Across the nation, nearly thirty percent of jobs require an occupational license or certification; that percentage has more than quintupled since the 1950s. These licensing restrictions often create a lifelong barrier to gainful careers for the large number of qualified workers in Rhode Island with an arrest or conviction record. Now is the time for Rhode Island to embrace the bi-partisan movement that has taken hold across the U.S. to reform the state’s licensing process and clear the way for qualified workers with records to be compete fairly for jobs.
All too often, Rhode Island laws impose blanket restrictions against licensing people with any felony, misdemeanor, or crime of “moral turpitude.” Even old or minor offenses, including arrests that never resulted in a conviction, can hinder job prospects by resulting in exclusion from specific jobs or entire occupations, often without much or any consideration for the specific individual, the nature of the past offense, or the type of work. The consequence of such barriers is that many formerly incarcerated people struggle to find permanent, stable work.
Research demonstrates the negative correlation between licensing restrictions and recidivism: in states that are more onerously licensed, recidivism is higher than states with fewer barriers to licensing. Rhode Island ranks as the 10th most heavily licensed state in the nation. As one in three adults has an arrest or conviction record, unnecessary prohibitions against licensing people with records is curtailing economic opportunity for thousands of Rhode Islanders and undermining the continued safety of communities.
Significantly, Rhode Island requires a license or certification to work in over seventy percent of lower-wage occupations, jobs many could expect to get when returning home from prison. Many of these professions, particularly those in healthcare, currently face major worker shortages in Rhode Island, leaving employers without sufficient numbers of licensed or certified applicants. This is why in a state like Rhode Island that is deeply committed to strong job creation, fair chance licensing is an urgent and necessary reform to promote prosperity across the state.
Like many other new fair chance licensing laws recently enacted across the country in states as diverse as Mississippi and California, Rhode Island’s pending bills (S0610 and H5863) would adopt common sense reforms that help remove unnecessary barriers to licensing and certification of qualified workers with records. For example, the bills would require that disqualifying offenses “directly relate” to the licensed occupation, taking into account the age of the offense and other factors, while also allowing the individual to present evidence of rehabilitation and letters of reference demonstrating his or her fitness for the license or certificate. This in no way forces licensing authorities to approve people if the their record involves conduct that overlaps with the duties of the occupation; it simply ensures that people who have served their time and are rehabilitated have a fair chance at careers.
There is a reason that fair chance licensing has gained bipartisan support nationwide – because it is simply smart reform. Fair chance licensing is at once a tool of economic growth and a profoundly effective public safety measure. This is why Right on Crime has urged the Rhode Island State Legislature to pass fair chance licensing in 2019, a measure that would bring the state in line with the bi-partisan movement across the country to embrace fair chance licensing reform.
Rhode Island may be a small state but through fair chance hiring legislation it can make a big statement when it comes to the importance of second chances and the opportunity to earn a living.