Ease Licensure—and Reentry—for People With Criminal Records

A final reform strategy targets a population particularly disadvantaged by licensing restrictions: people with criminal records. As with other strategies, the most straightforward approach is to repeal and reduce licensing burdens for all. 

But for licenses that remain in place, policymakers should go further to ensure people are not unfairly denied access to occupations—or are not deterred from even trying to become licensed—based on old or irrelevant offenses. Strong reforms include a few key elements:

  1. They limit disqualifications to convictions directly related to the specific license, instead of allowing blanket bans that deny licenses for any conviction (or even arrest) or vague, arbitrary “good moral character” provisions that are difficult to enforce fairly and leave aspirants unsure of whether they will be denied.
  2. They give former offenders the opportunity to petition a licensing board at any time, including before they invest in required education and training, for a determination of whether their criminal record will be disqualifying.
  3. They put the burden on the government to prove a person should be excluded from an occupation to protect public health and safety, rather than requiring former offenders to prove why they should not be excluded.

Since 2015, 39 states have enacted some form of reform aiming to ease licensure for people with criminal records. This includes 18 states that ban licensing boards from using “good moral character” requirements to deny licenses.  1