Overly Restrictive Occupational Licensing Inhibits Texas Growth

Last year, Texas was ranked with the 17th highest burden occupational licensing imposes on the workforce. A full one-third of low-income occupations in Texas are licensed.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right on Crime have long alerted policymakers to the inherent issues with overusing occupational licensing. This practice inhibits economic growth, restricts employment, and can serve as a form of economic protectionism.

In fact, studies have pointed to billions in losses each year attributable to occupational licensing and the lower rates of employment in licensed professions as compared to unlicensed professions.

Occupational licensing can and does serve a public purpose—specifically, when there is an information imbalance or public safety issue that occupational licensing can protect against.

But when we’ve begun licensing hair shampooers and equine teeth floaters, we have to ask ourselves what purpose our occupational licensing system serves: protecting the public or protecting established industries?

Another important question that should be put to each occupational licensing scheme is whether restrictions on applicants with criminal histories play a role in protecting public safety. An occupational license for an ex-offender should take into consideration whether the offense on the applicant’s record is related to the profession or the situations in which the profession would lead the applicant.

A recent article from Austin-American Statesman exemplifies the importance of stepping away from overly restrictive occupational license.

A security alarm installer, Adam Waters, recently moved to Texas from North Carolina. He was apparently so skilled at his profession (not to mention his 25 years of experience) that he worked on the North Carolina Governor’s home, the home of a mayor, and even some buildings on local air force bases.

But Texas denied him a license to install alarms in our state. The reason given was that he received deferred adjudication after failing to pull over in Lee County. (He claims he didn’t hear or see the police officers.)

Mr. Waters clearly messed up. He shouldn’t have been speeding and he shouldn’t have failed to pull over immediately. No one would condone his actions.

But does this incident make him such a risk that he’s unable to obtain a license to install security systems in Texas? Does this one incident eviscerate 25 years of experience in his occupation? Did the licensing agency here in Texas check and see if he had ever incurred any complaints in relation to his work in those 25 years? Is a Texas agency that doles out occupational licenses a better judge of character than the Governor of North Carolina?

Or have we gone just a bit too far with occupational licensing in Texas?

Two Smart on Crime States Post Results

Taxpayers in Pennsylvania are footing the bill for 454 fewer inmates this month than they were a year ago, while South Carolina’s citizens are paying for 2,700 fewer inmates.

Why? Pennsylvania created a more effective parole and processing system, while recent legislative alterations to drug and low-level crimes will further the prison population drop.

In South Carolina, the Legislature and Governor three years ago prioritized sending violent offenders to prison for a longer time, while providing for alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders, and created a more effective probation supervision system. The prison population drop resulted in two prison closures and $175 million in avoided prison construction costs.

Both states came to the realization that one-size-fits-all prison policies are expensive, and aren’t actually the best way to protect the public safety. Instead, prioritizing prison beds for violent offenders while doing more to get non-violent and low-risk offenders back on the right path can save millions and do far more to keep citizens safe.

Prison Population Continues to Drop in Colorado

A little less than a year ago, Right on Crime mentioned that Colorado was considering closing a prison. They’ve done so—three, actually. And now the state is looking at closing even more.

That’s because statisticians in that state expect 2,600 to 3,600 more beds will be empty by the summer of 2014.

The reasons Colorado has seen such a significant drop in prison populations are varied. From an aging population, to more effective substance abuse reduction tactics, to gang-intervention programs, to swift-and-sure probation and supervision policies, the state is housing 7,500 fewer inmates than what was projected for this year.

And when the state tacks on around 3,000 beds to that figure, Colorado could close anywhere from two to ten facilities. Now Colorado legislators are faced with making the decisions of which facilities to close—which is a pretty fiscally fortunate decision to have to make.

Universities of Crime: Post-Incarceration Illegal Earnings

Right on Crime has often discussed how, in particular situations, public safety is actually harmed by the incarceration of low-risk and medium-risk youth. This theory colloquially deems youth lock-ups “universities of crime,” and focuses on how certain youth may learn all the wrong lessons from older and more high-risk youth when locked up alongside them.

A professor from Ohio, Donald Hutcherson, decided to dig into this theory a bit more. As NPR summarized, Professor Hutcherson studied a federal data collection that includes surveys of youth and young adults after serving time in a lockup or in prison. He found that those who spent time behind bars reported an average of $11,000 more in illegal earnings after leaving secure placement.

Now, it is important not to conflate correlation and causation in these findings. It is entirely possible that such an increase in illegal earnings would have occurred without a term in a lockup or prison, and that the illegal earnings are sourced to factors irrespective of time in a secure facility. It is not possible to control for such factors.

But if prison were a perfect solution, there would be no increase in illegal earnings following time behind bars—in fact, none at all. If prisons and juvenile lockups perfectly cured the criminal impulse, former inmates and wards would report no illegal earnings whatsoever.

Instead, the increase in illegal earnings shows us that prison or juvenile lockups are not a one-size-fits all solution to the problem of crime and the path to public safety. Such facilities are indeed a valuable tool, but must be used judiciously.

Florida Seeks to Increase Juvenile Diversions

Across Florida, municipalities are saving millions and keeping youth who do not need formal processing out of the system through the use of civil citations. Civil citations are eligible only for youth who have committed a misdemeanor or local ordinance violation, and involve supervision, treatment, and community service in lieu of arrest.

In return, a youth has the opportunity to learn from his or her mistakes and avoid formal processing, and the county can save money in law enforcement and court costs. And youths who received a civil citation reoffend far less than those on probation, which is likely where those youths would have been placed after formal processing.

