One of the biggest and most important challenges facing the estimated 600,000 Americans who will be released from prison this year is the prospect of finding a job. Employment can be the difference between putting their lives together again or ending up back behind bars.
In many states, though, government makes it harder for the formerly incarcerated to find work, thanks to arbitrary restrictions written into state licensing laws that prohibit anyone with a criminal record from getting a professional license—even if his conviction had nothing to do with the occupation, and even if he's been out of prison for years.
In 29 states, occupational licensing boards are allowed to reject applications from anyone with a felony conviction. In Illinois, for example, a criminal record automatically disqualifies people from obtaining 118 different state licenses, preventing them from pursuing work as barbers, massage therapists, roofers, cosmetologists, and dozens of other professions, writes Eric Boehm.