Criminal Justice

Convicted and Unemployed

States like Illinois bar ex-cons from entering dozens of professions, from architect to slaughtered livestock buyer.


Just got out of jail? Odds are that within five years, you'll get caught doing something illegal and go back to jail.

This is bad for ex-cons, their victims, their families and America.

Some of these people, of course, are career criminals who ought to stay in jail. But most are people who deserve another chance. They are more likely to stay straight if they find work. Work gives people purpose. It fills the idle hours that get many people into trouble.

But America makes it extra hard for ex-cons to find work. Some states make it illegal.

Illinois bans ex-convicts from more than 118 professions.

I understand why people might not want ex-cons to be bank security guards or cops, but in many states (Illinois isn't unusual) the list of forbidden jobs goes way beyond that.

The Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market group that tries to get these laws tossed out, reports that ex-cons must give up on trying to become a nurse, architect, interior designer, dancehall operator, teacher, dietician, acupuncturist, cosmetologist, buyer of slaughtered livestock, geologist, etc.

Why? Who cares if a livestock buyer or geologist once served time? If employers want to hire him, why tell them, "No"?

When Lisa Creason was 19, she tried to steal from a cash register at a Subway sandwich shop. She says she only stole because she needed food for her baby. Creason was caught and arrested, and she served a year in jail.

Twenty years later, Creason graduated from nursing school. But when she went to take the test that would allow her to get a nursing license, she learned that because she was once convicted of a "forcible felony," her career path was impossible.

She said it felt as if the bureaucrats had told her: "I was meant to be in the 'hood, meant to be on government assistance."

This is not a good message.

"Lisa is a great example of someone who has changed her life," said the Institute's Kristina Rasmussen this week. "She is reformed. She wants to be a productive member of society." It has been 20 years since Lisa committed her crime, "but government gets in the way of her pursuing her profession."

The good news is "this year we got a bill passed and it will go to the governor. So there is hope for Lisa Creason."

It's hard to get rid of bad laws. It happens one reform at a time.

No one says that crimes these convicts committed don't matter, but punishing them forever doesn't help. Rasmussen said, "You went to jail, you paid your debt to society.

Coming out, how are we going to treat you? Are we going to deny you work that keeps you and your family out of trouble … deny you that opportunity, and you turn either to a life of crime again or dependency?"

Why do states have so many restrictions? "There are two forces at work," said Rasmussen. "One, government bureaucrats like being busybodies, deciding who gets to do what." They think that makes the world safer.

But there's another factor. "You have people who don't welcome competition," said Rasmussen. Existing businesses and unions don't like newcomers on their turf. "Who's easier to kick out of the pool of potential competitors than people just emerging out of the criminal justice system?"

Existing businesses—the insiders—fund politicians who pass rules that make it hard for newcomers to compete with them. The politicians convince themselves that their rules protect customers. But mostly, their rules protect the insiders.

But some competing businesses want to hire ex-cons, and when that works out, it's good for the businesses, their customers and the ex-cons. A Chicago suburb diner called Felony Franks hires only ex-felons, its policy being "that once a person has paid their debt to society after being convicted of a crime, that he or she should have the same rights and opportunities as others."

Of course, some ex-cons can be trusted while others cannot. But it's important to let employers and customers make those calls—not a controlling, insider-protecting one-size-fits-all government.


NEXT: Listen to the Libertarians

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  1. I’d like to see the whole list of forbidden occupations.

      1. Pawnshop operator? I thought being a felon was a requirement.
        Marriage therapist? Who would be more qualified than someone that had to share a cell for ten years with a person they hated?
        Also, I notice that politician is not on the list.

        1. Roofer. Deaf interpreter.

          The list goes on and on.

        2. Marriage therapist? Who would be more qualified than someone that had to share a cell for ten years with a person they hated?

          He shoots, he scores!

        3. geologist? how does that even get on the list? what is the “public interest” in prohibiting people from looking at rocks?

