How States Can Dismantle Employment Barriers for People with Criminal Records

February 2, 2021

Over the past two decades, state and federal policymakers have increasingly taken action to improve people’s chances of safely and successfully returning from prison to the community. Yet tens of thousands of existing laws and regulations continue to undermine that good work and sabotage second chances.

A new publication from The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, After the Sentence, More Consequences: A National Report of Barriers to Work, presents an overview of the nearly 30,000 consequences of conviction that directly block people from being hired or create barriers to obtaining occupational licenses that are essential for certain jobs.

The CSG Justice Center has spent years tracking the more than 40,000 state and federal laws and regulations that limit or prohibit people who have criminal records from accessing employment, education, housing, and other opportunities. While these “collateral consequences” can affect everything from getting a driver’s license to public benefit eligibility, no opportunity is stifled more than the ability to find and retain meaningful employment.

Millions of Americans are burdened by a criminal record. And even in a thriving economy, their unemployment rate was almost five times that of people without criminal records. The first step to meaningfully changing these barriers is understanding them.
Megan Quattlebaum
Director of the CSG Justice Center

While these consequences impact jobs in nearly every sector of the economy, the health care industry is far and away the most impacted, with nearly 7,500 consequences. Approximately 44 percent of these employment-related consequences are mandatory, and 83 percent of them can last for the rest of a person’s life.

Some are clearly arcane, such as denying an occupational license for an ambiguous “crime of moral turpitude.” Others can be devastating in times of widespread need, even blocking a person with a decades-old misdemeanor from becoming a respiratory therapist in the midst of a pandemic-driven shortage.

Concurrently, the CSG Justice Center also has developed a national playbook that identifies best practice goals and strategies that states can implement to reduce the negative impacts of employment-related collateral consequences. Customized playbooks for states show the progress individual states have made toward meeting these goals.

With the pandemic devastating employment in states across the country, policymakers have a unique chance to rebuild their workforce and create an inclusive economy—one that affords opportunities to all, gives businesses access to untapped talent, and helps make our communities safer.
Megan Quattlebaum
Director of the CSG Justice Center

Photo by Sonny Sixteen via Unsplash

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