Felony Conviction, Barrier to Obtaining Professional License

Barber Shop

Professional License Restrictions

Those who have “been convicted of any felony or of any crime involving moral turpitude in the courts of this state or any other state, territory, or country” are subject to having their application denied on account of their conviction.[i] This restriction severely curtails the number of professions available to people coming out of prison, many of which offer considerable promise for returning citizens given the vocational training they received in prison.

As it stands now, nearly 80 professions are off-limits to those with a felony conviction, including becoming a barber, cosmetologist, electrical contractor, plumber, conditioned air contractor, auctioneer, utility contractor, registered trade sanitarian, and scrap metal processor, among others.[ii]

Lift Restrictions and Open-Up Job Opportunities

In order to open-up a greater range of professions for returning citizens, the state of Georgia should lift blanket restrictions on professional licenses. Some of the professions most suitable to returning citizens’ skillsets are currently inaccessible to them because they are barred from acquiring a license in those professions. These blanket restrictions should be replaced with reasonable criteria for determining whether a given profession is suitable for a person given his or her criminal history.

As is the case for determining whether any particular job is suitable for a person given his or her felony conviction, professional licensing boards should consider the following factors in determining whether the granting of a license is appropriate:

  • The nature of the crime committed and its relation to the license sought
  • The time elapsed since the crime
  • The applicant’s age at the time of the crime
  • The evidence that the applicant has been rehabilitated[iii]

By using these criteria, professional licensing boards can eliminate unreasonable licensing restrictions while ensuring that public safety is protected. A person might be restricted from obtaining a license in one profession due to the nature of his or her crime, but prove to be an excellent candidate for receiving a license in numerous other professions where his or her crime is unrelated. These decisions must always be determined on a case-by-case basis, just as they are for applicants without a felony conviction.

A Look at Other States

Many states are already working toward increasing opportunities for those with felony convictions to obtain professional licenses. Currently, “21 states have standards that require a ‘direct,’ ‘rational,’ or ‘reasonable’ relationship between the license sought and the applicant’s criminal history to justify the agency’s denial of a license.”[iv]

  • Colorado law mandates that a felony conviction or other offense involving “moral turpitude” cannot, in and of itself, prevent a person from applying for and receiving an occupational license.[v]
  • New Mexico only allows occupational licensing authorities to disqualify applicants from felony or misdemeanor convictions involving “moral turpitude” if they are directly related to the position or license sought.[vi]
  • Connecticut requires a state agency to first consider the relationship between the offense and the job, the applicant’s post-conviction rehabilitation, and the time elapsed since conviction and release before determining a person is not suitable for a license.[vii]
  • Louisiana forbids licensing agencies from disqualifying a person from obtaining a license or practicing a trade solely because of a prior criminal record, unless the conviction directly relates to the specific occupation. In the event the applicant is denied because of a conviction, the reason for the decision must be made explicit in writing.[viii]


Enabling people with felony convictions to acquire professional licenses in Georgia would benefit a variety of stakeholders. Not only would it give returning citizens greater access to a variety of occupations and enable them to support themselves and their families, it would also make the most of current job-training programs offered in state prisons, create opportunities for expansion and partnership with technical schools, and enable offenders to maximize their time in prison and develop transferable job skills.  Together, these advantages would work to reduce recidivism, utilize taxpayer dollars more efficiently, and promote public safety in Georgia.


Image credit: Wrightsville Beach Plumbing (featured image) and Mahanomi Health and Beauty Care Info

[i] O.C.G.A. § 43-1-19; italics added.

[ii] O.C.G.A. §§ 43-1 to 43-51.

[iii] Legal Action Center, “Recommended Key Provisions,” para. 6, http://www.lac.org/toolkits/standards/ Key%20Provisions%20-%20Standards.pdf.

[iv] Legal Action Center, “Standards for Hiring People with Criminal Records,” Advocacy Toolkits to Combat Legal Barriers Facing Individuals with Criminal Records, accessed November 29, 2013, para. 8, http://www.lac.org/toolkits/standards/standards.htm.

[v] Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-5-101; Legal Action Center, “Overview of State Laws that Ban Discrimination by Employers,” 2, http://www.lac.org/toolkits/standards/Fourteen_State_Laws.pdf.

[vi] Legal Action Center, “Overview of State Laws,” 3.

[vii] Ibid., 1.

[viii] La. Rev. Stat. § 37:2950.


This post was adapted from Georgia Center for Opportunity’s December 2013 report titled Increasing Employment Opportunities for Ex-Offenders.

Georgia Positioned to be a National Leader in Prisoner Reentry

Governor Deal

Governor Nathan Deal

Georgia is receiving national attention as the state recently received four competitive federal grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to implement its Prisoner Reentry Initiative (GA-PRI). Georgia is the only state to have received all four grants at one time – a testament to the smart framework that the state has developed to bring about significant reductions in recidivism.

The Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry (GOTSR) developed the GA-PRI Framework with the assistance of the Center for Justice Innovation last fall and began taking steps to implement it at five pilot sites around the state. GOTSR took these steps knowing that additional funding would be necessary to successfully carry out this initiative.

The office applied for the BJA grants around the beginning of summer with the hopes that it would receive the funding necessary to hire the right staff, provide evidence-based training and implementation, improve information sharing and measuring outcomes, and establish quality assurance mechanisms.

Jay Neal, executive director of GOTSR, explained that the office applied for the grants with the expectation that each one would fund a different component of the initiative and build on each other. This created a package deal that would enable the state to fully implement the GA-PRI framework without duplicating funds. This smart strategy appealed to BJA, who awarded the office each grant for which it applied.

The four grants that Georgia received for this initiative include:


Smart Supervision Grant Department of Corrections; Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry $750,000
Statewide Recidivism Reduction Grant Department of Corrections; Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry $3,000,000
Justice Information Sharing Solutions Grant Criminal Justice Coordinating Council $498,234
Justice Reinvestment: Maximizing State Reforms Grant Department of Corrections; Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry $1,750,000


Now that the state has received these grants, the next challenge will be to put all of its planning into action. This implementation phase will be critical to the success of prisoner reentry reform in Georgia, and the state understands that it will take collaboration among all stakeholders in the community for it to be successful, including businesses, churches, educational institutions, non-profits, and others.

GOTSR will be presenting its three year implementation strategy at the Justice Reinvestment National Summit in San Diego (November 17-19, 2014) where hundreds of people from over 30 states will be represented. These states will be looking at Georgia to see how well the state can implement its new reentry framework to reduce recidivism.

Georgia’s goal is to see a decrease in recidivism by seven percent in two years, and by 11 percent over five years.

Jay Neal

Jay Neal, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry

The momentum for reform is strong right now in Georgia, but the true test of the state’s commitment to preparing citizens for successful reintegration will have to be seen in the coming years as the inevitable difficulties of implementation arise.

For now, the state’s leaders seem prepared to face those challenges as they arise. There is a prevailing optimism that can be heard in government boardrooms and local reentry coalitions around the state, especially as people recount the incredible progress that has been made in Georgia over the last four years in the area of criminal justice reform.


Image credit:  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (featured image), The Wall Street Journal, and The Polk Fish Wrap

Sajan George Schools Local Leaders on Education Turnarounds

Over the past year, Georgia Center for Opportunity has hosted a series of luncheons aimed at encouraging local educators and business leaders to think outside of the traditional education reform box. Past keynote speakers have shared ways educators can work within their schools to become “cage-busting” leaders, and how business professionals can form coalitions to support quality education.


In this same vein, GCO recently had the pleasure to host Sajan George, the founder and CEO of Matchbook Learning. Sajan not only introduced the unique Matchbook blended-learning model, but he also shared ways his “turnaround” methodology can be applied to even the most underperforming schools in Georgia.

What is different about Matchbook Learning?

For students at a Matchbook school, grades are virtually irrelevant. Instead, the emphasis is placed on instructional levels of learning. Rather than go through curriculums associated with the grade they are in (i.e., 3rd grade), students begin lessons based on their skill level, which may be higher or lower than the actual grade they are in (e.g., they may be at a 1st or 4th grade level). Students advance from their individual starting points based on their ability to master a skill at a pace that is independent of other students’ progress in the classroom. This concept is commonly referred to as competency-based education.

By using online learning platforms, Matchbook Learning has created a revolutionary learning system that does not just treat the symptoms of failing schools, but addresses the root cause of failure. Far too often schools focus on one-size-fits all instruction and traditional seat-time to improve student outcomes. However, what is truly needed is the ability to customize learning paths to meet students where they are. This system has already proven its ability to propel struggling students to new heights academically by not overwhelming them with instruction far beyond their ability and by allowing them to progress at their own pace.

What is special about Matchbook Learning is that is does not just give struggling students the autonomy to work independently, it also frees up teachers to work with students on a more engaged level.  Through the online platform, teachers always know where their students are in their learning and can arrange their classes with ease to provide more help to students who need it.

Matchbook has already scaled turnaround success in classrooms, schools, and school systems in places like Detroit, MI and Newark, NJ.


Can the Matchbook model turnaround Georgia?

To apply these turnaround methods in Georgia, Sajan noted that a more innovative vision of education is needed across the state. One possible starting point, however, could be Gov. Deal’s proposed recovery schools districts. Looking to the Matchbook Learning system as a best practice for these would-be state charter schools could provide the much needed guidance to transform low-performing schools into student-centered learning environments.

Through collaboration with innovators such as Sajan George, Georgia Center for Opportunity continues to remove barriers to quality education by promoting solutions that have been proven to work. Considering models like that of Matchbook Learning are a much needed step in the right direction for giving Georgia a real chance to prosper.