or money laundering, crimes of violence and motor vehicle offenses.
"Ineligible to receive low-income energy assistance program benefits." A mandatory penalty with a time-limited duration for conviction of crimes involving fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation or money laundering.
"Ineligible to receive food stamp benefits." A mandatory penalty with a variable duration for conviction of controlled substances offenses, crimes involving fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation or money-laundering and weapons offenses.
"Ineligible to reside within 500 feet from school/child care facility." A mandatory penalty with an indefinite duration for conviction of crimes of violence and sex offenses.
Because "one out of five working Americans needs a license to work while one in three American adults has a criminal record," the Institute for Justice encourages state lawmakers to repeal needless licenses, scale back anticompetitive licensing laws and strengthen the rights of people with a criminal record to gain meaningful employment.
To do so, the Institute has prepared, for state adoption, a model legislation titled, "Collateral Consequences in Occupational Licensing Act." And, to date, at least 18 states — including Nebraska — have reformed their occupational licensing laws to reduce entry barriers for those with a criminal record.
The Collateral Consequences Resource Center’s Restoration of Rights Project, which tracks legal restrictions on people with a criminal record, reported that Nebraska has taken steps to remove employment barriers for ex-offenders.