The system is so successful that the Florida Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Wansley Walters, is personally travelling to counties that have not yet fully implemented a civil citations system and encouraging them to do so. This effort is in conjunction with Secretary Walters’ efforts to reduce unnecessary placements in state secure facilities. Florida’s juvenile facilities currently house a large number of low- and medium-risk youth that could safely be placed in other more effective programs at a significant cost savings.

West Virginia Analyzing Reform Research

As the law currently stands, West Virginia will be asked to come up with $340 million dollars between 2014 and 2018, all to handle an increased prison population.

Fortunately, West Virginia officials are seeking to avoid these costs with smart-on-crime reforms that will stymie the increase in prison populations while better protecting the public safety.

Those reforms include a research-based risk and needs assessment that felons will undergo prior to sentencing. This assessment will provide necessary information to the judge that will aid in sentencing offenders to the most effective placements. In fact, the Supreme Court is administratively implementing these assessments in West Virginia this year.

Other reforms include an increased investment in substance abuse and addiction treatments. In West Virginia, as elsewhere, substance abuse issues often underlie criminal behavior. In those cases, attacking the substance addiction can halt future criminality far more cheaply and effectively than a mere prison sentence.

In addition to more effective probation, these proposals are positioned to prevent West Virginia from being forced to raid taxpayer’s wallets for an additional $340 million.

Georgia Jails Post Lower Populations

Less than one year after implementing smart, conservative sentencing reform, Georgia’s counties are already bearing witness to the benefits.

Last session, Georgia’s legislature decided to reevaluate the sentences for some low-risk, non-violent crimes, and discussed whether public safety dictated that offenders committing those crimes should be locked up. In some cases, there was no benefit to public safety in jailing those offenders, and in fact the high costs outweighed any perceived benefit.

As a result, today, out of 37,000 county jail beds in Georgia, 10,000 of them are vacant.

This reduction in jail bed usage means that counties and local governments are saving substantial amounts of taxpayer dollars. Jail beds can cost between $25 and $50 per day, and each day that each bed isn’t being unnecessarily filled equates to significant savings in county budgets.

Furthermore, those beds are now available for serious and violent offenders who do need to be locked up, bolstering public safety across the state. Finally, reducing population pressures can result in safer in-facility conditions for staff and a greater ability to keep order.

Targeted Treatment for Juveniles in Rural Wisconsin

A common misconception that befalls some stakeholders in the effort to increase targeted, effective treatment or placements for nonviolent juvenile offenders is that such treatment is not available outside of urban settings or larger cities.

The Village of Oconomowoc Lake, Wisconsin, pop. 595, proves that misconception may not hold true for much longer.

At a recent meeting of the Village’s Municipal Court officials, representatives of a substance abuse program described how substance abuse could be a far more effective deterrent for youths charged with drinking offenses or very minor drug offenses.

Currently, those youths are usually just given a fine, often paid by their parents, and nothing is done to curb the underlying drug or alcohol issues.

Instead, juveniles could be placed in an addiction and education and counseling class, a portion of which involves the family. This alternative meets the rubric for an effective intervention for juveniles: targeted, tailored treatment of underlying issues and familial involvement.

If implemented, the Village of Oconomowoc Lake could be setting its own court system on the right track, preventing more addictions in more youth, and serving as an example for small towns across the country.

Zero-Tolerance, Zero Sense?

The good intentions of bolstering school safety that created the zero-tolerance system of automatic suspensions and expulsions for certain behavior are increasingly evaporating across the United States.

The latest reason why? A kindergartner in Pennsylvania was suspended for 10 days (later reduced to two days), required to undergo a psychological examination, and left with a permanent entry on her record.

Her troublesome behavior? School officials say that the kindergartner made a terroristic threat.

That threat? The girl’s suggestion that she and a friend play with her toy bubble gun after school.

To be clear, her “toy bubble gun” is a pink device that blows bubbles into the air.

School officials haven’t yet commented on the five-year-old’s case.

Cutting Crime, Cutting Costs: Two Successful Examples

Right on Crime often focuses on prioritizing prison beds for dangerous, violent criminals, while finding more effective ways of reducing crime in low-risk offenders. One way to develop those more effective responses to crime is to tailor the criminal justice system response to the particular instances involved in the arrest or offense at hand.

For example, Tarrant County, Texas, has developed a “Felony Alcohol Intervention Program,” which is an alternative to prison specifically for those guilty of driving under the influence, or DUI. Under the Program, multiple DUI offenders who would be facing a prison sentence plead guilty to a felony, receive a probated prison sentence, and then are placed in the intensive four-year Program. Offenders are banned from driving at first, and undergo counseling, weekly court visits, constant monitoring via ankle alcohol monitors, urine testing, and are given ignition interlocks to use upon attaining their driving privileges.

The Program costs around $3 per day—a significant cost savings from the $50-per-day price tag for a prison bed. For those who successfully graduate, those cost savings underscore the sober, DUI-free lifestyle they’ve now learned to live and appreciate, and the safer roadways in Tarrant County.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, the “Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion” program, or LEAD, targets frequent fliers constantly rearrested for drug offenses. For those offenders, the short stays in jail have done nothing to quell their persistent drug habits and poverty issues, and under the LEAD program, law enforcement has the ability to try something different. Funded by private donations, the LEAD program focuses on reducing the harm that is created by the drug addiction—whether through treatment, job placement, shelter, or counseling.

The frequent fliers eligible for LEAD would otherwise cost the city of Seattle between $3,500 and $7,500 for each arrest, not including jail or prison time served. LEAD seeks to halt that cycle while continuing to protect the public safety—no offender with any violent crime on his or her record is eligible, nor are those with open warrants or those who were dealing drugs.