Earning an honest living is one of the best ways to prevent re-offending. But strict occupational licensing requirements make it harder for people with criminal records to find work, thwarting their chances of successful reentry. Along with other “collateral consequences,” like losing the right to vote or the ability to receive government assistance, individuals can be denied a license to work simply because of their criminal record.
This report provides the most up-to-date account of occupational licensing barriers for ex-offenders and will be regularly updated whenever a state changes its laws. Using 10 distinct criteria, this report grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their legal protections for licensing applicants with criminal records. (See Methodology.)
This report finds that licensing restrictions vary dramatically, with multiple states lacking even the most basic protections for ex-offenders seeking a license to work:
Even within states, restrictions can be inconsistent:
Since 2015, 36 states have eased or eliminated licensing barriers for people with criminal records.
Licensing boards in 18 states are generally barred from denying ex-offenders a license to work, unless the applicant’s criminal record is “directly related” to the license.
In 18 states, ex-offenders can petition a licensing board at any time, including before enrolling in any required training, to determine whether their criminal record would be disqualifying.
Sixteen states block boards from denying licenses to ex-offenders based on their “good character” or “moral turpitude;” these vague and arbitrary terms have granted boards nearly unlimited discretion in other states. Another five states removed moral character requirements from many of their licenses but did not enact an overarching ban.
Twelve states impose a time limit for considering old felony convictions (aside from sexual and violent offenses), ranging from three years in Maine to 20 years in Wyoming.