Governor Carney Signs Criminal Justice Bills That Support Employment, Stability

NEW CASTLE – Surrounded by justice advocates and labor leaders, Governor John Carney signed three bills into law Monday that will break down barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals.

Stable employment is a key component to rehabilitation and criminal justice reform, helping to decrease recidivism, improve public safety and reduce the burden on the prison system.

Part of the most ambitious criminal justice package Delaware has seen in a decade, House Bill 7, House Bill 124 and Senate Bill 43 will improve access to employment by removing roadblocks for individuals who already face an increasing number of challenges when they are released from prison. Collectively, the bills will help job-seekers obtain licenses in several trade fields as plumbers, electricians and massage therapists.

“Formerly incarcerated individuals face barrier upon barrier when they come home, from trouble accessing transportation to housing, and it all comes down to what follows them – their criminal record. With these new laws, we are opening the doors to hope and showing these individuals that they are more than their worst mistake,” said Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, D-New Castle, prime sponsor of HB 7. “Removing barriers to gainful employment is critical, so individuals can pursue stability and progress throughout life. I’m hopeful and thankful for the opportunities these bills create.”

The three bills overwhelmingly passed the General Assembly during the session. They were part of a 17-bill package announced in March. Eleven of those bills have been sent to Governor Carney for his signature.

“One of the most critical components of our criminal justice system is getting ex-offenders back into society and making sure they can find good-paying jobs,” said Governor Carney. “This legislation builds on our efforts to make sure those who served out their sentences can positively contribute to their communities.” 

Statistics show why it is so important to increase these efforts. About 60 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are without a job one year after their release, according to the National Institute of Justice. HB 124, HB 7 and SB 43 promote employment, ensuring that ex-offenders can pursue a stable path forward.

“A good job is a powerful re-entry tool. Gainful employment is a cornerstone of success in life after prison, but hundreds of collateral consequences of a criminal record create barriers to necessities like jobs, stable housing, and educational opportunities and make it hard just for returning citizens to get off the ground,” said Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings.

“Part of our criminal justice reform mission is reducing or removing those barriers when it is safe to do so, and that is reflected in the legislature’s work to pass thoughtful pro-jobs and anti-crime legislation like these bills.”

House Bill 7 modifies the impact of criminal history on an applicant’s eligibility for licensure by the Board of Massage and Bodywork. It will allow the Delaware Board of Massage and Bodywork to grant waivers for people with certain felony convictions to obtain professional licenses, and prohibits the Board from considering certain convictions that are more than 10 years old.

House Bill 124 modifies the impact an applicant's criminal history would have on their eligibility to obtain a license as a plumber or HVAC technician. It gives the licensing board discretion to waive some of those convictions, making them eligible to pursue their new job.

“Learning a trade can open so many doors, and put an individual on the path toward a successful career. For ex-offenders who face the odds stacked against them, access to trade opportunities is even more important,” said Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, prime sponsor of HB 124

“We’ve seen how a previous conviction, even ones way in the past, present major roadblocks, but with this legislation we are working to overcome those obstacles. Increasing access to employment reduces recidivism and improves an individual’s quality of life. I’m proud to be furthering those efforts with my colleagues, advocates and Governor Carney.”

Senate Bill 43 modifies the impact of criminal history on an applicant’s eligibility for licensure by the Board of Electrical Examiners. Similar to the other two bills, SB 43 give the licensing board discretion to waive some of those convictions when considering an application.

“There might be no better tool for rehabilitation and self-improvement than a good-paying job,” said Sen. Jack Walsh, D-Stanton, the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 43. “With these bills, we are eliminating punitive restrictions in our criminal justice system and opening up avenues to gainful employment for hundreds of people who deserve a second chance.  As a professional electrician and IBEW member, I’m extremely proud to have helped pass legislation that will both reduce unemployment and make our communities safer.”