Reducing recidivism by giving rehabilitated offenders greater opportunities to work

House Bill 770 enjoys rare support across the political divide.* It would make important changes to how licensing boards treat applicants with conviction records, as discussed here.

Here is why those changes are important. North Carolina law lacks a way for boards to discern whether a conviction is relevant to the job requirements. Was it a youthful indiscretion, or was it something that would mean the applicant is truly unsuited to working in that field? Right now, either can be used to disqualify an applicant on the grounds of moral turpitude.

Going further, North Carolina has 641 different disqualifications in state occupational licensing laws for having a criminal record, more than all the other Southeastern U.S. states except Florida:

Number of disqualifications in state occupational licensing laws preventing someone with a criminal record from getting a license (Southeastern states)


Data source: National Employment Law Project

Meanwhile, about 15 percent of North Carolinians have a conviction record, and 22 percent of the state’s workforce is required to have occupational licenses. In 2017, nearly 25,000 people were released from North Carolina prisons.

Think about those numbers in the broader context. When people are released from prison, they are considered “rehabilitated” and ready for re-entry into society. That they make the most of their second chance is very important for them as well as for society in general. One of the best ways for people to avoid going back to prison (recidivism) is to find employment.

So a clear way to reduce recidivism is for licensing boards not to disqualify an applicant merely for having a conviction record. A disqualifying conviction ought to be for something either directly related to the duties of the job or for egregious violent or sexual offenses.

Remember, this isn’t a matter of nine employers turning down an applicant over worries about a conviction record, where the tenth decides to take a chance on him. Denying an occupational license denies entry in the job field.

The state doesn’t let anyone take a chance on him. He can’t even self-employ in the field.


* Occupational licensing is an area notoriously fraught with public-choice problems. It’s not unusual for there to be accord between political parties and ideologies for reform, but because the real divide over the issue is entrenched special interests (the licensed professions, especially current practitioners) vs. a relatively unaffected general public, it still takes extraordinary effort to enact reforms.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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