In his final State of the State address, Gov. Snyder is expected to spend a lot of time talking about jobs: how Michigan lost them, how it regained some of them and what we should do to create more. But there’s one important aspect of this discussion that shouldn’t be overlooked: working adults with criminal records.
This group was cited last month in an op-ed by prominent Michigan businessman Mike Jandernoa, titled “Why hiring people with criminal records benefits all of us.” In it, he describes the challenge of finding skilled labor in Michigan and said ex-cons are much less likely to reoffend of they have a job. Reducing the stigma around employing people with a criminal conviction is an important step forward that bolsters public safety and saves money, he concludes.
But there are some legislative fixes that should be considered, as well. First, lawmakers should significantly reduce the number of professions that require a state license. This restrictive scheme is an especially powerful barrier for people with a criminal record, who may be automatically excluded from many occupations, even when the nature of their crime is entirely unrelated to the nature of the work they seek. Studies show that states requiring more occupational licenses face higher rates of recidivism.
Second, Michigan should stop suspending driver’s licenses for nonpayment of fines and other nontraffic offenses and stop incarcerating people for their inability to pay bail. These practices do nothing to resolve the underlying issue, while making it nearly impossible for people subjected to them to remain gainfully employed. This is especially true for low-income defendants.
Finally, we should clear the records of law-abiding people with a minor offense that occurred more than a decade ago. This would free people who may otherwise be trapped by the stigma of criminality from lingering effects of one bad decision or minor transgression, so they can access more employment, education and housing opportunities. People of means can pay a lawyer to navigate this process for them, but it is lengthy and expensive. Lawmakers should make expunging these old records automatic and allow people who have demonstrated they have reformed themselves through clean living to get on with their lives and careers.
The governor has made jobs a priority throughout his administration and he’s had considerable success. Even if he doesn’t mention this connection between criminal justice reforms and job opportunities in tonight’s State of the State, policymakers shouldn’t miss these opportunities to make commonsense reforms that will help employers secure new talent and put more people to work.
Permission to reprint this blog post in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author (or authors) and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are properly cited.