Barbers, Caregivers, and the ‘Disciplinary Subject’: Occupational Licensure for People With Criminal Justice Backgrounds in the United States
127 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2019
Date Written: June 23, 2019
It is commonly assumed that people with criminal backgrounds are ineligible for licensed employment in the United States. This study, based on more than one hundred interviews with occupational-certification officials in states across the country, demonstrates that people with conviction histories seeking professional credentials confront an unpredictable process that resurrects and amplifies their records and often requires them to perform their rehabilitation, good character, and governability. State laws are extremely varied, complex, and sometimes opaque; application procedures expose would-be licensees to inspection and judgment by a variety of public and private actors. People with criminal backgrounds are not flatly excluded from occupational certification. Indeed, significant percentages of those who manage to navigate the application process do become licensed barbers and nursing assistants, according to officials and available state data. But neither are they restored to full and equal standing. They are in a kind of liminal state, one that is uncertain and precarious. Even when they succeed, people with criminal records seeking licensure often need to navigate a process that reinforces their diminished status and their vulnerability to state authority and private power.
These findings yield new insight into the civic status created by American collateral-consequences laws. While not cast out or condemned to permanent exclusion, people with criminal histories remain marked and open to surveillance and control in the extended American carceral state. They are, in effect, disciplinary subjects. Such civil barriers are more porous than absolute, but licensure practices raise serious problems of transparency, consistency, and fairness.
Keywords: collateral consequences, collateral sanctions, occupational licensure, criminal conviction, civil disabilities, rights restoration
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