Encouragingly, licensing reform for ex-offenders has found wide, bipartisan support. Concerns about racial injustice and upward mobility motivate many on the left, while those on the right are drawn to the ideas of personal redemption and curbing bureaucratic power.
Several common-sense reforms would go far to promote economic opportunity for ex-offenders. Lawmakers should generally avoid blanket bans on licenses for ex-offenders and allow licensing denials based only on crimes directly related to the license sought. Boards should be required to consider multiple factors, including evidence of rehabilitation and the time elapsed since the crime was committed. States should also provide impartial hearings to guarantee due process for applicants and require boards to bear the burden of proof that an ex-offender would pose a genuine threat to public safety if licensed.
Finally, reducing or fully repealing licensing requirements would further help ex-offenders find a vocation to support themselves. After all, fewer licenses means fewer ways for agencies to control workers and aspiring entrepreneurs—whether or not they have a criminal record.
For too long, collateral consequences have imposed a “civil death” on ex-offenders. Protecting their right to earn an honest living would go far in granting them a second chance at life.