He's a Jolly Good Felon

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Tim Vanderpool has a depressing story about the fates of felons who try and rebuild their lives by setting out on new careers.

Some students nearly have their diploma in hand before they learn of their newest, sometimes insurmountable hurdle.

Michele Convie can tell you how that feels. She did time for two smallish pot busts, but nearly two decades later–and after earning a degree from Pima Community College–she faced a bureaucratic jungle in getting security clearance as a social worker. When ex-felons apply for such clearance, processed through the Arizona Department of Public Safety, "they deny you immediately," she says, "without telling you how to appeal."

According to Convie, the student's history is scrutinized for every infraction, right down to the last traffic ticket. Even then, they can be denied–laying waste to all their college tuition and hard work.

Sure, fine, but how does that affect you?

There's now an estimated 10 percent shortage of nurses, and by the year 2020, that number is expected to jump to 30 percent.

But according to state licensing protocols, "the Board of Nursing shall not grant a license, or shall revoke a license if previously granted, or decline to renew the license of an applicant who has one or more felony convictions and who has not received an absolute discharge from the sentences for all felony convictions five or more years before the date of filing an application."

And truck drivers? The American Trucking Association estimates that the industry is currently short about 20,000 drivers–a number that could rise to 110,000 over the next few years. Still, the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division won't issue a license to anyone convicted of a DUI with a blood-alcohol level higher than 0.04 in the past year.

For a less sympathetic take on the issue, check out Walter Olson's 1999 piece on felon protection.

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  1. The good news is that if your convicted with a DUI and have less than a .04 you can get a license.

    Of course, the legal limit is .08, but you can still get a DUI. God Bless Sheriff Joe Arpaio *vomit*

  2. And it’s not just nurses and social workers. At least for those jobs you could make some sort of rationale (a flimsy one, to be sure, but a rationale nonetheless) for denying licenses to former felons (although I think the argument collapses if the offense was 20 years ago). But I’ve heard of states where you can be denied a barber’s license, landscaping license, and various other licenses for blue collar work where I cannot imagine why a criminal record should be an especial impediment.

    (OK, there’s the argument that no employer or customer would trust a convicted felon, but that applies to any criminal and any job, and we have to reject it if we want people to get out of prison and lead productive lives.)

  3. and after earning a degree from Pima Community College–she faced a bureaucratic jungle in getting security clearance as a social worker.

    HAA!!! I can tell you from personal experience that if there’s any group that smokes weed, it’s social workers.

  4. HAA!!! I can tell you from personal experience that if there’s any group that smokes weed, it’s social workers.

    Paul – If I was earning $20,000 a year with a Master’s degree, I’d be looking for drugs.

  5. …there’s the argument that no employer or customer would trust a convicted felon…

    Depends on the felony. A 20 year old drug dealing conviction from a prospective employee wouldn’t bother me as an employer. A 5 year old conviction for aggravated assault on his former employer would.

  6. I think one big contributor to this mess is the idea of a tort for “negligent hiring.” If employer A hires felon B and felon B hurts customer C, many courts hold employer A responsible. People should be responsible for their own acts of willful misconduct. If employers did not have to worry about bearing the brunt of such liability they may take much more of a risk on felons that have otherwise proved themselves to them…

    And Thoreau is right, some of the liscensing rules are daft. A felon with an aggravated assault can’t sell real estate, a barber with an embezzlement felony can’t cut hair, etc…

  7. Some will disagree (joe?) but I’m a bleeding heart liberal. You’ve done your time, served your sentence, paid your debt to society, and the state is going to place additional burdens on you, hindering your entrance into law abiding society.

    Why would Arizona do such a thing? Either the Arizona doesn’t believe rehabilitation is possible. That they must be restricted to the most demeaning, low paying jobs in society in order to protect us. That this will increse recidivism is not important.

    or

    They just like to fuck with people who made a mistake. No prison/probation/parole is enough punishment. It’s not about rehabilitation or protecting society, it’s about punishment, a good old fashioned, puritanical, scourging, showing the miscreant who the hell is the boss.

    I’ve gotten to the point that if you campaign on “Law and Order” or “Get Tough On Crime”, I’m voting against you.

  8. A 5 year old conviction for aggravated assault on his former employer would.

    She: So what do you do?
    He: Actually, I just got out of prison.
    She: What were you in for?
    He: Killing my wife.
    She: Oh, so you’re single?

