“Our bill is a small but significant step towards repairing the vast harm that mass criminalization has inflicted on Black and brown communities.“
The Fair Chance Licensing bill is part of a national movement to reform occupational licensing laws discriminating against people with conviction histories. In Rhode Island, over 90 different occupations ranging from plumber to barber, social worker, and real estate agent have laws creating conviction-related barriers. These barriers include blanket bans, in which people with certain kinds of convictions are altogether barred, regardless of age when the crime was committed or how much time has passed. Rhode Island ’s current laws also allow state agencies to deny licenses based on arrest records with convictions and expunged records. The profiling and mass criminalization of Black and brown communities means that such barriers further institutionalize racist discrimination against Rhode Islanders.
Once signed into law, the Fair Chance Licensing bill will require that state licensing agencies consider how a conviction is related to the occupation in question – including how long ago it occurred and circumstances surrounding the crime; document and notify the applicant of their reasoning; create a transparent appeals process; and report demographic data on conviction-related denials. Arrest records without convictions, juvenile adjudications, and expunged records will no longer be permitted as valid grounds for denial.
Passing this bill was part of a two-year effort on the part of the Fair Chance Licensing Coalition, made up of over 45 separate social and racial justice organizations, led by the Behind the Walls committee, Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE)’s prison abolition committee.
Rhode Island Senator Harold Metts (Democrat, District 6, Providence), Representative Scott Slater (Democrat, District 10, Providence) introduced the bill in the Senate and the House.
Organizers released the following statement:
WE WON. As DARE co-founder Sheila Wilhelm rallied us, three times a charm! This past week, the Rhode Island Senate and House unanimously passed our Fair Chance Licensing bill, which creates opportunity for people with conviction histories to seek meaningful, stable careers ranging from barber to nurse to social worker to real estate agent. One in three Rhode Islanders have a conviction history and face discriminatory barriers in meeting basic needs, from housing to employment. Our bill is a small but significant step towards repairing the vast harm that mass criminalization has inflicted on Black and brown communities.
Our thanks go out to our sponsors, Senator Harold Metts and Representative Scott Slater, who have championed community organizing for years and once again stood for us at the State House. We send gratitude to the 45+ organizations and allies who supported and worked on this campaign. We especially uplift the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, Just Leadership USA, the Center for Justice, Substance Use Policy Education and Recovery PAC, OpenDoors, and Reverend Donnie Anderson, who all contributed vital labor and insights over the past couple years.
Above all, we recognize the directly impacted leaders in our sister orgs, Formerly Incarcerated Union and ReEntry Campus, and Direct Action for Rights and Equality’s Behind the Walls committee, who showed up every week to develop campaign strategy and the bill’s language; fought to be recognized as experts in spaces that did not concede power without a demand; testified at hearings two years in a row; shared personal and sometimes painful stories with legislators, agencies, churches and other members of the public; collected signatures; educated community members about the bill; and more. Nothing about us, without us, is for us.
Last but not least, we thank the Black and brown youth across the country whose resistance these last few months created a climate in which every institution, every space in the United States has had to confront the poison of white supremacy.
When we center directly impacted leadership and forge solidarity across our differences, we build real community power. When we fight, we win!
Mark Gonsalves is studying to be a case manager. The passage of this bill allows him the opportunity to be licensed, and help others dealing with addiction.
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“We put a lot of work into this, for two years,” said Debbie, who works at DARE and is a member of the Behind the Walls committee. “But we stuck together as a group and we got it done.”
Senator Harold Metts:
Cherie Cruz of the Formerly Incarcerated Union: