Points of View

Helping Returning Citizens Gain Occupational Licenses

Sam Stebbins

An NBC News article reports that returning citizens (those with criminal histories) across the country may have difficulty receiving occupational licenses. According to the report, Michigan is one of many states where a returning citizen may be prevented from obtaining a license to work in careers such as cosmetology, welding, or construction.


This is due to “good moral character” clauses in 70% of the state’s occupational licenses. According to these clauses, an individual may be denied a license because they have not satisfied the licensing board’s requirement for having a “good moral character.” In some cases, a criminal record may be considered by the licensing board to judge an applicant’s character. Often, this means discrimination against people who have criminal records, even when a conviction is unrelated to the license or career.


It is worth noting, however, that while a criminal history may be considered under “good moral character” clauses, the code doesn’t automatically bar all returning citizens from obtaining a license.


Helping returning citizens find employment

A growing number of states are now trying to update laws to make it easier for returning citizens to obtain occupational licenses so they may enter the workforce. This is critically important as employers struggle to fill high-demand jobs and because ensuring returning citizens are employed greatly decreases recidivism rates.


Changing “good moral character” clauses also aligns with other efforts to ensure returning citizens can enter the workforce, such as Michigan Department of Correction’s Vocational Village. Through the Vocational Village, inmates at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia and Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson are trained in skilled trades and “will receive state and nationally-recognized certifications in their trade.”


 Regardless of “good moral character” clauses, employers can help by following these best practices and being willing to hire returning citizens.