Criminal Justice

States Should Reform Provisional Licensing Laws to Help Lower Recidivism

What do food preparation, auto repair and barbering have in common?

They are among a number of professional occupations across the country that are often inaccessible to those with a criminal conviction. For those who want to rebuild their lives after serving time in prison, states must rethink their provisional licensing laws to accommodate those who deserve a second chance—and to help lower the risk of sending the offender back to prison.

Behind prison walls, auto body repair, plumbing and heating installation, food preparation, electrical work and cosmetology are examples of state-funded vocational programs intended to assist offenders in finding jobs after their release. However, once released, some state licensing laws restrict occupational accreditation and employment for those with a criminal record.

Vocational training for ex-offenders reduces the likelihood of repeat offending by providing the stability and structure of a job. In fact, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, ex-offenders who are employed are three to five times less likely to reoffend. Given that 95 out of every 100 incarcerated persons will eventually rejoin our communities, it is crucial to provide offenders with the tools they need to stay on the straight-and-narrow and successfully reintegrate into society. It is in the best interest of public safety to support provisional licensing programs and sustain the rehabilitation of offenders.

Many licensure restrictions for ex-offenders make sense because states have a duty to protect public safety. Convicted sex-offenders should be kept away from schools and daycare centers, fraudulent lawyers should be banned from the courtroom, and convicted burglars should be supervised when fitting electricity in a private residence.

Yet other licensure restraints are the product of bias and stereotype, leaving many non-violent ex-offenders in a cycle of crippling unemployment—despite their time served and state-funded occupational training. Texas, for example, offers several vocational training options for imprisoned offenders, including barber school. Yet, despite these training programs, an ex-offender convicted of a nonviolent drug offense cannot put their skills to use because state law bars them from working in an environment with “an effective cover of their selling of controlled substances.”

A provisional occupational license allows an otherwise qualified ex-offender to acquire the necessary licensing to gain employment after their incarceration. Provisional licenses do not expunge an ex-offender’s history, but rather provide the necessary resources to obtain gainful employment and reduce the likelihood of ex-offenders becoming trapped in the revolving door of prison.

While they provide opportunities for ex-offenders, provisional licenses put safeguards in place to protect employer and community safety. Licensing agencies have discretion concerning applicants and perform strict conduct supervision. Additionally, a provisional license application cannot be directly related to the crime that led to conviction (e.g. sex offender working in a school or daycare, burglar working as an unsupervised electrician). Finally, if an offender reoffends, the license is revoked.

So far, nine states—Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, New Jersey and New York—have implemented restorative programs for the purposes of employment or occupational licensure for ex-offenders, and more states are likely to follow suit.

Without a job after they are released, ex-offenders are more likely to return to their criminal behavior, which threatens public safety and strains already overburdened corrections budgets. States should consider revising their provisional occupational licensing requirements to better provide the necessary opportunities for ex-offenders to successfully reintegrate into society, lower recidivism and sustain public safety.

In Depth: Criminal Justice

The American Legislative Exchange Council is proud to be a leader on criminal justice reform. For over a decade, the ALEC task force on criminal justice has brought state legislators and stakeholders together for the purpose of driving sound criminal justice policies. ALEC members focus on new and innovative state…

+ Criminal Justice In Depth