Offering a “Fresh Start” to Those with Criminal Records
BY JUSTIN OWEN
One of Beacon’s top priorities right now is to identify barriers that prevent those coming out of our criminal justice system from becoming productive, taxpaying citizens. Sadly, many barriers exist that keep the revolving door of the system spinning. As a result, nearly half of those leaving prison in Tennessee return within three years. This is making our communities less safe and costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
One barrier that we have identified is the fact that almost every board that hands out occupational licenses can deny someone a license for a past criminal record. And given that Tennessee requires a license to do more than 100 different jobs, this prevents people from accessing many promising careers.
The Coalition for Sensible Justice—made up of Beacon, the ACLU, Goodwill, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, and Tennessee County Services Association—is working to fix that problem. We have proposed reforms to give those with a criminal record a “fresh start.” The goal is simple: if a licensing board wants to deny a license to do a job, it must prove that there is a relationship between the person’s past crime and the job sought.
If a person has multiple theft crimes in his past, he could be denied a license to be a locksmith or alarm installer. But if he has a DUI from a decade ago, he shouldn’t be denied a license to be a barber.
Importantly, because licensing boards could still deny licenses for related past crimes, this reform idea protects the public from bad actors. But it would eliminate an unnecessary barrier for those who made past mistakes, but have since served their time and now just want to get back on their feet.
Beacon will continue looking to eliminate harmful barriers and offer solutions to make our communities safer and save taxpayers money with sensible justice reforms like this.