State May Make it Easier for Formerly-Incarcerated to Find Jobs

A new bill reducing formerly incarcerated people’s employment barriers has cruised through the legislature, and awaits the governor’s signature.

You’ve heard about the 2,000 California prison inmates currently battling the state’s wildfires at the pay rate of one dollar per hour. You may not realize that these incarcerated people cannot become firefighters once they’ve finished serving their sentences, because their prior criminal record will likely deny them the emergency medical technician (EMT) license required for the job.

In fact, nearly 30 percent of all California jobs require a license issued by a state board. Former inmates are routinely denied those licenses because of their prior convictions. But a new bill just approved by both houses of the California legislature would prohibit using arrests or convictions as the basis for denying a state board license to non-violent offenders.

“If the State of California is truly committed to rehabilitation, then we need to walk the walk,” the bill’s co-author, Assemblyperson David Chiu, said in a statement. “It is unacceptable for us to provide job-specific training while people are incarcerated and then put up nonsensical roadblocks to becoming employed in those very same professions upon re-entry.”

This bill is not law yet, though it has now passed both the California State Senate and the Assembly. The measure still needs Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature before becoming law. But Brown has recently signed bills abolishing cash bail and restricting background checks on individuals with criminal histories, so he does have a track record of signing legislation that’s friendly to incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people.   

This one is called Assembly Bill 2138, and would prohibit any of the 42 licensing boards under the California Department of Consumer Affairs “from denying licenses on the basis of a non-serious conviction older than 7 years, or a dismissed conviction or a non-conviction act, unless it is substantially related to the duties of the profession the applicant wishes to pursue.” Those licensing boards cover a range of career sectors, including everything from acupuncture and cosmetology to nursing, pharmacy, and, medical licensure.

“AB 2138 is historic legislation that is long overdue,” Legal Services for Prisoners with Children policy manager Sabina Crocette says in a statement. “Folks with criminal histories must be able to use their skills and knowledge to earn a living wage like everyone else. This bill will eliminate many of the barriers they now face to obtaining good paying jobs that require licenses and certifications.”

Gov. Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign the bill and make it California law.

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