Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is instructing state departments to remove questions about felonies in applications for state jobs and occupational licenses.
“The continuation of Michigan’s comeback depends on all populations and communities being part of our success,” Snyder said. “We have to keep working to reduce barriers to employment, and by modernizing our system to move outside the box, we can offer second chances to many residents who are ready to work and already trained for the exact jobs that employers are desperate to fill.”
The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) removed questions regarding felonies from occupational licenses and construction code licenses. The checkbox that asks the applicant about felonies will be replaced with a checkbox asking the applicant to affirm a statement regarding good character for the license applications and likely the job applications as well.
Snyder suggested that private companies follow his example or at least wait to ask this question until later in the hiring process; however, this does not put any mandates on private businesses. Several companies, he said, have already taken this approach and it has been successful.
LARA and the Department of Corrections also signed a memorandum that said prisoners going through vocational training may now pursue other vocations if Corrections determines that the candidate has good moral character.
The move has received support from groups on the left and the right.
“This is an important step in ending unfair and unnecessary practices that have excluded thousands of willing, able and motivated individuals from gaining employment and licenses,” Kimberly Buddin, Policy Counsel at the ACLU of Michigan, said, according to Snyder’s press release. “Policies and practices like this benefit communities and employers alike. We hope Michigan’s leadership will continue to adopt additional comprehensive policies that further dismantle barriers to self-sufficiency for returning citizens.”
Kahryn Riley, director of the Mackinac Center’s criminal justice initiative, applauded Snyder’s directives. The Mackinac Center is a Michigan-based, free-market think tank.
“Michigan’s government has done a great thing by banning the box for state employment – and it has set a great example.” Riley said in a statement. “Our state courts hand out nearly 50,000 felony convictions every year, so it’s incredibly important to ensure that people who have made mistakes can still find work and become contributing members of society. This could also be a game-changer for trades facing labor shortages.”
According to the Mackinac Center, the new mandate will lead to multiple benefits because employed ex-offenders are less likely to recommit crimes and removing the barriers might allow people who are hiring to find talent they’d otherwise overlook.
Snyder’s directive ensures that former convicts “will not be defined the worst mistake they ever made,” Riley told Watchdog.org.
Riley said that Michigan is “on a roll” recently in terms of criminal justice reform. She said Snyder’s directive was the latest move in a series of of reforms, which includes changes in regards to corrections, parole and re-entry.
But despite the recent success, Riley said, “There’s still a lot to do.”
Incarceration rates are still too high, and the length of sentences are still too high, she said. Additionally, Michigan is one of the few states that still tries 17-year-olds as adults, instead of allowing them access to the juvenile justice system.