Invisible Punishment: An Instrument of Social Exclusion

Jeremy Travis, The Urban Institute

As the rate of imprisonment and criminal justice supervision has increased over the past two decades, another form of criminal sanction, one that could be called "invisible punishment," has increased as well. This term refers to the sanctions that follow a criminal conviction by operation of law but are not imposed by the judge at the time of sentencing. Sex offender registration, voter disqualification, bars to designated categories of employment are among the better known forms of invisible punishment. Yet the nature and intrusiveness of these collateral sanctions has also changed over this period of time as the federal government has enacted legislation disqualifying certain offenders from eligibility from many benefits of the welfare state such as housing, education and public support. This paper examines the growth of the network of invisible punishments, assesses their changing characteristics, develops a research agenda on collateral sanctions, and proposes a set of policy reforms.

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Updated 05/20/2006