By Ashley Fitzwilliams
It is an imperfect world. You commit a crime. You serve your time. You are released and looking forward but no one will hire you because you have to check the “box.” You cannot leave the striped “I” (for “inmate”) in your past. You are a felon. Most employers will pass on hiring you. Sounds awful, right? It is a reality for recently released ex-offenders across the country. But Arizona is fighting back to help ex-offenders get back on track with their lives.
Over the last thirty years, the Arizona prison population has grown faster than the state’s residential population. August 2017 figures show that the Arizona Department of Corrections (“ADC”) held more than 42,000 inmates. August saw almost 1,700 people admitted to ADC and nearly as many released back into the community for a variety of reasons—their sentence expired, they were paroled, or they qualified for early or supervised release. In 2015, “ADC released 19,773 inmates, most having served less than two years.”
Arizona prisoners must work. ADC offers Work-Based Education (“WBE”) programs designed to “assist offenders in gaining marketable employment skills.” Offenders with a high school diploma or GED, but lacking in work skills, may be eligible for WBE programs. ADC boasts the skills gained “may assist offenders in obtaining work within the prison setting, as well as upon release.” “May” being the operative word because many released ex-offenders still have difficulty finding work. Nothing is guaranteed upon release back into a community where many face rejection due to their formerly incarcerated status. ADC reports that the recidivism rate is about forty percent, primarily attributable to “lack of housing, lack of employment and substance abuse.” The reason for this figure lies in understanding that “[e]x-offenders who are employed are three to five times less likely to reoffend.” Many ex-offenders want a second chance.
Second chances are being given. The cities of Phoenix, Glendale, and Tucson, among others, have joined the “Ban the Box” campaign to remove the job application box asking if a person has been convicted of a crime. With Governor Ducey’s support, ADC is combating recidivism through prison job fairs and reentry training programs. In 2016, Austin Electric partnered with the Homebuilders Association of Central Arizona and ADC to recruit and offer jobs to inmates nearing release. They hired seventy ex-offenders and have kept fifty-two of them. Programs like this are hailed as “a win for the community . . . for the individual . . . for the company.” But some states are demanding more, implementing provisional licensing programs for employment or occupational licensing of ex-offenders.
In early 2017, H.B. 2290 hit the floor of the Arizona legislature. H.B. 2290 is a provisional licensing bill encouraging agencies “to grant provisional occupational licenses to released inmates that fall within certain categories who, but for their felony conviction, are otherwise qualified for licensure.” It does not restrict the occupational licensing authority or the regulatory agency from policing licensees or enforcing license requirements, but it does prevent denial of a license to a person “strictly based on a prior felony conviction.” Governor Ducey signed H.B. 2290 into law on May 1, 2017.
With the exception of court reporters, this law applies to various “licensing authorities” that issue service licenses to individuals to operate a business in the state per Arizona Revised Statute title 32 (governing professions and occupations). This includes architects, barbers, cosmetologists, contractors, veterinarians, security guards, and so on. Highlights of the law include:
- The licensing authority may issue an “otherwise qualified applicant” who has been convicted of an offense a regular or provisional license. The license is valid for a year and the applicant must be released from prison to apply. The licensee must provide the name and contact information for his community supervision, probation, or parole officer. The licensing authority must inform that officer as well as the prosecutor (when the licensee is required to pay court-ordered restitution) of the issuance of a license to the applicant.
- The licensing authority retains authority to revoke the license if the licensee: 1) acquires a new felony charge; 2) has his community supervision, probation, or parole revoked; or 3) violates the rules governing the practice of the occupation.
- For specific occupations or employment and certain statutory violations occurring within the last ten years, licensing is conditioned on working under the supervision of another who does not have a provisional license or who has no criminal record. Beyond that, discretion lies with the licensing authority to condition licensing and to “conduct reasonable enforcement activities” to ensure that supervision conditions are met.
- Certain categories of offenders cannot be considered for licensing, including: offenders convicted of violent crimes, sexual offenses, kidnapping, forgery and financial crimes, or for violations of a fiduciary duty to a client, and repeat felony offenders.
- The licensing authorities must annually report to the governor the number of provisional licensing applications received, granted, denied, and revoked.
