Occupational licensing can be a significant barrier for individuals with criminal histories who are trying to enter the workforce and get their lives back on track. These requirements, typically put in place through laws passed by state lawmakers or through regulations enacted by licensing boards created by the legislature, mandate that individuals obtain a license in order to work in certain professions, such as healthcare, education, industrial trades, and law enforcement. These laws and regulations can prevent individuals who committed crimes and completed their sentence from working in their chosen profession, even if they have the skills and qualifications to do so.

Research suggests that occupational licensing requirements disproportionately affect individuals with criminal histories, particularly those who have been convicted of nonviolent offenses. They can make it difficult for individuals to find employment, which then often leads to higher rates of recidivism – returning to a life of crime – and decreased economic mobility. This not only affects the individual; it has big implications on public safety in local communities and hurts the economy because it shrinks the available workforce.

Recently, Right on Crime hosted an event featuring the Pelican Institute’s CEO Daniel Erspamer discussing this important topic. The panel also included representatives from Right on Crime, Louisiana Department of Corrections, and the Council of State Governments.

One of the main concerns discussed by the group is that licensing boards often deny individuals a license based on criminal history that has nothing to do with the occupation they are seeking permission to enter. For instance, a drug charge shouldn’t preclude someone from obtaining a cosmetology license, whereas, that same charge, depending on the circumstance, may preclude someone from becoming a pharmacy technician. Licensing boards should not be allowed to issue blanket denials. Each case should be looked at individually, taking into account the specific job responsibilities and the applicant’s criminal history which may or may not relate to those job duties.

One of the biggest barriers for individuals with a criminal history is a lack of work opportunities. When there is no reliable income, the recidivism rate will invariably increase. To combat poverty, states must empower those individuals to become self-sufficient instead of pushing those who have been held accountable for their past transgressions to the fringes of society. Doing so will produce safer communities, less government dependency, and taxpayer savings.

In Louisiana’s 2022 legislative session, lawmakers passed, and the governor signed into law, three bills that remove barriers for people seeking occupational licenses. The new laws strengthen the ability of individuals to successfully challenge burdensome licensing regulations that hinder their ability to earn a living; help ex-offenders get licensed, back to work, and back on their feet; and increase overall transparency to the public about the occupational licensing process.

Specifically, Act 486 was designed to help individuals with a criminal history get back to work. This law helps individuals who were previously convicted of a crime to work in occupations where a government license is required. It also requires licensing boards to disclose early on whether specific criminal convictions disqualify a person from being eligible for a license, long before they spend time and money training and going through the licensing application process. Licensing boards are now required to post this information on their website, allow denied applications to be appealed, and limit disqualifying criminal convictions to those that directly relate to the nature of work being performed.

Louisiana licensing boards should now be following this updated law. Individuals with a past criminal conviction who are seeking an occupational license should check the licensing board’s website for information about the application process and any disqualifying convictions. Call their office and ask to speak with someone about the applicant’s individual circumstance. If assistance cannot be obtained, consider calling the applicant’s elected state representative or senator to request assistance. Individuals can also contact one of Pelican’s Center for Justice attorneys at info@pelicaninstitute.org or (504) 500-0506.

It’s time to break down the occupational licensing barriers faced by individuals who are trying to get their lives back on track and achieve the outcomes necessary for individual and societal progress. When we give individuals a second chance, it truly benefits us all.