Monday, April 11, 2011

Licensing strictures boost ex-felon unemployment

Nearly one-third of Texas' workforce is in a licensed or regulated industry, but increasingly state laws and/or agency regulations don't allow ex-felons to seek employment in those fields, reports Eric Dexheimer at the Austin Statesman ("Texas ex-offenders denied job licenses," April 11). "Thousands of applicants are denied state licenses to work in more than 100 occupations every year because of their criminal pasts, a number that advocates say understates the true volume because others don't bother applying. Although they are a fraction of the total prisoners released, criminal justice experts say, the licensing roadblocks highlight the obstacles all ex-prisoners face when seeking work — challenges that could increase as lawmakers contemplate cutting educational and vocational programs for offenders." Meanwhile:
At the same time, licensing agencies are prying deeper into applicants' brushes with the law, said Louis Leichter, an Austin lawyer whose firm often represents ex-offenders seeking licenses. Where once applicants were required to disclose only convictions, now many must also explain incidents ending in pretrial diversion and deferred adjudication, he said.

And every legislative session, more occupations are contemplated for new regulation, the process that can exclude those with criminal histories. In the past, lawmakers have proposed regulating sheet metal workers and lactation consultants. This year, bills have been filed that would require licensing and criminal history checks for roofers, foundation repairmen and commercial dog or cat breeders
Perhaps most absurdly, "In a few cases, the government covered the cost of occupational training for ex-offenders, only to reject their license applications later." Like increased criminal penalties generally, licensing strictures on ex-felons tend to be a one-way ratchet, seldom rolled back once installed. There has to be some point when ex-offenders have paid their debt to society and are allowed to work, support themselves and, with any luck, their families.

This might make a terrific Interim Study topic for, say, the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee, or perhaps Business and Commerce in the Senate. With the Legislature cutting job training and reentry funds, these type of  restrictions become an even more critical barrier to ex-felons reintegrating into society, focusing government interventions on disincentives to employment instead of funding programs that promote it. How much sense does that make?

26 comments:

Prison Doc said...

Excellent topic and a major interest of mine--the comments to the Statesman article are revealing in the number of unsymnpathetic "You shoulda thought about this first" remarks. What the Duddley Doright fools don't realize is the size of the unemployable underclass they are producing. Nobody thinks about it before the crime--especially not the low level druggies who are set up and framed, who then have limited choices....

Hook Em Horns said...

The concept of creating "felons for life" needs to be done away with. Being categorized as a felon for the rest of one's life is patently unfair and, as Prison Doc suggests, creates a monstrous unemployable underclass. Texas has never shown much interest in restoring ex-cons to a real shot at life but it's past time this was done.

Once an individual has served their sentence, they should no longer be labeled a felon. Rights to bear firearms, licensing for employment and so on SHOULD be restored. IF a criminal shows a propensity for crime that is more like a repeat offender, three strikes your out or whatever, THEN society has an obligation to re-classify this individual and perhaps "felon" is appropriate.

For many individuals sentenced for catching oysters out of season, making them unemployable is shooting all of us in the foot.

Arce said...

I have an acquaintance who was entrapped into buying $17 of drugs for a guy who was working with the narcs to lessen his charges. He ended up with a felony charge and cannot even work as a home health worker, even though 20 years have passed and his record has been entirely clean.

With appropriate defense, the charges should have been dropped. We need to fix both the front end and the back end of these processes

Anonymous said...

You reap what you sow, they can either start building more prisons or training more productive citizens who can get a job.

Hook Em Horns said...

"You reap what you sow."

Certainly. Without question but a life sentence as a felon for a dope deal is a little much. Lesson learned, sentence served, the felony label should be dropped, period.

Entrapment is almost a bygone term in the legal profession. Trust me...

Anonymous said...

These kind of laws is just another case of the pols wanting to be able to say they did something in the lege to get more votes. Never mind the stuff doesn't make sense.

Anonymous said...

I was released 39 yrs. ago and have found that the many road-blocks, that are deliberatly put in my way to bettering my life, seem to be growing expenentially! I have not had as much as a traffic citation since my release. I sometimes feel like "what's the sense in trying". I guess that 4 decades of leading an exemplary life is just not enough. I will not stop trying though! What are the alternatives for me. Is the state wanting us all to fail so that their twisted logic on this matter can, in some weird way, be justified? Shameful behavoir by the people who swore to help their state to be the "GREAT STATE of TEXAS" again. I have worked in the building maint. business for all of those 39 yrs. Every time I try to get and advancement, the state steps in and says "not so fast"! My question to them would be "whats so fast about 39 yrs?

