Institute for Justice · November 25, 2019

Arlington, Va.—On Friday, the Institute for Justice (IJ) submitted comments to the Texas Department of Public Safety supporting rules proposed on October 25, 2019. The rules ease licensing burdens on people with unrelated criminal records who now want to work in the private security industry. Enforcing a new Texas law and directive by Governor Greg Abbott, the rules harmonize the Department’s standards with those in 20 other states and the District of Columbia—none of which will deny an occupational license for an unrelated criminal conviction. A public-records request by IJ had shown that, under its prior rules, the Department was routinely denying licenses for irrelevant, decades-old convictions, including single convictions for marijuana possession or driving while intoxicated.

“We can all agree that private security professionals are in a position of trust, and not everyone is suited for the job. For example, convicted murderers and thieves should probably not be trusted to protect others and their valuables,” IJ attorney Tatiana Pino said. “But other, irrelevant criminal convictions should not stand in peoples’ way when they’re trying to be productive members of society and pursue a lawful profession. They should be given the chance to show that, despite some blemishes in their past, they can be trusted.”

The proposed changes to Texas’ private-security licensing balance protecting the public with allowing those who are not a threat to be given a chance. Most significant is the Department’s proposed removal of a regulation that allowed the government to revoke, suspend, or deny a private-security license because the applicant had an unrelated conviction.

IJ also supports the Department’s proposal to consider fitness factors, such as the remoteness of offenses and evidence of rehabilitation. Finally, IJ supports the Department’s shortened disqualifying periods for felony and misdemeanor convictions. People reentering society after prison need jobs just as much as anyone else, and allowing formerly incarcerated people to secure productive roles in society sooner rather than later will reduce the risk of crime. A 2016 study shows that, between 1997 and 2007, recidivism rates grew by at least 9% in states with the heaviest licensing burdens and shrank by 2.5% in states with the lightest licensing burdens.

Given the different types of private security jobs—ranging from traditional security officer to alarm installer—IJ recommends that the Department consider more narrowly tailoring which specific offenses are disqualifying for which specific private security licenses. Overall, however, IJ lauded the Department’s proposal, which heads in that direction.

This action is part of IJ’s continuing efforts to lift unreasonable licensing barriers that burden the right to pursue a chosen livelihood. “There’s a growing consensus that once people have paid their debts to society, they need to be able to get back on their feet,” said IJ attorney Andrew Ward. “No one should be denied the right to work because of irrelevant criminal convictions.”