          1. Many academic positions are paid for by gov’t grants. If one is a felon, one may be more likely to cheat the taxpayer with frivolous research grants.

            Hence the occasional report on some “scientist” somewhere getting paid to examine the mating habits of dead mice and stuff like that.

            Looking at rocks as a geologist could be a handy euphemism for “having the hiking vacation of the year in Yosemite paid for by the gov’t.”

            That said, I am not in support of the ban on hiring ex-felons for geologist jobs by private companies or nonprofits, and as a libertarian I AM in support of the gov’t NEVER hiring any geologists, felons or not.

            1. “Many academic positions are paid for by gov’t grants. If one is a felon, one may be more likely to cheat the taxpayer with frivolous research grants.

              Hence the occasional report on some “scientist” somewhere getting paid to examine the mating habits of dead mice and stuff like that.”
              First of all looking at gun policy “research” it’s clear that lots of people with no criminal records cheat the taxpayer.

              Secondly I hate the “Look what they did with our government grant” stories. Half of them are, as far as I can see, legitimate areas of research. If you want to know about shrimp (and you do, they’re a food source and part of an ecosystem which provides other food sources) it makes sense to measure how fast they can do something or how well they can fight each other. Either could affect genetic diversity.

              “and as a libertarian I AM in support of the gov’t NEVER hiring any geologists, felons or not.”
              What are multi-billion dollar companies supposed to do their OWN research?

      2. Why even have licensing for many of those?

    1. I’ll bet “attorney” isn’t on it.

    2. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job Ive had. Last Monday I got a new Alfa Romeo from bringing in $7778. I started this 6 months ago and practically straight away started making more than $95 per hour.

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  2. I wonder if anyone has ever tried to get some of these laws thrown out by circuit courts or the supreme court. It seems to me that a case that many of these amount to cruel and unusual punishments. I don’t think we should pretend that they aren’t punitive. There may be a public interest in some reasonable restrictions, and at the very least there should be a requirement to report a criminal conviction that is relevant to the job being sought (e.g. bank teller position sought by a convicted bank robber). Many of the rest ought to be left as a decision for an informed employer to make, not a government outright restricting those positions for no reason.

    I’m guessing that the restriction against ex-cons being nurses is to prevent them gaining access to prescription drugs to sell on the black market. Stealing and selling drugs is already a crime and most facilities guard and document them carefully. It may be quite difficult at a hospital that uses Pyxis machines (think of them as drug ATMs, where a PIN is entered and the amounts that can be taken restricted and some drawers may be entirely restricted to only some personnel having access). I think a hospital can make its own decision.

    1. This brings up an interesting point, though. Many libertarians claim (wrongly, in my opinion) that there is no right to privacy outside of property rights. If that is the case, than in libertopia information identifying all convicted felons would be readily available. Given the strong freedom of association ethic in libertopia, it may very well be that most employers would not hire a convicted felon, resulting in felons being total outcasts. Thoughts?

      1. “Given the strong freedom of association ethic in libertopia, it may very well be that most employers would not hire a convicted felon, resulting in felons being total outcasts. Thoughts?”

        The AnCap reply would either be, “nuts to them, to be a criminal in libertopia is no easy feat”, they can move to Outcastville, and/or employment insurance – as in felons can go to an agency that will “vouch” for them at a new job site. There’s also the possibility of friendly or charitable organizations filling those roles too.

        1. I’m not an AnCap, but another fundamental part of they way they think such a system could work is using insurance. The idea is that it would be too expensive to commit murder because a judgment against you by a community means paying restitution to the kin of the murdered. If your insurance doesn’t cover it, you’re screwed.

