From Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law:

Barriers to Professional Licensure

Additional difficulties exist if a formerly incarcerated individual desires to go into a field that requires occupational licensure, including many fields which individuals can work in while in prison. A plethora of jobs require licenses, including barbers, land surveyors, and florists – many of these jobs are jobs that people can have while they are in prison. States restrict the availability of licenses to those with criminal records – in total, there are about 27,000 rules across the country that prohibit or limit the availability of licenses to those with records. This number can be further broken down into the types of restrictions: 12,000 disqualify anyone with a felony on their record and 6,000 disqualify anyone with a misdemeanor on their record. About 19,000 of these exclusions are permanent, and over 11,000 are mandatory, meaning that the licensing board is unable to consider any mitigating circumstances and must deny the individual a license.

Licensure prohibitions fail to account for any rehabilitation that has occurred or the maturing of the individual since conviction, or any other mitigating circumstances. Many of these regulations are blanket prohibitions on granting licenses to those with a conviction (although it’s sometimes limited to a felony or violent felony conviction); however, some are a little less explicit. Many licensing regulations include “good moral character” clauses, which state that one must maintain a good moral character in order to hold a license. In many instances, this has been interpreted to bar individuals with criminal records, as that supposedly does not indicate good moral character. Both the blanket bans and good moral character clauses are blind to the circumstances surrounding each individual applicant. These regulations are inherently unfair to those who have put in the time and effort to separate themselves from their past, and who are trying to get on the right track by securing a job.

Even if someone is technically able to apply and qualify for a license, there can be other barriers. Frequently, applying for an occupational license involves large costs. While someone is in prison, they lack a quality source of income, and upon release, it may be difficult to support oneself (and, if applicable, afamily). It is a bit of a paradox – the individual is applying for a job so that they can make money, but they need money in order to apply for the required license. On average, acquiring an occupational license involves nine months of education or training, passing some sort of exam, and over $200 in fees. One third of the licenses examined in a study by the Institute for Justice took more than a year to earn. The costs associated with these licenses can be huge for someone just coming out of prison, even for a job they had in prison, like a firefighter or electrician.

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