Collateral Consequences of Felony Convictions: Employment, Housing and More

The journey of an offender through the justice system doesn’t end with incarceration or a sentence. In many cases, the shadows of a criminal conviction stretch long after time served, impacting fundamental aspects of life such as employment and housing. These ramifications, known as collateral consequences, are often not part of the formal sanctions but can be just as, if not more, debilitating. Hiring a criminal defense attorney often times decreases the consequences.

The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences paints a concerning picture: People with criminal records, especially those with felony convictions, face numerous hurdles in their bid to reintegrate into society. From the revocation of the right to vote to limitations in accessing public housing, the collateral consequences of criminal conviction extend the punitive reach of the criminal justice system, emphasizing the enduring weight of a single offense.

What is a Felony?

A felony is a classification of offenses deemed to be among the most serious in the criminal justice system. It often results in a sentence of incarceration for more than a year, sometimes even leading to life imprisonment or the death penalty for particularly grave crimes. When someone is convicted of a felony they should definitely see legal advice from a seasoned felony attorney.

Types of Felonies and Examples

  • Violent Felonies: Crimes that involve the threat or actual act of physical harm.
  • Example: Homicide, assault, rape.

Property Felonies: Crimes focused on property damage or theft.

  • Example: Burglary, arson, grand theft.
  • Drug Felonies: Crimes related to the illegal possession, sale, or manufacture of drugs.
  • Example: Drug trafficking, illegal manufacturing of narcotics.
  • White-Collar Felonies: Non-violent crimes typically committed for financial gain.
  • Example: Fraud, embezzlement, insider trading.
  • Sexual Felonies: Crimes that involve illegal sexual conduct.
  • Example: Sexual assault, child molestation.
  • Public Order Felonies: Crimes that disrupt public peace or violate public standards of moral conduct.
  • Example: Disorderly conduct, public intoxication.

Collateral Consequences of a Felony Conviction

The implications of a felony conviction extend far beyond the immediate criminal sentence. These effects, often referred to as “collateral consequences” or simply “collateral,” can severely reduce a person’s ability to reintegrate into society. While the term includes a vast range of restrictions and sanctions, this article focuses on the consequences associated with employment, housing, immigration, and driver’s licenses.


The collateral consequences of a criminal conviction are most pronounced in the realm of employment. Many professions require a clean record for occupational licensing.

State laws across the 50 states can make people convicted of certain crimes ineligible for specific positions. Barriers to employment are further exacerbated by employers who may exclude applicants based solely on an arrest or conviction.

The ABA Standards for Criminal Justice and the National Institute have emphasized the need to reduce these barriers, especially given the role employment plays in reducing recidivism.


A felony on one’s record can have serious consequences when seeking housing. Many public housing authorities in the U.S. have policies that limit or prohibit people with certain convictions from eligibility. This has led to evictions or denial of housing assistance for formerly incarcerated people, many of whom face homelessness as a result.

Furthermore, state and local governments sometimes have regulations that restrict people convicted of specific crimes, like sex offenses, from living within certain proximities to schools or parks, making housing even more challenging to secure.


The immigration consequences of convictions are perhaps the most severe. Non-U.S. citizens, even permanent residents, risk deportation if convicted of certain felonies. The U.S. Department of Justice has stringent guidelines for such situations.

An arrest and conviction can end hopes of citizenship or even lead to family separation if the person is convicted and then deported. Even those with permanent resident status may face immigration consequences if their crime is deemed severe enough.

Driver’s License

For many, the ability to drive is integral to daily life. Yet, the consequences of a criminal conviction can include the revocation of one’s driver’s license. Some states, like New York, have laws that impose driver’s license sanctions and restrictions based on certain offenses, including drug-related convictions.

Discretionary disqualification of convicted persons from holding a license can last several months to years, affecting their ability to find work or fulfill other responsibilities.

Challenges Faced by People with Criminal Records

Exclusion from Professional Licenses

Many state laws, including New York State, place restrictions on professional and occupational licensing for those with a criminal record. These collateral consequences of criminal charges or convictions can prevent individuals from pursuing careers in areas like healthcare, law, and other professions that require licenses.

This exclusion doesn’t just limit career opportunities but also affects the ability to find work, leading to further barriers to employment. The Council of State Governments Justice Center has highlighted this issue, emphasizing the need to reduce such barriers and re-integrate formerly incarcerated people back into society.

Felon Disenfranchisement

Disenfranchisement, or the loss of voting rights, is one of the direct consequences faced by many who have been convicted of a crime, particularly felons. In many of the 50 states, people convicted of certain felonies lose their right to vote, sometimes temporarily and, in some cases, permanently.

This consequence restricts their participation in democratic processes and furthers their social alienation. ABA standards for criminal justice stress the importance of revisiting such consequences and considering the long-term implications of felon disenfranchisement.

Sex Offender Registry

Convicted sex offenders face perhaps some of the most stringent collateral sanctions. Being listed on the sex offender registry is a lifelong tag for many, impacting housing, employment, and social integration.

The registry is publicly searchable, adding to the social stigma faced by those on it. They are often ineligible for certain housing assistance programs and face pervasive barriers in many facets of life.

Addressing Collateral Consequences: Recommendations and Solutions

Through a more compassionate and pragmatic approach, we can pave a path towards genuine redemption and inclusivity for those seeking a second chance.

1. Employment:

Ban the Box: Remove the conviction question from initial job applications, allowing applicants to be judged first on their qualifications.

Incentivize Hiring: Offer tax breaks or incentives to employers who hire previously incarcerated individuals.

Job Training: Provide comprehensive job training programs for inmates prior to release.

License Restrictions: Review and reduce restrictions on occupational licensing for non-related convictions.

2. Housing:

Non-Discrimination Policies: Encourage landlords and public housing authorities to have non-discrimination policies regarding criminal records, unless the crime is directly related to the safety of other residents.

Education: Educate landlords about the benefits and supports available when renting to individuals with a criminal record.

Financial Incentives: Provide subsidies or tax breaks to landlords who rent to previously incarcerated individuals.


Access to Financial Aid: Lift bans on financial aid for those with drug-related felonies.

In-Prison Education Programs: Expand and improve access to educational programs within correctional facilities.

Support Post-Release: Create mentorship and support programs to guide formerly incarcerated individuals through higher education.

Legal and Policy Reform:

Expungement and Sealing: Simplify and expand the process for expungement and sealing of criminal records for non-violent offenses.

Review Mandatory Minimums: Re-assess and reduce mandatory minimum sentences, which can lead to extensive collateral consequences.


Why is Restoring Voting Rights Important for Felons?

Voting is a fundamental democratic right. Restoring this right can help reintegrated individuals feel a renewed sense of civic duty and connection to their community, aiding their rehabilitation process.

What is Felony Expungement?

Felony expungement is the legal process of erasing a felony from someone’s criminal record. Once expunged, it’s as if the crime never happened, which helps in areas like job applications and finding housing. Rules and eligibility vary by area.

Are felons Allowed to Keep Firearms or Ammunition?

Felons are generally prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition under federal law.

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