People who have served time in prison are likely to find many occupational licenses unavailable to them – licenses that are necessary to earn a living.
More than 10,000 regulations can prevent people with criminal records from obtaining licenses, according to an article on Independent.co.uk,
These restrictions make it difficult to enter or get ahead in fast-growing industries such as health care, human services and some mechanical trades. The restrictions often include the very jobs they’ve trained for in prison or in re-entry programs.
“In many states, a criminal record is a stain that you can’t wash off,” said Steven Slivinski, an economist at the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty at Arizona State University. “There is no amount of studying that can take away this mark on your past if a licensing board wants to use it against you.”
The Sept. 14, 2019 story cites the case of Meko Lincoln, who served time for robbery, assault and various drug crimes. He is in a Rhode Island reentry program where he is training to be a drug and alcohol counselor. He believes his past was not a liability but an asset. “I lived it, I understand it…I can help another person save a life.”
Previously Lincoln relapsed after completing the 90-day training program. As a result, he was convicted of assault, heroin possession, and stealing drugs and sent back to prison. He received a three-year sentence.
“Instead of facing life on its terms, I kind of folded like a lawn chair,” Lincoln said.
While back in prison, he learned to read and write from another inmate. He read the Quran and embraced Islam. In this religion he learned to forgive himself and others. He also participated in behavioral therapy, attending a chemical dependency program. In this program he was inspired to become a counselor as a career. Now, according to the article, he’s living clean, sober and healthy.
“He has the life experience that would allow somebody else to say, ‘Well. if Meko can do it, I can possibly do it too,’ said Amos House Chief Executive Eileen Hayes.
In this program he works as a “peer recovery coach,” earning $25,000 a year and receives advanced training in this program.
“Licensing legitimizes us as somebody,” says Lincoln. “It’s recognition.” It isn’t all about recognition, however. It’s about earning a living. In Rhode Island, Lincoln’s home state, a licensed chemical dependency technician earns $50,000 a year but Lincoln’s drug convictions may make him ineligible.
There’s another side to the issue of public safety. States with the strictest licensing barriers tend to have higher rates of recidivism, according to research by Stephen Slivinski, an economist at the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty at Arizona State University.
Rhode Island does not officially bar people with criminal histories from being licensed in HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and other mechanical trades but they might as well.
Bill Okerholm, an HVAC instructor in Rhode Island, said that the union of plumbers, pipefitters and refrigeration technicians accepts people with records as apprentices on a case-by-case basis. But of the 250 men he’s trained at the prison in the past five years, Okerholm can’t recall a single person who has been licensed after release.
California passed legislation in 2018 that required convictions to be “substantially related” to an occupation in-order to deny a license.