When Marlon Chamberlain left federal prison more than 10 years ago, he thought he had paid his debt to society. But today, after a decade as a law-abiding and successful husband, father, and political advocate, he says he still is paying interest on that debt.

Marlon Chamberlain pictureShortly after he reentered society, Chamberlain says he was shocked to find that there were many aspects of his daily life he still did not control. He encountered hundreds of laws that impose hundreds of restrictions on the activities of all formerly incarcerated people. Even now, because of these laws, there are jobs that Chamberlain cannot hold, things he cannot do, and even places he cannot go.

In the criminal justice system, these lasting strictures are often referred to as “collateral consequences” of incarceration. But Chamberlain and the Chicago-based organization he leads, Fully Free, have given them another name: “permanent punishments.” Because these limitations never go away, Chamberlain says, they amount to a kind of perpetual interest charge that continues long after a person’s societal debt ostensibly has been paid in full.

Chamberlain believes this system not only exploits formerly incarcerated people but causes unintended consequences that put the general public at risk. His ambitious, and sometimes controversial, goal is to wipe all these laws off the books.


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