          I had a lengthy argument with an AnCap to tease out the mechanisms by which someone who was very wealthy would not be able to abuse it. Why pay a hit man to murder someone when you can do it yourself and pay the restitution from insurance or out-of-pocket? Why stick around and pay restitution when you can just walk away? There are no prisons to hold you. Just go anywhere that people don’t know what you did. His argument was that that is fine (he is also against the death penalty) and that it’s up to the individual to protect himself. Someone can be killed by indiscriminate means (land mines, booby traps, etc.) and the killer just walks away. I remain deeply skeptical of the AnCap vision of libertopia.

          1. An “AnCap libertopia” (if such a thing is possible) could punish wrongdoers with more than paying restitution to the victims, without resorting to publicly run jails or the death penalty.

            How about income/wealth taxation, and/or exile? Both time limited to fit the crime. Kill someone, you have all your assets “redistributed” to the victim’s family and various charities, plus you’re kicked out for life.

            Enforce it by putting a transgressor in a publicly searchable database for as long as their sentence lasts. Make this the only check and exception for immigration.

            At least for someone interested in living in that kind of society, those are pretty stiff penalties.

          2. Without supporting or disapproving of the AnCap libertopia, just remember that what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander.

            If a killer can walk away freely, the family of the victim can use the same tricks to kill the killer and walk away freely too, so that threat serves as a deterrent (tit for tat in game theory).

            The result is usually clannish behavior (think Hatfields and McCoys) and an honor culture not unlike, say, Hawaii (where if you beat up someone his entire family comes and beats up you and your entire family).

            So yes, an individual may be killed by a land mine; each individual is counting on his family to exact revenge; and the fear of such is a deterrent large enough to prevent most from setting the land mine in the first place.

      2. I think in libertopia, there probably wouldn’t be any criminals. Very few things would be illegal. People committing a serious enough crime to be punished (murder ), would be executed.

        Since in libertopia, there are no prisons, punishment has to be corporal

        (At least my version of libertopia, based on F. Paul Wilson’s LaNague Federation universe, I imagine cosmotopia would be more like a hippie commune, only with cocktails)

        1. Many people here argue that you cannot implement the death penalty because of the costs of being wrong.

          (I’m not one of them, since there are some people who just can’t be fixed and have done far too horrific things)

          1. If you’re wrong, then it’s just another murder or wrongful death.

        2. In my libertopia, all verdicts resolve down to restitution, including of course all case and court costs. One of the few uses for my unpaid legislature is to set policies for restitution above and beyond immediate costs; murder is the prime example.

          Anyone who owes restitution cannot file complaints for less than the amount owed; I call them outlaws. This means in practice that a robber who owes, say, $10K, and refuses to pay, cannot object legally when someone steals his $2K car, his flat screen TV, etc; he can’t even protect them as any normal property owner can. And since restitution covers all costs, it includes recovery costs, so the more obstructive the outlaw, the more he loses in the end.

          Where this becomes especially interesting is that someone convicted of an especially heinous crime may find himself so deeply in debt that he can’t even file charges against being kidnapped, or, I suppose, murder in the worst cases. That’s how I solve the conumdrum of keeping the worst criminals off the streets.

      3. I would think that, even in a society with some degree of privacy rights, being a convicted felon would be a matter of public record. If that were the case, then the State prohibiting ex-cons from certain lines of work would be clearly unnecessary. Let employers decide who they want to hire. The record of Governments deciding is not an impressive one.

        That might be hard on ex-cons, or it might be better than the current mess. Worth trying, which probably means it has no chance.

        1. In a libertarian society, the only crimes involve aggression against people or property, fraud, or “reckless endangerment” (doing things that endanger other people). In other words, there has to be an unwilling “victim”. That considerably reduces the number of activities that could be considered “criminal”. And instead of “licensing” people to do things, there would be “certification” (to prove that you knew “how” to do the thing under consideration).

          Government would be much smaller than today, and much more limited in what it could do.

      4. ex con would be a red flag, turning off most employers. but, employers would treat every case individually. in the example cited in the story…. robbed a cash register 20 years ago… there is a reasonable chance an employer would give her a shot….. definitely a better chance than legally barred from employment, at all.