The Homeless Cowboy said...

I must agree with 7:38 I was released in 1974 and have had the stigma ever since, Granted it was not as bad then as it is now. It has gotten worse over the years.

In regard to 5:46 (You reap what you sow, they can either start building more prisons or training more productive citizens who can get a job.) Thank You Governor Perry for your input, careful, dont drool tobacco juice on your shirt.

This is tantamount to receiving a life sentence for any level of felony crime.
Hook em was absolutely correct in saying it creates a monstrous unemployable underclass, who by the way are nearly doomed to recidivism if we dont offer some type of help.

We have habitual offender and habitual criminal laws in Texas, USE THEM, dont automatically presume that every person who makes a mistake is a career criminal. I seem to remember that employers at one time were not allowed to check felony convictions for employment. Why are we continuing to hold people responsible for years after paying their debt. I have been out of prison for 37 years, but I cant be a barber, a plumber, an electrician or many other trades because I need a state license to do so. I went to prison when I was 17 years old, I haven't been fully released yet........ I promise to try harder

Charlie O said...

Texans, I have to ask again. How's that "less government" Republican thing working out for you? Effing hypocrites.

A Texas PO said...

I can completely understand the State's desire to limit licensing in certain professions covering certain areas of the market. I, for one, would not want a felon in my home for the safety of myself and my family (some of these folks hold grudges whether rightfully or not). But banning a roofer from getting licensed to work on commercial buildings or plumbers/electricians from working on government contracts? That's way over board and needs to be corrected.

Woodsy said...

Recently, a police officer attempting to turn on his gun-mounted flashlight accidentally shot and killed a small-time drug suspect who wasn't trying to flee or evade. He received a written reprimand (aka warning). Meanwhile, someone who wrote an $800 check they couldn't cover twenty years ago (a felony at the time) cannot ever own a firearm. Grits readers, who do you feel is least worthy to own or carry a firearm: one who has already proven himself to be unworthy by accidentally shooting someone, or someone who wrote a hot check twenty years ago?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Texas PO, how long in your opinion should the ban last on ex-felons, say, taking a residential roofing job? Ten years after their sentence is discharged? 15? 20? When have they paid their debt? When is enough enough?

jimbino said...

It seems that the prevalent discrimination would present a business opportunity to those who advertised for and hired only ex-felons, just as it is for those who hire Spanish-only speakers or only women, who, we hear, are paid 74 cents on the dollar compared to men.

And these opportunities wouldn't have to be in low-paying jobs only. As far as I know, you don't have to have a clean record or even a college degree to be a software engineer (or to found a Microsoft, Dell Computer or Facebook, invent the airplane, the telephone or the lightbulb).

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, after serving a sentence including parole, the records should be wiped off the books. No one should be labeled a "felon" for life and not have to have a background check;let that person have the opportunity to work and survive and not have to contine to look over their shoulders to be sure they are not being labeled. This information should not be available to the general public.

Who in this world has not done something they are ashamed of, let them cast the first stone. In God's eyes, we are all sinners and He continuse to give us hope, love and abilities to live our lives.

Hook Em Horns said...

It remains to be seen whether any of us will be alive when this comes to a head but rest assured, it will come to a head. With Texas creating felons faster than McDonalds makes Big Mac's, something will have to give!

A Texas PO said...

Scott, honestly, I don't know if I can think of a time frame. In my deep down darkest opinion of opinions, those who have committed heinous crimes against others causing direct physical AND emotional harm, I feel are the true threat that give all of the other felons a bad rap. I certainly don't think that someone who made a mistake 30 years ago and has not engaged in criminal activity since then should be considered a threat to our society. As things stand right now in Texas with a mostly non-existent reentry program, I am not comfortable with licensing violent felons and gang members for industries that bring them into people's homes. Sure, they can work on the roof of the courthouse, the probation office, the Walmart, but personal residences? I just can't get comfortable with that across the board. I personally think the reason a majority felons are banned from these licensing opportunities is because it would require the Legislature to actually look at the criminal offenses on the books and decide which ones are eligible for these jobs. Overharvested clams? Sure, come on in. Raped or murdered several people? No thanks. IMO. I just can't bring myself to accept a sweeping reform allowing all felons access to these licenses.

Woodsy said...

