Commentary, Criminal Justice

Jim Gray: Stop Linking Occupational Licensing to Felony Convictions

Truly one of the most important factors affecting our country’s domestic tranquility is people’s ability to get a job. Occupational licensing has a major effect on that situation. In so many different ways, not being able to find lawful employment contributes greatly to a loss of self-respect which, in turn, leads to despair, crime and drug abuse. And probably the ones most susceptible to those ills are people who have served time in prison. Why? Because if ex-felons cannot get a job, the odds are shown to be appreciably higher that they will commit another offense that will land them back in prison.

But what most people do not realize is that many state governments intensely and unfairly aggravate this situation! How? Because those states’ occupational licensing boards are empowered to – and often do – reject applications for as many as 118 different types of jobs simply because the applicants were previously convicted of a felony. This includes applications for licenses to work as barbers, hair stylists, massage therapists and roofers, even though the conviction had nothing to do with those jobs.

Yes, maybe some applicants should be rejected based upon the specific circumstances involved, but occupational licensing decisions should never be automatic! In other words, after they have completed their sentence, the ex-felons have been punished enough and should be given a fair chance to be productive members of society! And, of course, since this situation creates greater court and prison costs, the taxpayers are being punished as well.

In the end, everyone loses as a result of these extreme occupational licensing laws (except the prison guards unions who benefit from a higher recidivism rate). Thus, for all of our sakes, this deprivation of Liberty to pursue lawful employment should not be tolerated!

(Photo of barber by Neromare Design used with permission.)

Judge James P. Gray (Ret.) was a judge on the Superior Court of Orange County, California for 25 years, and was the running mate of Gary Johnson in the 2012 presidential contest, as well as the Libertarian Party’s 2004 candidate for the United States Senate in California. The author of multiple books and a play, he is a critic of current American drug laws.

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