Saturday, April 14, 2018

House approves bill removing barriers to reentry for those convicted of a crime who have served their time

by Rod Williams - This week the Tennessee House of Representatives approved legislation that will remove barriers for Tennesseans who are seeking a fresh start in life.  House Bill 2248also known as the Fresh Start Act — is designed to further reduce Tennessee’s recidivism rates by providing a pathway to employment for citizens who are returning to their communities following incarceration.
Currently, Tennessee requires licenses for 110 different jobs; many impact those seeking manual labor or other industrial-related work. State licensing boards can deny a license for these professions to individuals with past criminal records, including lower-level forms of crime classified as misdemeanors.  It is bad enough that we license 110 occupations. While I am OK with surgeons and electricians being licensed, I would let hair braiders and those who massage horses and those engaged in many other occupations do it unlicensed. It is bad enough that so many people have to get a license to work in so many occupations, but it is unconscionable that people who have been convicted of a crime are prohibited from even getting the license. The crime maybe something as simple as a long ago DUI.

As passed, House Bill 2248 requires that denials and refusals for license renewals based on a prior criminal conviction are only allowable when the criminal offense directly relates to an individual’s ability to perform duties associated with the occupation or profession they are seeking a licensure for, excluding violent felonies.
Additional punishment for individuals who have paid their debt to society is wrong and this bill allows for a person to fix past mistakes and get on with their lives.  According to the Council of State Governments (CSG), nearly 10 million U.S. adults return to their communities following incarceration every year; upon their release, many face significant barriers to securing employment. CSG estimates that occupational restrictions can result in 2.85 million fewer people employed nationally and also raise consumer expenses by more than $200 billion.

Most people convicted of a crime, if sent to prison will get out. It is a fact.  It makes no sense to stack the deck against them so they cannot succeed once they have paid their debt to society. 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 and it is ruining lives that could be salvaged.

Occupational licensure is only one of the barriers to success after incarceration. We should systematically be looking at those barriers to successful reentry and removing them. In today's hyper partisan environment, there are not many areas where conservatives and liberals can agree. This is one of those areas. Some of the most dedicated proponents of criminal justice reform are Republicans such as Governor Matt Bevins of Kentucky. Here in Tennessee, a group called "The Coalition for Sensible Justice" made up of The Beacon Center, the ACLU, Goodwill, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, and Tennessee County Services Association, is working together for criminal justice reform. It was this group which worked to pass House Bill 2248. 

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