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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Ending Legal Bias Against Formerly Incarcerated People


This policy brief explores a mechanism for broadly advancing the rights of formerly incarcerated people across the board, as an alternative to incremental approaches which seek to overturn legalized disadvantages or remove barriers in individual domains. Specifically, we explore the possibility of establishing formerly incarcerated people as a protected status under municipal, state, and federal law. The brief begins by reviewing “collateral consequences” of incarceration—the plethora of barriers that are triggered by a criminal conviction and restrict formerly incarcerated people from accessing resources necessary for their well-being. Next, we set out the legal context for advancing “protected legal status” for formerly incarcerated people, which could prevent private individuals, corporations, and government bodies and agencies from enacting laws or taking actions that discriminate against them. We then explore the potential for adopting this protection at various levels or branches of government. Through this analysis, we hope to contribute to awareness of the potential benefits of achieving such a policy change, pathways to establishing the policy, and challenges that could be faced along the way.

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