In many other states (e.g., Hawaii, Michigan, Massachusetts), the legislatures there have enacted laws prohibiting most employers from even asking about felony convictions dating beyond 7 to 10 years. Also, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled repeatedly that covered employers cannot simply bar felons from consideration, but must show that a conviction-based disqualification is justified by “business necessity. ” The legal test requires employers to examine the (1) nature and gravity of the offense or offenses, (2) length of time since the conviction or completion of sentence, and (3) nature of the job held or sought. Under this test, employers must consider the job-relatedness of a conviction, the circumstances of the offense, and the number of offenses (EEOC Compliance Manual, § 604 Appendices). But employers,particularly in Texas, are out of compliance with this ad reg.

Apartment complexes and even some neighborhoods similarly discriminate. Heck, I've had apartment complexes tell me that they don't care if the conviction was fifty years ago for a property offense, they don't permit ANY felons to live there.

Charlie O said...

Woodsey,

I had an apartment complex in Arlington, Texas refuse to rent to me because I had merely been CHARGED with a crime in Florida.

Texas PO,

Martha Stewart is a convicted felon, would you be afraid to let her into your home?

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, Answer - None. BUT one thing is for sure, it will make money due to the fees collected for Applications, Exams, Study Materials, $15. DPS Fingerprint Cards & Criminal History checks, etc... Then of course we will need to hire more state inspectors which will bring in more revenue as they issue fines. Devry University and all of the Tech Schools will offer Roofing & Poop Removal classes and so on.

Home Builders glady pay framers $27an hr. as long as they can read a tape measure and more if you speak english (the requirement for Formen). The minute that they have to be licensed, they'll command $40an hr. making that already over priced home unaffordable, vacant & vadalized. Then of course someone will have to file a bill allowing illegals to be licensed. Then we will have to decide if the background check should include thier respective countries.

We used to be able to thank Realtors & Leasing Agents for jacking up prices due to their education, license & income which is based on a percentage of the gross.

Anyone know the names of the 'Lawmakers' that proposed regulating sheet metal workers, lactation consultants, roofers, foundation repairmen and commercial dog or cat breeders?
Thanks.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Texas PO, you said "I, for one, would not want a felon in my home for the safety of myself and my family (some of these folks hold grudges whether rightfully or not)".

What if you rec. a call from your family member(s)alerting you that they've been positively identified as a robbery suspect saying they didn't do it, was forced to plead Nolo Contendre due to a bad lawyer? When they get out of prison, would you ban them from Birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas & Family Reunions at your house? Or just hide everything? What if a family member brought a friend to help you move or place sand bags to prevent flooding your home? Would you make them wait until you ran your check? Would you place your family in a hotel, wait, there could be felons making those darn beds. What if your lawn crew dug a hole, burst your water pipe & needed to get in the garage to turn off the sprinkler power supply, is that cool? Wait you didn't know about the new guy they hired with the criminal past. What if a tornado tore off your roof & the neighbor had tarps you could borrow until a crew could get there? Would you run a check prior to allowing him to help you secure them down?

Do you run background checks on everyone that works where your family shops? Heaven forbid that you are ever faced with throwing a garage sale or need a frigin kidney & the donor was an alledged Aggravaited Robber.

The point you should be getting from this is anyone can call themselves an Anonynous Texas PO & spend their spare time commenting on blogs. Thanks.

*Charlie O, you know he/she would. Ten bucks says he/she would allow Mike Tyson to roof the house.

A Texas PO said...

To Charlie O and Thomas R. Griffith: I'm not exactly sure why this blog commentary suddenly became an attack on me and my personal opinions when you have no idea who I am and I have no idea who you are. And no, I would not let Martha Stewart or Mike Tyson into my home because I don't like either them, will never ever meet them. Probably because they will avoid Texas like the plague as many other Americans are doing.

To Charlie O: if you actually read my post and understood my very simple English, you would see that I don't have a problem with ALL felons. I due, however, have a problem with giving licenses to those have who have been convicted of violent felony offenses which would allow them into people's homes. I don't want them in MY home for my family's safety, especially since I have received several death threats from felons who violated their probation stipulations. I have good reason to be concerned.

To Thomas: your assertions that I am somehow an angry bigot out to screw over all felons is blatantly ridiculous and uncalled for. I am not so sheltered and stupid that I would expect that I would never come into contact with felons ever. In fact, I have daily contact with them. I know that some of them (and very few to be accurate) are very bad people. The majority made a mistake and work every day to make amends for that mistake. I have gone out of my way to help these folks and have even gone as far as meeting with prospective employers to get them more involved with Project RIO and the workforce commissions, to much success. As for family members with felonies: yes, I would rather cut my ties with them if they committed violent crimes against people, and I have done so for those that truly need those ties to be cut. But we're not just talking about letting felons you know into your home, we're talking about those you don't know or know very little about. As for posting without placing my name on here, I am also not an idiot (although your thick-headedness will not understand that). I have worked in community supervision in Texas long enough to know that my comments on a blog could lead me to losing my job, not because I'm a bad officer, but because I have opinions like every other person on this planet.

