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Drug Charges Can Have a Domino Effect for Defendants

  • Drug charges can open a door to a dark flight of stairs the defendant can tumble down. One thing leads to another. An arrest can lead to a conviction which can have negative consequences for years, if not a lifetime. This domino effect can result in more jail time, difficulty getting employment, finding housing and earning a living.


    Stuck behind bars because of poverty


    Depending on the nature of the charges, bail may need to be posted before the person can be released from jail pending further proceedings. If the person can’t afford bail, he or she will stay in jail, won’t be able to meet family obligations, might lose time at school if they’re a student, or time at work, causing the person to be fired.


    There are about 1.6 million people incarcerated in federal and state prisons. This is a stunning number of people; but even more, about 646,000, are locked up in more than 3,000 local jails throughout the U.S., according to the Prison Policy Institute. About 70% of these people in local jails are being held before a trial. They haven’t been convicted and are presumed to be innocent.


    A major reason for hundreds of thousands of Americans being detained is our system of money bail. A defendant must pay a given amount of money as a guarantee he will attend future court hearings. If the defendant can’t come up with the money personally or through a bail bondsman, he could be behind bars until his case is resolved or dismissed in court, which could take years.


    If the person is convicted or pleads guilty, he could spend time in prison. This exposes the person to harm by fellow inmates, cuts off his ability to support a family, and the separation can cause long-lasting harm to family relationships. If the person is paroled, the conditions may be difficult or impossible to comply with and the person could be behind bars.


    Finding and keeping a job are made more difficult


    If the person gets through his sentence, he will be back in society and will need to find a job, which could be very difficult. A job applicant can lie and cover up that gap in his work history (which could be easily detected) or be honest and admit to the conviction. Many of these ex-convicts can’t find jobs because of the widespread practice of employers' rejecting applicants or firing workers solely because they have criminal records.


    There are no firm numbers on the working population who have criminal records, reports The Nation; but the National Employment Law Project estimates that there were 65 million such people in 2010, or about 28% of the adult population. The Department of Justice stated in 2006 that the percentage of working-age adults with criminal records was 30%. It has been estimated that 92% of large employers run background checks before hiring job applicants. Men with criminal records make up just more than one-third of all nonworking men between the ages of 25 and 54, reports the New York Times.


    These millions are either engaged in crime to support themselves or they're attempting to do so with part-time, low-paying jobs. They’re not the only ones suffering. Their families and neighborhoods, who are often predominantly African American or Hispanic, suffer too. Society as a whole suffers because their skills aren’t used to the fullest; they should be earning more money, contributing more to society and paying more taxes.


    If the person wants to improve his chances in the job market, college might be an option, but many colleges consider applicants’ arrest and criminal records when making admission decisions. Enlistment in a branch of the military may be difficult or impossible, depending on the nature of the crime.


    Landlords often choose not to rent to those with criminal records


    Background checks aren’t being used only by prospective employers -- potential landlords use them too. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2016 stated that landlords who have a blanket ban on renting to people with criminal records could be charged with violating the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA).


    The basis of the decision is that the FHA prohibits discrimination against renters or home buyers based on their race, color, religion, sex or national origin. (Buildings with one to four units are exempt if the owner lives in one of the units). Though the law doesn’t explicitly protect those with arrest or criminal records, minorities, especially African Americans and Latinos, have disproportionately higher rates of arrest and incarceration.


    As a practical matter, housing discrimination cases can be very hard to prove. Landlords can come up with any number of reasons why a person with a criminal record wasn’t chosen as a tenant. The real reason may be a fear that criminal activity may take place in the unit or that other tenants could be victimized.


    If a person can’t find a home, they’re likely to become homeless. The Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, North Carolina, surveyed homeless men using their facility in 2011 and found that 60% admitted to having a criminal record; 75% stated they had been arrested more than once. Half said they had committed both felonies and misdemeanors.


    The reality is that after a person is arrested on a drug charge, there’s a good chance a domino effect of events beyond the person’s control may put them on a path that rapidly falls downhill.


    • If they don’t have the money for bail, they could potentially be behind bars for months or years.
    • After the person gets out of jail, honest work could be very difficult to obtain and would likely be low paying. This could result in going back to crime to make a living.
    • Housing could be hard to find. People may need to live with family members or friends, putting them back into situations where others are using drugs, living in environments where crime is common. Homelessness could become a real possibility for many with a criminal record.


    Not all those arrested on drug charges have this fate. For those whose lives fall apart after an arrest, solving these problems is difficult, but not impossible. Most of those charged with drug-related crimes are addicts who need medical treatment. If drug use were considered more a medical and health care issue, not one requiring one imprisonment, many of these issues could be resolved.