States end obstacles for ex-offenders to reduce recidivism

State legislatures are making efforts to assist people who have committed crimes in the past, and are out of jail, be accepted in society. Quite often, those who have served their time in jail have a hard time establishing a half decent life because being arrested adds to one’s record.

“With the exception of people that get sentenced to life, everybody that goes to prison is going to get out eventually,” said Ohio state Sen. Daniel Thatcher. “When they go to reintegrate we see how incredibly difficult it is for people to meet these standards that we are setting.”

Utah was one of three states that passed a law this year making it easier to do away with a criminal record. Additionally, some states support the concept of helping ex-offenders acquire professional licenses and limiting the max amount of penalties ex-offenders could receive for not paying fines and the like.

Just this year, Nevada and Utah allowed a legislation that prevented public employers from questioning a job applicant’s criminal history prior to an interview, which lead to 28 states enforcing the set of laws dubbed ‘ban the box’ laws. Supporters of this concept explain that questioning applicants to mark a box/circle if they have committed a crime provokes people with a record to not apply for a job. The removal of the box/circle allows all applicants with a criminal record a fair shot to explain the reason for their arrest before an employer inspects their criminal history.

“It doesn’t prevent anyone from running a background check, it’s just about when you run the background check,” said Beth Avery, a member of the National Employment Law Project. “It’s just about making sure people get the consideration they deserve.”

Many states, Louisiana among them, have eased restrictions that withheld ex-offenders from receiving a license to possess an occupation involving the cutting of hair and/or an occupation in the field of health care.

“We always want to talk about forgiveness, but if you get some of these offenses, there’s no forgiveness. The offense ends up being a lifetime sentence,” said Kentucky state Rep. Darryl Owens.

With the new law in play, professional boards may reject applicants based on their records if a clear connection with the crime committed and the profession for which they are applying for is made.

A number of states have aimed to better the job prospects of ex-offenders by closing criminal records, allowing them only to be seen by law enforcement.

Utah, Nevada, and Tennessee have increased the types and number of crimes that can be hidden from the public. Previously limited to individuals convicted of misdemeanors, Tennessee’s expungement law allows some people guilty of minor felonies to have charges erased.

Tennessee state Sen. Steve Dickerson, a Republican who sponsored the law, said most lawmakers wanted to make it easier for people with criminal records to find employment. However, some people worry that future legislations may take the law too far.

“If someone commits murder, they shouldn’t be able to get that expunged. [But] if a young person is caught with a small bag of marijuana, we don’t want that to haunt someone and prevent them from getting a job at 30. Somewhere in between those two extremes is a happy place,” Dickerson said.