        1. Things are going to get interesting in the near future, with topsy-turvy “crimes.”

          An illegal alien deported five times that kills a family while driving drunk without a license = not a criminal
          A leftist/progressive rioter who mob-attacks a neo-Nazi on camera = not a criminal
          An aging retiree who attended a peaceful Tea Party rally = criminal
          An NRA member who has never harmed anyone, not even with his fists, but wants to keep his AR = criminal
          A global warming skeptic who doesn’t think we should pay $125 billion per year in carbon taxes to green energy cronies = criminal
          A Muslim refugee that molests underage white girls at a public swimming pool = not a criminal

          Employers will have to dig deeper than the label of “convict” to find out what the “crime” actually was. I’d certainly hire Dinesh D’Souza without qualms, if I needed his services (even though I am not a conservative).

  3. Feature not a bug.

  4. You have showed the relation of Convicted and Unemployed in this article. That topic is new for me and very excited to know more about it to read some more articles related to it. Actually, I’m looking best dissertation services but when i got this article like to read the reasons which cause the unemployment and convicted people.

    1. Wow, that’s actually a cut above the usual spam-bot.

  5. And remember you can get rung up for a felony in Minnesoda for driving to Wisconsin to buy a keg of unlicensed beer to sell in your bar.

    Makes perfect sense that you would ban those two bar tenders from ever working in healthcare or solid waste management.

    1. Of course not, do you know how many kegs you can smuggle in a garbage truck?

      1. I have no idea. I definitely have not been smuggling beer into Minnesota for years.

  6. Lawsuits can be a huge problem too when it comes to hiring ex cons. You can be found responsible for bringing someone with a known history of violence into a place where there are people (the horror!) and if they assault anyone, you are on the hook for millions of dollars.

    1. What about those ex-cons who are not violent? Most of the laws on the books don’t involve violent offenses, but still trigger these types of restrictions.

      Also, should that not be the determination of the employer if they want to take on that liability instead of the state just saying “you cannot ever hire this person”?

      1. Register victimless “felons” to vote and give them a ride to the polls on election day. Make sure they know about the libertarian plank on expungement and clemency.
        We do still have an expungement and clemency plank, don’t we? Surely the Republicans on the platform committee haven’t erased that?

      2. His point was more about the non-state barriers to entry.

        I’m dealing with this right now. Well, not me, but a lady that a group from my church is trying to help out. She’s pretty rough around the edges, but she has two beautiful and very sweet kids. She’s trying to get herself together, but a felony conviction a dozen years ago (when she was 20) is blocking her full entry into the workplace.

        We had to pull in favors from a store manager to get her one of the jobs that they have trouble keeping filled because it is pretty crappy. And he had to jump through a bunch of hoops with his corporate leadership to get her through their HR process. She got hired and by all reports has been a really good worker.

        But the conviction is still a major roadblock. So we are petitioning the judge to vacate her felony. Apparently a couple of guys she knew robbed the delivery boy with a BB gun and she knew about it. Because she didn’t report it they tagged her with a felony accessory charge. great lawyering, Mr. Public Defender!

        She’s exactly the kind of person this stuff harms. Because she wouldn’t be CEO of Ford otherwise. She’s marginal anyway. She wants to try hard and make her life better, but she’s not exceptionally bright, or particularly charismatic, or anything. Just kinda generally below average. But she’s motivated to provide for her kids.

        Finding decent housing is tough. Moving to another store… It really doesn’t help to keep her on assistance forever.

  7. felony franks sounds rad. would eat.

    1. Sounds like a carnival eat.

  8. The point of requiring licenses for professions is to have the power to deny them.

  9. “that once a person has paid their debt to society after being convicted of a crime, that he or she should have the same rights and opportunities as others.”

    This is just begging of the question.

    Who ever said you “paid your debt” just because your incarceration ended? There’s no reason part of the payment for your debt isn’t permanent loss of some rights. Like voting. Or participating in some occupations considered high risk.

