An honest living is one of the best ways to prevent those with a criminal record from re-offending. But many occupational licensing laws block or burden ex-offenders from entering regulated fields. Numerous licensing laws have morality clauses that (1) bar automatically and permanently ex-offenders from working without any individualized review or (2) require the ex-offender to prove a negative—that the ex-offender’s past crimes will not cause him to harm customers in the future.
Such provisions ironically may decrease public safety. States with prohibitions and high burdens on entry have higher criminal recidivism. Conversely, states that have no such bars and low burdens have seen declines in recidivism, according to Professor Stephen Slivinski’s landmark study Turning Shackles into Bootstraps.
To increase public safety and opportunities for ex-offenders, IJ’s model Collateral Consequences in Occupational Licensing Act (CCOLA) has the following important provisions:
- It allows an ex-offender to petition a licensing board at any time—including before investing in training—for a determination that the ex-offender will not be disqualified from gaining a license because of his criminal record;
- It limits disqualifications to convictions of felonies and violent misdemeanors; and
- It places the burden on the government to prove the ex-offender should be disqualified.
America is the land of second chances. When the prison gates open, there is little, if any, downside to public safety and great upside for ex-offenders to ensure that the path ahead leads to a better life.
For more information about how states use criminal records to regulate entry into work, see the 50-state chart on licensing and employment at the Restoration of Rights Project.