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Thursday, July 7, 2016

If You Want to Lower Recidivism Rates, Reform Occupational Licensing Laws


Every June, Americans start caring a little bit more about criminal justice reform. This has nothing to do with any particular current event or an anniversary of some grave injustice; it is because June is when the Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black (OITNB), releases its new season.

It is easy to ignore issues that we are not faced with personally on a daily basis, which is why, for most of us, it is easy to take an “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy when it comes to our criminal justice system.

However, the popularity of OITNB has led to some necessary, albeit uncomfortable, conversations about our justice system. Among one of the most pressing issues being faced by those who are wrapped up in the system is what happens to them after they are released.

Still Not Free

Since many do not have any formal education, finding employment after being released from prison is a difficult obstacle to overcome. For those unable to find work, many resort back to the activities that landed them in prison to begin with, leading to a perpetual cycle that is hard to break.

Not only will these former offenders be required to check a box on an application that outs them as an ex-convict, they have also been out of the job market so long, they lack the experience necessary to gaining employment.

Occupational licensing laws have crushed the American dream, not only for former felons but also for everyday Americans.

For those who are lucky enough to be skilled in a particular trade, they are faced with other barriers in the form of occupational licensing laws.

In one of the newly released episodes of OITNB, one inmate is faced with the bitter realities of planning for a future outside of prison. After finding out she will be released from prison in only a few weeks, the pressure to build a life on the outside without any formal education preys on her mind. Unable to master the GED test material, she is encouraged when she realizes she can make a living by doing what she does best–manicures.

She is rejuvenated by this plan and begins to fantasize about opening her own salon and becoming a small business owner. However, that dream is soon dashed as another inmate informs her of all the licenses and permits she must obtain before she can open a business.

Crushing the American Dream

Occupational licensing laws have crushed the American dream, not only for former felons, but also for everyday Americans. This country is supposed to be the land of opportunity, where individuals can make their own way. However, it has now become a nation where government-issued licenses are required before someone can earn a living washing hair in a salon, braiding someone’s hair, or painting nails.

To put America back on a prosperous path that would also potentially lead to lower recidivism rates, it is imperative that we remove barriers to opportunity and reform occupational licensing laws so that those who are willing to work are able to do so.


  • Brittany is a writer for the Pacific Legal Foundation. She is a co-host of “The Way The World Works,” a Tuttle Twins podcast for families.