Some States Reconsider Barring Felons from Jobs

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Illinois bans some ex-offenders from getting as many as 118 kinds of occupational licenses. Residents with felony convictions can’t be riverboat owners or horse meat processors. A criminal record may disqualify acupuncturists, auctioneers, boxing referees, dance hall operators, interior designers and massage therapists, Stateline reports. Now Illinois is among a handful of states reconsidering their licensing rules and giving ex-offenders a chance. Although the change can make professional associations squeamish, it’s drawing support across the political spectrum as lawmakers try to get more people with criminal records into jobs.

In Kentucky, legislators included changes to licensing in a bill that would also create work-release programs at jails, reduce some probation and parole terms, and take other steps to help prisoners re-enter society. In Nebraska, a Libertarian senator has proposed rolling back licensing restrictions for all state residents — including those with criminal records — in to improve conditions for businesses in the state. “There’s now a marriage of interests,” said Lee McGrath of the libertarian Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm. “It’s something that both sides can get their head around — it’s the great Rooseveltian idea that the best social program is a job.” Research shows that ex-offenders who are steadily employed are less likely to get into trouble with the law again. At a time when employers are complaining about worker shortages, ex-offenders can be an untapped resource. The Safer Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit that helps felons find jobs, says that even health care employers, who have long been wary of hiring people with a criminal history, have become open to doing so. “They’re at a point where they can no longer turn away people,” said Safer’s Sodiqa Williams.

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