Previously, I’ve written on how restricting licensing opportunities for the formerly incarcerated hurts those most prone to recidivism by restricting their employment opportunities, making these laws a potential risk to public safety.
In this month’s issue of Reason magazine, Eric Boehm has some good news from the dozen states that have passed “fresh start” bills in the past year.
For many of the roughly 600,000 Americans to be released from prison this year, the best predictor of whether they become law-abiding citizens is their ability to land a job. Unfortunately, state licensing laws often shut the formerly incarcerated out of work. While there is wide variance in licensing requirements across the states, more than 10,000 individual regulations prohibit people with criminal records from working in dozens of professions…
Current restrictions often use imprecise, outdated language—targeting anyone guilty of “moral turpitude,” for example—which allows boards to deny licenses even when a crime happened long ago or had nothing to do with the job in question. Instead of blanket bans, the [Foundation for Government Accountability] encourages states to list specific crimes for which certain licenses will be denied.
In the grand scheme of licensing reform, these proposals are rather modest.
Not all are fully inclusive—Kansas, for instance, exempted health care professions and any license that requires a four-year degree—and two of those states have only agreed to “study” the issue for now…
[A provision in a recently passed licensing reform in Nebraska containing a] requirement for professional boards to list out the crimes that can disqualify someone was removed. Instead, the law allows formerly incarcerated individuals to petition boards for a review of their criminal records before entering the licensing application process. It’s an improvement, but it’s not ideal.
The intersection of criminal justice and occupational licensing reform offers something for both the left and the right to like. These reforms are progressing slowly, to be sure, but momentum is on the side of reformers.