Time will tell if this law is successful in reducing the Arizona prison population. But the truth remains that “95 out of every 100 incarcerated persons will eventually rejoin our communities.” With a statistic like that, we should expect bills like H.B. 2290 to crop up across state legislatures in the coming years. Reformed ex-offenders in need of a fresh start, and safety of the communities into which they are released, depend on it.
 Number of Inmates in Arizona, Arizona Indicators, http://arizonaindicators.org/visualization/number-inmates-arizona (last visited Sept. 24, 2017).
 Ariz. Dep’t of Corrections, Two-Year Prison Population Trend Report (Aug. 2017), https://corrections.az.gov/sites/default/files/REPORTS/Stats/adc-inmatestats_2yr-pop_august2017.pdf.
 Ariz. Dep’t of Corrections, Corrections at a Glance (Aug. 2017), https://corrections.az.gov/sites/default/files/REPORTS/CAG/2017/cagaug17.pdf; Ariz. Dep’t of Corrections, Institutional Population Movement Report (Aug. 2017), https://corrections.az.gov/sites/default/files/REPORTS/Stats/adc-inmatestats_pop-movement_august2017.pdf; Release Types, Ariz. Dep’t of Corrections, https://corrections.az.gov/release-types (last visited Sept. 24, 2017).
 ADC Announces Creation of Division of Inmate Programs and Reentry, Ariz. Dep’t of Corrections (Apr. 12, 2016), https://corrections.az.gov/article/adc-announces-creation-division-inmate-programs-and-reentry.
 Inmate Education, Ariz. Dep’t of Corrections, https://corrections.az.gov/workforce-development#work%20based%20education (last visited Sept. 24, 2017).
 Laura Gomez, Construction Company Builds Second Chances for Former Inmates, AZ Cent. (July 21, 2017), http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/southwest-valley/2017/07/21/arizona-construction-company-austin-electric-has-jobs-program-for-former-inmates/481516001/.
 States Should Reform Provisional Licensing Laws to Help Lower Recidivism, ALEC (Oct. 7, 2014), https://www.alec.org/article/states-reform-provisional-licensing-laws-help-lower-recidivism/.
 Beth Avery & Phil Hernandez, Ban the Box: U.S. Cities, Counties, and States Adopt Fair Hiring Policies, NELP (Aug. 1, 2017), http://www.nelp.org/publication/ban-the-box-fair-chance-hiring-state-and-local-guide/; Corina Vanek, ‘Ban the Box’ Aims to Increase Chances for Felons, AZ Daily Sun (Mar. 28, 2017), http://azdailysun.com/news/local/ban-the-box-aims-to-increase-chances-for-felons/article_ff99ba40-a91b-5273-9541-89f2e84e767b.html.
 KGUN-TV on New Employment Center Program Aimed at Improving Reentry & Lowering Recidivism, Ariz. Dep’t of Corrections (Aug. 15, 2017), https://corrections.az.gov/article/kgun-tv-new-employment-center-program-aimed-improving-reentry-lowering-recidivism. See also Giving AZ’s Inmates a Second Chance, Outside of Prison, Office of the Governor Doug Ducey (Aug. 15, 2017), https://azgovernor.gov/governor/video/giving-azs-inmates-second-chance-outside-prison; NBC 12 News: New Sunrise Employment Center Gives Prison Inmates Hope for the Future, Office of the Governor Doug Ducey (Aug. 15, 2017), https://azgovernor.gov/governor/video/nbc-12-news-new-sunrise-employment-center-gives-prison-inmates-hope-future.
 Gomez, supra note 9.
 Those states include Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York. States Should Reform Provisional Licensing Laws to Help Lower Recidivism, supra note 10.
 H.B. 2290, 53rd Leg., 1st Reg. Sess. (Ariz. 2017), https://apps.azleg.gov/BillStatus/GetDocumentPdf/453828.
 Kurt Altman, At Least I Can Cut Hair, Right on Crime (July 12, 2017), http://rightoncrime.com/2017/07/at-least-i-can-cut-hair/.
 Id. See also Provisional Licensing Proposals Advance, Peters, Cannata & Moody PLC (Mar. 24, 2017), http://www.azafp.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/AzAFP-March-24-2017.pdf.
 AZ Legislature Adjourns, Office of the Governor Doug Ducey (May 11, 2017), https://azgovernor.gov/governor/news/2017/05/az-legislature-adjourns.
 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 32-4701.
 States Should Reform Provisional Licensing Laws to Help Lower Recidivism, supra note 10.