  9. “””Why would Arizona do such a thing? Either the Arizona doesn’t believe rehabilitation is possible. That they must be restricted to the most demeaning, low paying jobs in society in order to protect us. That this will increse recidivism is not important.”””

    Good thing no one from Arizona is running for President. Oh, wait.

  10. the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division won’t issue a license to anyone convicted of a DUI with a blood-alcohol level higher than 0.04 in the past year

    Maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t sound incredibly unreasonable — maybe not the judgment call I’d make, but still understandable. The nursing rule, on the other hand…

  11. I’ve gotten to the point that if you campaign on “Law and Order”

    J sub D: Not a Thompson fan?

  12. Well… I know I had an issue going for my most recent job. We have a fleet of trucks, so every application includes all sorts of stuff required by the DoT. I was convicted of an OVI (the new fancy term for DUI), several years ago. On the application was the question: “Have you ever been convicted of a drug or violence related crime?”. The HR person wasn’t sure if the DUI qualified, and I was told to put it down anyways. Now, being a straight, white, male, there was already special paperwork needed to hire me (fscking EOE bullshit). Thankfully, the regional VP liked me, and said she would make sure I got hired.

    Of course, I can no longer get a CDL, regardless of how long I go without any other tickets or arrests. Thankfully, my position pays more then a driver position.

    Nephilium

  13. I am an off and on poster here at Hit and Run. For this particular post, I will withhold my usual name because I generally don’t like admitting to the trouble I got into when I was 19 years old.

    At that time, I was in a very bad point in my life and I made it worse by using drugs and alcohol (to extreme excess). My neighbors were away on vacation and in a drunken stupor after a family argument, I went to their home, popped the door (it was a mobile home)and went inside to get away. Anyhow, the next door neighbor noticed the door wide open and called the police. They interviewed the neighbors and wanted to talk to me. They grilled me and I confessed. Was convicted of burglary and spent one month in the county jail.

    It’s something I will always be ashamed for and I have done everything in my power since then (I’m in my early 40s)to make things right. I volunteer in my community, give blood at blood drives, taught my child to respect other people’s property and not steal. Still, all these years later, my youthful stupidity haunts me. Luckily, I moved out of that state shortly after my probation was finished and I started life all over again here in California. I have gone to college, got a degree, became married and have been holding steady work here since my mid 20s. My current job has a significant amount of responsibility as well.

    I consider myself lucky because i know most employers who do background checks on potential employees only do criminal searches within their own state. Since I have NO criminal history in California, I check out clean. If I was in my previous state, I’d frankly be screwed. I would likely be working at a near-minimum wage job and perhaps debating about criminal acts like selling drugs. I don’t know and I am glad that thus far, my past has eluded me here in California. I have even been actively involved in the Libertarian Party and no one knows about my past.

    With the merging of databases nationwide, I am more than certain that eventually, someone is going to find out and at that point, my life will be tarnished in a state that has offered me that rare second chance.

  14. SWAP, I couldn’t have put it more convincingly. I’m happy to see it’s working out for you.

  15. They just like to fuck with people who made a mistake. No prison/probation/parole is enough punishment. It’s not about rehabilitation or protecting society, it’s about punishment, a good old fashioned, puritanical, scourging, showing the miscreant who the hell is the boss.

    That’s it exactly, J sub D and think that the general public wants it that way. It gives them a sense of superiority, and stokes the fires of their righteous anger. I like to think of it as the Javert principle.

  16. “I tell you that there is no Monsieur Madeleine and that there is no Monsieur le Maire. There is a thief, a brigand, a convict named Jean Valjean! And I have him in my grasp! That’s what there is!”

  17. I’m not surprised considering this is the same state that prosecutes people for “conspiring” to smuggle themselves across the border. It’s also the same state that elects Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas…

    Man, living in Arizona made me hate Republicans even more than California made me hate Democrats.

  18. I too live with the label ex-con,felon, whatever now. I was paroled Dec.1,2006 after doing 3 years for selling crystal meth. I had never been arrested before until then. I’ve been reading the posts and it’s true that, for instance,I can never work in the explosives industry again(all clearances denied).I work now in the construction industry and was told that the contracts the company had on military bases were also off limits to me. I DO NOT CARE! As long as I’m not in the fucking penitentiary I’m a happy man. So all you convicts out there who are bitching-You want some cheese with that wine? It’s good to be free. Adios.

