By Shoshana Weissmann and Nila Bala
Currently in both Maryland and Tennessee, a criminal past—or even just being accused of a crime—often stands between people and a job. This is because many occupational licensing laws prevent ex-offenders from being able to obtain a license for the jobs they seek. What’s more, many of these restrictions aren’t targeted at people whose criminal history relates to their desired career; instead, they can serve as blanket bans for those hoping to enter hundreds of professions including plumbing, cosmetology and interior design.
By prohibiting wide swaths of people from licensure, these boards aren’t protecting health and safety—they’re just making it more likely these individuals will remain unemployed and unable to support themselves or their families. This, of course, is counterproductive, as keeping ex-offenders employed is good both for families and for the safety of communities.
Recently, the American Bar Association found 348 licensing or certification restrictions in Maryland for those with criminal records. The situation is similar in Tennessee. Many of these are wholly arbitrary. For example, right now, in Calvert County, Md., a person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor is disqualified from working as a fortune-teller. Similarly, Tennessee currently allows licensing boards to prevent anyone convicted of felonies from becoming architects, engineers, cosmetologists, accountants, and even auctioneers.