Policy Brief: Eliminating Barriers with a “Fresh Start”

March 7, 2018 10:40AM

The Problem

Each year, thousands of Tennesseans leave our prisons after serving time for crimes they’ve committed. We can either eliminate barriers that keep them from becoming productive, taxpaying citizens, or we can leave those barriers up and risk them turning back to a life of crime. One such barrier is government licensing. Tennessee requires a license for 110 different jobs, many of which impact low-income Tennesseans. Even worse, almost every state licensing board can deny a license to do a job based off a past criminal record, including low-level misdemeanor crimes.

The Solution

We can reduce barriers to entering a profession by only allowing state licensing boards to deny licenses for past crimes that are directly related to the job sought excluding certain felonies and violent crimes. It would give those who committed an unrelated crime to the profession they wish to join a “fresh start.”

How to Do It

We should create a policy that if a licensing board denies someone a license for a past crime, the board must consider the nature and seriousness of the crime, the passage of time since the crime was committed, and the relationship between the crime and the license sought, among other factors. In short, if a person has a series of breaking and entering felonies over the past few years, he can be denied a license to be a locksmith or an alarm installer. But if he has a DUI from 10 years ago, he can’t be denied a license to be a barber.

We should also allow applicants for licenses to petition a state licensing board upfront to determine whether a past crime will disqualify them from obtaining a license. That way, they don’t have to spend hundreds or thousands of hours obtaining educational requirements for a license they will ultimately be denied.

Currently, many Tennesseans are deterred from even starting the process to obtain a license if they know they can be denied the license for a past crime. Once a person is denied a license, we should create a way for an individual to appeal the decision to ensure that his or her right to earn a living is not unfairly restricted due to a licensing board’s decision. This will strike the appropriate balance between protecting consumers’ safety and preserving the right to earn a living for those who made past mistakes. We can protect public safety and people’s ability to work and be productive citizens at the same time.

Who This Impacts

Monty Mcquaid was charged with theft under $500 when he and a group of teenagers were caught stealing beer in high school. Monty was simply in the parking lot when the crime occurred, but all of the teenagers in the group were charged the same.

He was supposed to be able to have his record expunged at 18, but despite attempting to go through this process his record was never cleared. Now, Monty wants to be a locksmith. But due to the impossibility of becoming licensed as one due to both his criminal history and the strenuous other requirements regulating this field, he has instead been forced to operate as a Lockout Company. This means he is only able to help people who have locked their keys in their car, and since he cannot advertise as a locksmith, his business is severely limited. He thinks this will be his last year in business unless something significant happens that allows him to become licensed as a locksmith.

More Resources

“Advancing Sensible Justice in Tennessee”

Beacon Center of Tennessee


Stephanie Whitt is the Executive Vice President of the Beacon Center of Tennessee.