    Naturally, the government, being what it is, will pander to special interests to extend this where not appropriate. But meting out the appropriate punishment to criminals is a legitimate government function.

    1. “high risk”?

      nurse, architect, interior designer, dancehall operator, teacher, dietician, acupuncturist, cosmetologist, buyer of slaughtered livestock, geologist

      Somone who once broke a guy’s face in a bar brawl is surely a danger to society if he were permitted to draw up building plans or buy bulk beef professionally.

      1. Ghawd help us if a teenager with some seeds in the ashtray were to obtain employment after induction into a prohibitionist rape cage. Far better that they be enlisted to resell confiscated heroin to raise Republican and Democrat campaign funds.

  10. The Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market group that tries to get these laws tossed out, reports that ex-cons must give up on trying to become a nurse, architect, interior designer, dancehall operator, teacher, dietician, acupuncturist, cosmetologist, buyer of slaughtered livestock, geologist, etc.

    Everybody knows ex-convicts make the worst buyers of slaughtered livestock.

    1. Well, they might poison the livestock. You can’t trust felons!

  11. DemoGOP kleptocracy courts are more effective than Jim Crow laws at thining out voters. But many if not most states completely restore voting rights once the victimless criminal has been sufficiently abused to vote libertarian. State and local libertarian organizations and volunteers ought to quietly seek out, register and retask innocents of all colors branded as criminals by ku-klux republicans and soviet democrats.
    The only nonmystical supporters the GOP has these days are the families of refugees from communist countries persecuted for such felonies as speculation, thoughtcrime, income tax evasion and insufficient socialist zeal. By registering prohibition and income tax victims as voters we could even the score.

    1. What you are missing in your little thought experiment is the way in which the felony keeps people from earning a decent living for themselves.

      So they are much more likely to be dependent on the state. Therefore, not team libertarian. Team Democrat.

      The real question is, do you think this is just happenstance, or is this by design?

  12. A number of those restrictions (thanks for the list, Warren) are listed as “operators”. Maybe that means you can’t own the business, but could work as an employee at one.

    But “interior designer”? Really? What are we protecting people from, ghastly decor?

    1. Felons are more likely to rape homemakers. So it just makes sense to restrict professions where that may happen. /Derp

      1. Restrict home makers? I don’t think that would work.

  13. There is always a place for ex-cons in Illinois Government.

    1. Is there a law against accepting bribes? 99% of politicians are likely guilty of that.

    2. I thought that was a prerequisite.

  14. TIL what a perfusionist is…

    Interesting list. I like how nobody’s bothered to review or prune it for God knows how long. There are specific subcategories of nursing licenses that are off-limits but for some reason the law also generally bans all types of nursing licenses from ex-felons.

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  16. Interior designer, operator of home for the mentally retarded, advance burial seller?how does one knock out the no-felons rule w/o knocking out the requirement of licensing, period? When there are no good criteria for the license anyway, eliminating felons seems as good as any.

  17. They should run for public office, an area that welcomes their expertise.

  18. We have much the same situation here in Michigan. Like to be a contractor? Better not have ever been convicted of a felony… Michigan will “NOT” license you to be a contractor. Nor can you ever work as a security guard. Or own firearms. I do know of a fellow who is very good at doing home improvements. Better than the contractors who would have charged more and done inferior jobs. But he can’t ever work as a contractor (he can work for one) because he was once arrested on drug charges. Now what relationship is there between having been arrested on drug charges and doing home improvement? With the increasing number of occupations that require state licenses, it is easy to see why so many return to a life of crime simply because they have become either unemployable or unable to use what knowledge and skills they have to support themselves.

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  21. If a criminal has done his/her time, are they considered as having paid their debt to society? If they have then their records should be expunged. If a serial rapist, or child molester may do that again, then they haven’t paid their “debt” to society and should not be let go.

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