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License to Clip: A Movement to Let the Formerly Incarcerated Cut Hair and Drive Taxis Is Gaining Ground

The Marshall Project

By Ashley Nerbovig

Rosemarie Abruzzese feared losing her cosmetology license and her job in 2017 after the Pennsylvania Board of Cosmetology said her past felony drug conviction made her a threat to public safety.

Her story is familiar, a license being threatened or denied outright because of a past crime.

Abruzzese was fortunate, though. She had access to a lawyer and appealed the decision to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. In April, the court ordered the board to grant her a probationary license, which means she can keep her job. If no other problems occur, the full license will be reinstated.

Eliminating licensing regulations that block people with criminal histories from getting work has gained support on the federal and state level. In 2015, the Obama administration released a list of best practices for states on occupational licensing. And President Donald Trump’s labor department is providing funding to states that want to study their licensing laws.

“If a person commits a crime, and they pay their debt to society, when does that debt end?” asked Jeff Robinson, director of the Trone Center for Justice and Equality, of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Does it end when you come out of prison? Because apparently it’s just beginning when you come out of prison. And that makes no sense.”

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