Know Your Rights: What is Reentry & What are Collateral Consequences?

The term “reentry” is used by many advocates, service providers, policy-makers, and formerly incarcerated people to define what happens to people coming home from prison. More broadly, it describes a process of reintegration, rehabilitation, and restoration of rights that should begin when an individual is arrested.
“Collateral consequences,” is a popular label for the legal, social, and economic barriers to a person’s reentry into his or her community. Although many people released from prison or jail leave with the hope of a fresh start, these barriers to reintegration can feel like the continuation of a prison sentence. In fact, these collateral consequences may take place at both ends of the criminal process system: at the beginning when an individual is arrested, charged, and perhaps considering a plea bargain; and at the end when an individual is released from prison. Even a mere arrest, or minor charges with no jail time, may result in collateral consequences.
Collateral consequences have been described as “invisible punishment[1]” because they are not clearly set forth in the New York criminal law. Therefore, they are not usually explained the way prison terms and parole eligibility typically are, as part of the direct consequences of criminal convictions. Instead, the rules that result in collateral consequences are found scattered throughout New York and federal civil laws, making them more difficult to find and understand, and avoid. Though they can be long-lasting and very severe, many people don’t learn about collateral consequences until after they have chosen to take a guilty plea. For instance, many people do not know that a plea to disorderly conduct (a non-criminal offense under New York law) can make them ineligible for New York City public housing for three years. (From page one of “The Civil Consequences of Criminal Proceedings,” available on

[1] Invisible Punishment The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment (Mauer & Chesney-Lind, eds., 2002).