Employment: The presence of a criminal record can more than halve the chances that a job applicant will receive a call back for a job interview.

Housing: Finding housing (public or private) is extremely difficult with a criminal record. This results in increased homelessness and split families – where the person with a record (a parent, child, or other family member) is forced to find shelter elsewhere.

Education: Despite no established link between criminal records and campus safety, records make admission into higher education – and financial assistance to support it – very difficult.

Working in licensed places and positions: State law prohibits people with certain records from working in fields or facilities with vulnerable people. Here, hundreds of crimes disqualify job applicants from seven years to life for records ranging from conviction to mere arrest.

Immigration: Criminal records can have a profound and permanent effect on one’s immigration status, results ranging from the inability to naturalize (and petition family members to live in the US) to deportation.

Voting: 70,000 Minnesotans can’t vote due to a felony conviction. This disproportionately impacts African Americans (10% disenfranchised) and Native Americans (6.5%). Meanwhile, research has shown that civic engagement can reduce recidivism.

Travel: Criminal records can prevent people from traveling outside of the United States, from crossing the Canadian border to obtaining a travel visa.

Government assistance: Criminal records, drug convictions in particular, can cause blockades to receiving government assistance for individuals and their families.

Elected official: Felony Possession of a Controlled Substance


Elected official’s lunch spot

I was 17, maybe 18. Not 19 because that’s when I moved out of my parents’ home. I was with a friend, Michael, dropping him off in my mother’s car.

At his parents’ house, Michael got out and stood by the driver’s door. It was July and my window was rolled down. He had a joint in his hand and I had one in mine. Mine was lit. We passed it back and forth, inhaling summer with the smoke.

All of a sudden, a cop was at my friend’s side. Michael must have swallowed his joint, but it was too late for me to do anything except snuff the roach in the ashtray.

The cop looked past Michael to me.

Can I search your trunk?

Sure, but why?

To be quite honest, I smelled marijuana as I was driving by, and again now.

Marijuana in those days was a felony.

I can’t quite say how I was feeling or what I was thinking other than, Thank God he’s asking about the trunk and not the ashtray.

I still wanted to head off the cop so I said, Michael, are you wearing that patchouli oil? Then I looked at the cop and said, Officer, my mother is always complaining it smells like marijuana. It’s true, she was.

The cop looked at Michael. Michael, with all sincerity, told him he was wearing the oil and pointed to the patch of skin between his brows. He bent toward the cop, offering his forehead as proof.

The cop hesitated before leaning in, his nose almost brushing Michael’s skin. The cop inhaled and I held my breath.

Okay, he said. I’ll buy it.

The cop drove off and then I exhaled.

Police singled her out three years ago; she was the only African American in a group of rowdy teenagers. Scared, she consented to a search of her purse. They took her two joints, her name and her address. She missed her court summons; domestic abuse forced her to move suddenly.

Recently she was driving to work on a Friday night and was stopped for a broken taillight. Arrested on the marijuana possession warrant, she spent the weekend in jail waiting for her court date. Those missed shifts cost her job. She still can’t afford to get her car out of impound. The case settled with a dismissal of the criminal charge, but she still gets asked about arrests and charges on job applications. She hasn’t had an interview since the arrest. She’s contemplating applying for cash assistance and food stamps for the first time.