FOR MANY OF the roughly 600,000 Americans to be released from prison this year, the best predictor of whether they become law-abiding citizens is their ability to land a job. Unfortunately, state licensing laws often shut the formerly incarcerated out of work. While there is wide variance in licensing requirements across the states, more than 10,000 individual regulations prohibit people with criminal records from working in dozens of professions.
Some of the restrictions make sense. Banning a person convicted of harming children from working in a day care probably strikes the right balance. But in Maryland, a misdemeanor conviction means you can't work as a cosmetologist, a plumber, or a fortune teller (what won't Maryland regulate?). In Nebraska, a misdemeanor is grounds to deny a license in massage therapy, and in Kansas it could prohibit you from working as a dietician.
"It is possible to protect public safety and people's ability to work at the same time," says Jared Meyer, a senior research fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), a nonprofit that's working with state lawmakers to reduce unnecessary obstacles for those with criminal records.
Current restrictions often use imprecise, outdated language--targeting anyone guilty of "moral turpitude," for example--which allows boards to deny licenses even when a crime happened long ago or had nothing to do with the job in question. Instead of blanket bans, the FGA encourages states to list specific crimes for which certain licenses will be denied.
To combat this problem, 12 states have passed some version of a "fresh start" bill...