Energizing the Workforce: Licensing, Legislation, and Life After Prison

When we are getting into the details about the various marginalized groups that are affected when it comes to entering the workforce, specifically related to EE, I want to focus on one group in particular. Individuals that have been previously incarcerated or hold a criminal background are part of a massive movement in our country and must tackle thousands of barriers to reintegrate themselves into society. When it comes to the discussion of the criminal justice system, one goal always remains constant, reduce recidivism. However, if we do not want people going back to jail or prison, we need to proactively work on reducing the barriers that exist for these individuals.

The Washington Post published an incredibly fascinating article about the journey of a handful of individuals who are/were incarcerated and are now navigating life beyond confinement. With anecdotal evidence, statistical data, and in-person interviews, readers were invited into the world of Rhode Island residents, Meko Lincoln, Jorge Henriquez, and Partaja Spann-Taylor, all of whom hold a criminal record. 2 of the 3 individuals mentioned above went through in-depth stories of their lives touching on drug addiction, incarceration, and poverty. Post incarceration life has been filled with countless accomplishments for both of them including the completion of rehabilitation programs and being employed at recovery centers.

You may be wondering how does this connect to the workforce, especially when it comes to EE? This article also expands on the licensing and certifications that are required for many jobs within the energy industry. “Across the country, more than 10,000 regulations restrict people with criminal records from obtaining occupational licenses. Licensing boards in Rhode Island (for example) can withhold licenses for crimes committed decades ago, by citing a requirement that people display “good moral character,” without taking into account individual circumstances or efforts toward rehabilitation” (Washington Post, 2019).

Even more closely related to our industry, the article touches on trade jobs and certifications that individuals can receive while serving time, one of which is being licensed in HVAC. However, there is a caveat to these licenses. Rhode Island does not officially bar people with criminal histories from being licensed in HVAC, but under state law, licenses in HVAC and other mechanical trades can be revoked or suspended for felony convictions. “Criminal justice policy analysts say the licensing barriers discourage people with records from applying in the first place because they are routinely told their convictions make them ineligible” (Washington Post, 2019). One positive that is being produced out of this is that about a quarter of the entire U.S. workforce is a licensed occupation and more than two dozen states have begun the process to loosen licensing restrictions.

Moving forward, action-oriented practices are how we can begin to tackle barriers the exist, especially when it comes to legislation. The Institute of Justice provides its audience with details of the “loosen license restrictions.” “Today, one out of every five Americans needs a license to work while 1 in 3 American adults has a criminal record. Since 2015, 28 states have reformed their occupational licensing laws to make it easier for ex-offenders to find work in state-licensed fields.” See CA’s here: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB2293

One inmate discusses the HVAC training that he is completing while serving his five-year sentence and is optimistic about the chances of a career upon his release. On the contrary, an HVAC instructor, Bill Okerholm, cannot recall anyone who has been officially licensed after their release.

The criminal justice system and incarceration issues today are creating an entire reform in the United States. While there are many components that we in the energy sector do not touch, this is a facet where we can make a real difference. Looking into certifications and connecting with rehabilitation centers to enroll or employ individuals that may have a criminal background are ways that we can positively affect the mass number of barriers that these individuals already face the

second they step out of jail. Please take a look at the links below to have a better vision of what life post-incarceration is like for many individuals and to dig a little deeper into the issues at hand.

Washington Post: After Prison, more punishment
Washington Post: A lifetime of punishment- video
NICCC- National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction
National Employment Law Project: Unlicensed and Untapped
The Sentencing Project: DEcarceration Strategies