Senator Westerfield has filed Senate Bill 120, a culmination of the first efforts of Gov. Bevin’s Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council. A large portion of the bill is focused on reducing recidivism and helping inmates who have paid their debts transition back into society.
One of the best predictors of future criminality is employment after release. A study by the Manhattan Institute found that in New York, “statewide rates of recidivism range from about 31 to 70 percent, while the rates for those placed in jobs shortly after their release ranged from 3.3 to 8 percent.”
This is why the portion of S.B. 120 that removes mandatory denial of an occupational license for a prior felony conviction is so important.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ December 2014 report, Kentucky’s labor participation rate was 57.9%. That’s 47th in the nation and 4.8% lower than the national average.
Mandatory denial of an occupational license keeps thousands of otherwise qualified Kentuckians out of the job market. This stifles growth and forces newly released inmates to attempt to reintegrate with fewer job prospects than they otherwise would have.
Kentucky has the 21st largest state prison population in the U.S and has about 474 state inmates for every 100,000 people according to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2014 Prisoner Series. As of 2010 Kentucky had over 243,000 individuals who would be barred from obtaining an occupational license because they had a prior felony conviction. These are individuals who may have otherwise completely reformed their lives, or whose felony conviction is in no way related to their fitness for the occupation they’re seeking a license to perform.
However, S.B. 120 rightfully does not prevent an issuing agency from denying an occupational license if the prior felony conviction is related to the profession for which the applicant hopes to enter. It merely removes a blanket prohibition on obtaining the license.
As Kentucky looks to transition its criminal justice system into the 21st century, the focus must be on reducing recidivism, and removing barriers to employment for otherwise qualified individuals released from prison is a good start.