Professional License Restrictions
Those who have “been convicted of any felony or of any crime involving moral turpitude in the courts of this state or any other state, territory, or country” are subject to having their application denied on account of their conviction.[i] This restriction severely curtails the number of professions available to people coming out of prison, many of which offer considerable promise for returning citizens given the vocational training they received in prison.
As it stands now, nearly 80 professions are off-limits to those with a felony conviction, including becoming a barber, cosmetologist, electrical contractor, plumber, conditioned air contractor, auctioneer, utility contractor, registered trade sanitarian, and scrap metal processor, among others.[ii]
Lift Restrictions and Open-Up Job Opportunities
In order to open-up a greater range of professions for returning citizens, the state of Georgia should lift blanket restrictions on professional licenses. Some of the professions most suitable to returning citizens’ skillsets are currently inaccessible to them because they are barred from acquiring a license in those professions. These blanket restrictions should be replaced with reasonable criteria for determining whether a given profession is suitable for a person given his or her criminal history.
As is the case for determining whether any particular job is suitable for a person given his or her felony conviction, professional licensing boards should consider the following factors in determining whether the granting of a license is appropriate:
- The nature of the crime committed and its relation to the license sought
- The time elapsed since the crime
- The applicant’s age at the time of the crime
- The evidence that the applicant has been rehabilitated[iii]
By using these criteria, professional licensing boards can eliminate unreasonable licensing restrictions while ensuring that public safety is protected. A person might be restricted from obtaining a license in one profession due to the nature of his or her crime, but prove to be an excellent candidate for receiving a license in numerous other professions where his or her crime is unrelated. These decisions must always be determined on a case-by-case basis, just as they are for applicants without a felony conviction.
A Look at Other States
Many states are already working toward increasing opportunities for those with felony convictions to obtain professional licenses. Currently, “21 states have standards that require a ‘direct,’ ‘rational,’ or ‘reasonable’ relationship between the license sought and the applicant’s criminal history to justify the agency’s denial of a license.”[iv]
- Colorado law mandates that a felony conviction or other offense involving “moral turpitude” cannot, in and of itself, prevent a person from applying for and receiving an occupational license.[v]
- New Mexico only allows occupational licensing authorities to disqualify applicants from felony or misdemeanor convictions involving “moral turpitude” if they are directly related to the position or license sought.[vi]
- Connecticut requires a state agency to first consider the relationship between the offense and the job, the applicant’s post-conviction rehabilitation, and the time elapsed since conviction and release before determining a person is not suitable for a license.[vii]
- Louisiana forbids licensing agencies from disqualifying a person from obtaining a license or practicing a trade solely because of a prior criminal record, unless the conviction directly relates to the specific occupation. In the event the applicant is denied because of a conviction, the reason for the decision must be made explicit in writing.[viii]
Enabling people with felony convictions to acquire professional licenses in Georgia would benefit a variety of stakeholders. Not only would it give returning citizens greater access to a variety of occupations and enable them to support themselves and their families, it would also make the most of current job-training programs offered in state prisons, create opportunities for expansion and partnership with technical schools, and enable offenders to maximize their time in prison and develop transferable job skills. Together, these advantages would work to reduce recidivism, utilize taxpayer dollars more efficiently, and promote public safety in Georgia.
[i] O.C.G.A. § 43-1-19; italics added.
[iii] Legal Action Center, “Recommended Key Provisions,” para. 6, http://www.lac.org/toolkits/standards/ Key%20Provisions%20-%20Standards.pdf.
[iv] Legal Action Center, “Standards for Hiring People with Criminal Records,” Advocacy Toolkits to Combat Legal Barriers Facing Individuals with Criminal Records, accessed November 29, 2013, para. 8, http://www.lac.org/toolkits/standards/standards.htm.
[v] Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-5-101; Legal Action Center, “Overview of State Laws that Ban Discrimination by Employers,” 2, http://www.lac.org/toolkits/standards/Fourteen_State_Laws.pdf.
[vi] Legal Action Center, “Overview of State Laws,” 3.
[vii] Ibid., 1.
[viii] La. Rev. Stat. § 37:2950.
This post was adapted from Georgia Center for Opportunity’s December 2013 report titled Increasing Employment Opportunities for Ex-Offenders.