Pennsylvania's occupational licensing reforms would lower barriers for ex-offenders; more reforms needed


Mason Hunt, MPA

As several states address criminal justice reform and recidivism, Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a policy change to the commonwealth’s occupational licensing laws, which currently forbid ex-offenders from attaining certain licenses.

An estimated one in three American adults have a criminal record. In Pennsylvania, approximately 4 to 5% of adult residents had a felony conviction as of 2010. Access to steady employment is necessary in reducing recidivism, but Pennsylvania, like many states, has made it exceedingly difficult for ex-felons to reenter the workforce.

Blanket bans on the issuance of licenses due to criminal convictions unnecessarily single out ex-offenders and make it more difficult for these persons to find work, leading to increased rates of recidivism. In fact, there is a direct correlation between occupational licensing burdens and recidivism. A 2016 Policy Report from the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty at Arizona State University found that “between 1997 and 2007 the states with the highest occupational licensing burdens saw an average increase in the three-year, new-crime recidivism rate of over 9%.” States with the lowest regulatory burdens “saw an average decline … of nearly 2.5%.”

Gainful employment is key in reducing recidivism. The Manhattan Institute notes ex-offenders who quickly found employment upon their release were 20 percent less likely to return to prison. Indeed, a “five-year follow-up study of released offenders” in Indiana found “post-release employment was an effective buffer for reducing recidivism among ex-offenders.”