Professor of Clinical Law Anthony Thompson moderated the October 19 Milbank Tweed Forum. The topic was one to which Thompson has dedicated himself through both scholarship and teaching: offender reentry -- individuals making the transition from prison back into society. In addition to serving time, people also suffer a range of “collateral consequences” of being convicted, such as trouble gaining employment or housing following their release. Members of the public, Thompson said, are often surprised to learn that people have not fully paid their debts to society even after they’re released. “This notion of a scarlet letter is very important,” he said.

The title of the program was “Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions: The Impact on Family and Community.” Panelists were Glenn Martin, vice president of development and public affairs at the Fortune Society; Julio Medina, executive director, founder and CEO of Exodus Transitional Community; Rossana Rosado, publisher and CEO of El Diario-La Prensa; and Melvyn Weiss ’59, founder of Milberg Weiss. Three of the panelists were once incarcerated, and now are active in improving the reentry process for others. Rosado’s involvement in the issue grows from her experience helping a family member and having him live in her home. “We really weren’t prepared to deal with someone who had that prison experience,” she said. “There is very little help for the extended family for that kind of integration.” Martin pointed out that the very neighborhoods that suffer from high levels of crime are also “disproportionately impacted by large numbers of people released from prison.”

The panelists who had served time spoke about the corrosive effect of extended isolation. “We were born to be in a community,” Medina said. “Prison removes that possibility of being in fellowship with one another,” and people are then released into “a wilderness process.” Weiss read a poem he wrote about the isolation, and then said,  “It leads you to a point where you are looking to a higher power for help, and the question is, is it there? And unfortunately it isn’t in most cases.”

Watch the full video of the event (1 h 18 min):