What if you were convicted of a crime 20 years ago and served your time in prison? Now, you are trying to make better choices. You go to school, you stay out of trouble and you decide you want to open your own hair salon. This will not be possible.
In Washington State if you have a criminal history and want to be a hair stylist, a tattoo artist, a commercial fisherman or any of the dozens of other professions that require an occupational license, you’ll have to pursue something else. Here, people with a criminal history are not allowed to have an occupational license.
A bill that’s in committee in Olympia right now would lift this barrier by creating what’s called a “Certificate of Restoration of Opportunities.” Merf Ehman, with Columbia Legal Services in Seattle, says a judge would look over a person’s records and decide whether or not to grant the Certificate.
“You could go into court and show that you have complied with all the terms of your sentence, if yo were incarcerated, yo had done that if you had to go to mental health counseling or anger management or whatever you were required to do by the state you had done and that you had led a law abiding life and were in good standing for a certain number of years,” says Ehman.
Ehman is certain that an official document showing someone is on the right path would also help open doors to other work and housing. Research shows that people who are convicted of a crime are less likely to re-offend if they have a steady job and a home.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg supports the legislation saying a certificate would be, "A receipt that says the person has paid their debt to society and can move forward."
The bill does not apply to sexual offenders. If the measure becomes law, employers would not be required to hire someone just because they have a certificate.
The way the legislation is written now, you would have to apply for a certificate through a prosecutor’s office. Then a judge would review an individual’s record and how that person has led his or her life. Based on all of that information, the judge would decide whether a certificate should be granted.
Several states, including Arizona, North Carolina and New York, have similar laws in place.