  19. I was convicted of dui in dec. 1983. Bleww a .11 when the limit was .10. Went to school in 87 and got a CDL. Last may, on a cdl renewal mission, the examiner told me the dui is in the computer 24 years later. I assume because the nationalized cdl monitoring. Anywho, this means I have to declare to employers my dui, as it prohibits me from driving a truck into canada which many trucking comanies do. Some companies still, after nearly 25 years from the conviction date, won’t consider me for the job. They say their insurance won’t let them.

  20. Things may be working out for me, but I do harbor a fear that it’s going to come back and bite me in the ass again. For instance, I can never visit Canada again. They won’t allow ex felons into their country. I know that there is a process by which one can get some sort of certificate of rehabilitation that would allow entry, but I would need to get a letter of certification from my local police department to show I have been clean of crime. I just don’t want to risk being known as an ex felon here in California, so I refuse to go and get that certification. I’d probably be put on some sort of watch list and if anything happened in my neighborhood, guess who gets suspected? No thanks.

  21. The problem is that we have expanded the term “felon” so as to render it meaningless. Everything is now a felony. Under the old English common law felonies were only those crimes punishable by the death penalty. While a little harsh in execution, because so many crimes were punishable by hanging, the common law as usual got the big picture right; only the most serious offenses should be felonies. Only crimes that involve violence which could reasonably cause death or great bodily harm to another and theft crimes of an amount say greater than $25,000 should be felonies.

  22. I’m a frequent poster and I will tell you someone very close to me is convicted felon and nurse. She did weekends for a misdemeanor, decided to take her vitamins with her, in one of those SMTWTFS containers. The felony was “promoting prison contraband.” So far she’s been able to hide her conviction from her employer, but this was just a fluke. Felony convictions cannot be expunged, it will even stay on your record with a pardon from the governor, which never happens. This makes every felony conviction in Alabama a life sentence. Cruel and unusual?

  23. I went to a Continuing Legal Education seminar recently on this very subject. For once, Texas is actually somewhat progressive in its laws, in that Chapter 53 of the Texas Occupations Code requires licensing agencies to consider evidence of rehabilitation in determining whether or not to issue a license. The medical boards here are the strictest, but even they have a pretty generous process before revoking or denying a license based on a felony conviction. The fact that Texas had a lot of med malpractice defense lawyers thrown out of work because of tort reform has a lot to do with this. It always helps to have a bunch of people who need to make money off something.

    The interesting thing in the Texas law is that licensing agencies are required to adopt rules listing what kinds of felonies they consider disqualifying, and to state what sorts of evidence they’ll consider to support giving a license to a felon. Anyone who has Internet access can find out whether or not his DWI will prevent him from getting an electrician’s license. (In case you’re curious, in Texas, no. Drugs don’t count for that job, either.) It’s obviously not ideal, from either a liberal or libertarian perspective, but we seem to be doing a better job that Arizona or Alabama.

  24. Why would Arizona do such a thing?

    You missed a couple of the more important reasons:

    1. What good is having a licensing law regulating entry into a profession if you don’t have any criteria to turn applicants down? How then are you properly protecting the public?

    2. See, doing drugs really does ruin your life.

    Now a bit of free advice from a non-lawyer: GET THEE TO A LAWYER. And not just any lawyer. Relief from disabilities is a legal specialization.

    I deal with people who have old records and who now want a concealed handgun license. There are things that can be done, particularly if they’ve been clean since. The procedures aren’t easy, and are seldom inexpensive, but they exist. So start by seeing a lawyer and asking him or her to find you a specialist in obtaining relief from such convictions in your particular state. Then see what the possibilities are.

  25. around here, many trailer parks won’t allow people with felony convictions to move in… they make no distinction between violent and non-violent histories. At least with the dogs people keep as pets, they only limit breeds considered ‘aggressive’.

    Try helping someone find housing who is trying to establish credit, needs cheap housing, etc. when they can’t even move into a trailer park!

  26. So Arizona won’t give a trucking license to somebody who has had a DUI in the past year? Seems completely reasonable to me. The nursing license is a little more complicated. Does that mean that somebody can’t get a license if they have had a felony in the past five years, or does that that mean they have to have some court procedure to “receive an absolute discharge” from that felony conviction?

  27. If it continues to be a problem, steal someone else’s identity. But make sure their record isn’t even worse!

  28. Add to the list of stupid felonies the new animal cruelty law here in Utah.

  29. Regardless of the crime. I do not believe that any were meant to be a life sentence after time is done. Ans everyone needs to earn a living. we all need food to eat and a place to sleep. would everyone agree.

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