Don’t limit chance to find job

When someone is released from prison we expect that person to turn his or her life around, get the counseling he or she needs and was ordered to complete, pay restitution and fines, keep community supervision appointments, support himself or herself and, key to most of that, find a job.

Finding employment often is tough enough for those with a criminal record. But Washington state hasn’t made it any easier, having closed off to those with a past conviction any job that requires an occupational license. And the list of jobs that require such a license is long and diverse. Anyone leaving prison now can ignore want ads for the following occupations: bartender, cosmetologist, tattoo artist, commercial fisher, most contractors, truck driver, embalmer, engineer, nurse, dental assistant, health care worker, insurance adjuster, real estate professional, waste management worker, mobile home installer and many others. A report by the Institute for Justice finds 54 occupations requiring a license in Washington, making it the “19th most extensively and onerously licensed state in the nation.”

Legislation now in the House, House Bill 1553, sponsored locally by Reps. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline; Luis Moscoso, D-Bothell; Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds; and Ruth Kagi, D-Shoreline, would allow those with past convictions to petition a superior court judge for a Certificate of Restoration of Opportunities, as reported earlier this week by public radio station KPLU (88.5 FM).

Depending on the seriousness of the crime, after one to three years, those with past convictions who had completed the requirements of their sentences and had not been arrested or convicted of a new crime could, by making an application through the county prosecutor’s office, ask a judge to review his or her record and be cleared to meet the other requirements of an occupational license and apply for work in that career. Sex offenders would not be able to apply for a certificate. And nothing in the law requires a potential employer to hire anyone because the applicant has a certificate. But possession of such a certificate might be further evidence to a potential employee that an applicant is trustworthy and making an effort to be a productive citizen.

Other states, including Arizona, North Carolina and New York have similar programs in place.

According to a 2013 report by The Council of State Government’s Justice Center, research showing a direct link between employment and a decreased likelihood to reoffend is limited. But common sense and what research is cited by the report finds those released from incarceration and who hold jobs in the community and can count on job stability are less likely to reoffend, particularly if the work pays above minimum wage, as is often the case with jobs that require state occupational licenses.

If we want those with a criminal history to leave that history behind them, then we shouldn’t complicate their search for work and sentence them to a life of menial, low-paying jobs.

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