So how about posting something productive rather than attacking me.

And Scott, I still am not sure if I can think of a time frame that would be suitable. I know there are folks who have been convicted of violent crimes as a result of a failed due process or bad counsel, but there are also those who truly are guilty and have created a long line of victims. I just honestly don't know, but I would support any reasonable policy change in this area.

Thomas said...

Sorry that I missed this one Grits. Very good comments. There was a similar discussion last Wednesday, 04-13, on Professor Berman's blog regarding the recent Pew report on recidivism. In response I posted the following which of course resulted in a full on distraction/diversionary assault by Bill Otis.

Posted on "Sentencing Law & Policy" 04-13-1

How in the world do politicians ever expect to reduce the recidivism rate if they continue to introduce stupid legislation that prohibits ex-offenders from seeking meaningful employment?

Two bills currently pending in Tennessee, HB 1070 by Rep. Barrett Rich & SB 0901 by Senator Bo Watson is a case in point. As introduced the legislation prohibits any board under the division of health related boards from issuing or renewing a license to a health care professional or applicant who might engage in direct patient care when that professional or applicant has been convicted of a felony.

Read all about it at the following link:
http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/default.aspx?BillNumber=HB1070&GA=107

There has to be some understanding by politicians of the difference between a "FELON" and a felony offense. There is Charles Manson, a "FELON" and there is Martha Stewart who committed a felony offense. Of course, the one should be put away forever but the other......... Is there a real threat here?

These two Tennessee politicos are, like so many other "tough on crime" proponents, only looking at the benefit to their own political careers. They make no distinction between a violent and non-violent offense and pay no heed to the damage being done to those ex-offenders and their families who only want, and deserve, a chance to put their lives back in order.

The fiscal impact statement section of the legislation makes the outrageous statement that the fiscal impact of the bill is "Not Significant". Perhaps not to the immediate loss of revenue to Tennessee but what about the loss of the ability to make a living and support a family. What about the future expense to Tennessee if, because of government roadblocks, the ex-offender becomes a welfare recipient or worse commits another crime and is returned to the state prison system? What now of the fiscal impact?

Rather than placing more roadblocks in the path of ex-offenders, the State of Tennessee and the country would be better served if these representatives would get behind the initiative of Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen and his "Fresh Start Act". This is common sense legislation that will give federal first time non-violent offenders a real second chance at becoming productive taxpaying citizens. The legislation would also provide incentives to the individual states to follow the same course.

Anonymous said...

There are certain felons who have hurt others and will continue to do so. I finally got my first felony at 51 for a drug charge. I have turned my life around but now I am put in the same catagory pretty much with the people who steal....who do bad things to other people. Believe there are some real pieces of garbage out there on drugs and during the time of my drug usage I would try to keep those people away. In our lives we run into people who don't do drugs that do bad things but in the drug world you'll meet more.

These things that the state does making it harder for felons to find work has something to do with our country turning into a police state. The US incarcerates more people than anywhere else in the world.

Us as individuals who put these unfair practices to the attention of legislatures will have to hear "You should of thought of that... Anyway what I'm getting to is there needs to be an organized group of felons who have turned their life around but continue to be denied whatever rights...

So is there any kind of say non govt organization of people who petition the state on these matters? If not one needs to be started.

We're suppose to pay taxes and be good citizens but treated as 2nd class citizens.

Anonymous said...

For all you do gooders who use the phrase "You should of thought of the consequences..."

OK if some felons go back to their criminal ways because of employment discrimination then you're going to pay for it one way or another for prison upkeep. So pat yourself on the back for that one.

Anonymous said...

Im trying to get a plumbing license in Hawaii and i had a felony conviction 16 years ago. Ive been a model citizen since, i never missed a day of work or school. Now after 6 years of school and work, the board of licensing wants to run me through the ringer to get a license, letters from doctors, therepists, community leaders, etc saying im rehabilitated, etc. I've worked so hard for 15 years to do right and get a decent job, buy a home, have a family and now if i cant get a license i will lose my job, benefits, health insurance, probably my house too. At this point in my life i would never do anything to jepordize my job, family or home, but the state just still continues to try to ruin me and my family any way possible over something that happened 16 years ago.

frank said...

In texas there is a bill that needs to be made law called hb321 that makes it illegal for your licence to be denied because of deferred adjudication completion or housing or a job.Deferred is suppose to be the second chance this bill does just that.It needs to be pushed.