Arbitrary Licensing Requirements Should be Scrapped

Unemployment is a leading indicator for recidivism

The ability to earn an honest living is a solution to many of the problems individuals face, and this is even more true for people with a record of criminal activity.

When someone is released from prison, finding work is one of the best ways to keep them out of the corrections system for good. But in Michigan, this is often easier said than done.

Prospective employees require a state-mandated license to work for approximately 20 percent of the jobs in Michigan. For a majority of those jobs, which include skilled trades like roofing and painting, obtaining a license means proving you are of “good moral character.” In other words, if you have a criminal record, you are ineligible for a license.

In some professions this makes sense, but in most it would be better for licensing boards to use common sense when examining an applicant’s moral character. A conviction like reckless driving will not impact the ability of a barber to cut hair, but he could still lose his chance at a career as a result of it.

Mackinac Center Policy Analyst Jarrett Skorup and Research Intern Jacob Weaver recently published an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press discussing the reasons why the state should reform moral character clauses:

The laws preventing people with a criminal record harm, rather than protect, the public by cornering people into partaking in illegal activity. A 2011 study from the National Employment Law Project found that the higher the chance of released convicts’ landing jobs, the lower the recidivism rate. And a 2016 study out of Arizona State University estimates that higher licensing burdens led to a fourfold increase in convicts offending again and being sent back to prison. …

This has a huge effect on the more than 4 million individuals who have some type of record in the state’s criminal history file, the 50,000 Michigan residents who are convicted of a felony each year, and the approximately 10,000 prisoners released from Michigan prisons annually.

And taxpayers are affected, too. The state spends $150 million on its licensing department and nearly $2 billion on corrections each year. If the state could reduce its recidivism rate, that’s less it needs to spend locking people up and more that could be spent on things that benefit taxpayers, like maintaining and improving infrastructure or even a broad-based reduction in tax rates.

For more on licensing reform, read the Mackinac Center’s recent study “This Isn’t Working: How Michigan’s Licensing Laws Hurt Workers and Consumers.” For more on criminal justice reform, visit