Good Character Provisions are Making Occupational Licensing More Restrictive for Ex-Offenders
Fifteen years: that was the amount of time that Andrew Beavers spent obtaining degrees following his time in prison only to be denied the right to work in his field upon release. Beavers, who spent sixty-nine months in prison for possession and transportation of cocaine, sought to successfully re-integrate into society via the workforce. Following his release from prison, Beavers completed rehabilitation programs, became a substance abuse counselor and received two masters’ degrees. He obtained a Masters of Addiction Science from University of Arkansas, in addition to a Masters of Community Counseling from Mercer University. Despite his efforts, the Court of Pulaski County in Arkansas viewed his criminal history as a public safety threat and he was denied an occupational license. Although Beavers incurred the costs of education, occupational licensing laws presented a barrier of entry.
Barriers to entry prohibit efficiency in multifarious sectors of the American economy. With the unemployment rate at 3.6 percent , reducing barriers to entry for the labor market is becoming more crucial. Overly burdensome occupational licensing requirements pose a threat to competitiveness in the labor market that increases consumer prices and further contributes to unemployment.
Strict licensing restrictions are not only inhibiting business prosperity, but also make it more likely for the ex-offender to recidivate. Employment restrictions for non-violent offenders lessen their success rate in the job market. Harsh sentencing laws have created a barricade for the working population and for non-violent drug offenders. This has been portrayed through statistical analysis of America’s inmate population, which consists of roughly 75 percent between ages 25-50 and almost 50 percent with drug offenses. These restrictive licensing barriers hamper successes of ex-offenders as well as the health of the overall economy.
Why are “good character” requirements creating inefficiencies in the job market? Advocates for licensure laws claim that licenses promote the safety of consumers, even though no correlation has been found between licensure and consumer welfare.
The overarching issue with public safety is the varying definitions within occupational licensure statutes among states. For example, Idaho states that immoral character is “a history of dishonest dealings or a felonious act.” Another state, New Mexico, provides that corrupted morality is “behavior that gravely violates the accepted moral standards of the community.”
Due to these inconsistencies, states implement blanket bans on the basis of “good character” as a feeble way to substantiate the public safety argument. The presence of a criminal record, even if it was for nonviolent offenses, debunks an ex-offender’s good character. In an effort to promote proficient labor competition as well as reduce the cycle of recidivism, changes need to be made for more consistent occupational licensing laws throughout the states.
Moves have been made in the right direction. A study done by the National Employment Law Project states that Pennsylvania, for example, disallows denial of a license if arrest did not result in conviction, if a conviction is annulled, or if a conviction is unrelated to the job requiring a license. These exemptions would provide non-violent ex-offenders with more employment opportunities. States should take note of Pennsylvania’s efforts, considering various factors of an ex-offender’s case rather than applying a blanket ban solely tied to the offender’s criminal record.
The ALEC model Collateral Consequences Reduction Act seeks to provide ex-offenders employment opportunities in stating, “A board should not automatically bar an individual from state recognition because of criminal record but he or she should receive individual consideration for licensure.” An individual’s ability to obtain a license should be determined on an individual basis with consideration of time since offense, sentence completion, rehabilitation and various other factors.
Fifteen years of communal service was not enough for Andrew Beavers to obtain a license to aid those struggling with addiction. As a former substance abuse counselor, Beavers demonstrated good moral character as a servant to the substance abuse community. “Good character” determinations for occupational licensing are no longer decided on the basis of an ex-offender’s morality, but rather are subjected to ambiguous statutes that prohibit one’s successful re-entry into society. As a result, our workforce is kept from being more prosperous and the cycle of recidivism continues as an inefficient use of taxpayers’ dollars.