Certificates of employability are issued by state courts to people with criminal convictions who have met certain standards to help employers and landlords make better-informed decisions about applicants with criminal records1. Courts and, sometimes, parole boards can tailor certificates based on an individual’s history and circumstances, and may relieve or mitigate some or all consequences of criminal conviction, such as statute-imposed penalties which restrict occupational or business licensing and employment. Certificates may be issued after a set waiting period based on proof of behavior and employment history, or may be awarded during sentencing to support reentry. Several states’ certificates create an enforceable presumption of rehabilitation, and some limit employers’ liability in negligent hiring actions. Some certificates may be available only to individuals convicted of less serious offenses, though several jurisdictions award them to individuals convicted of felony-level offenses2. Names of certificates vary by state; examples include certificates of relief, certificates of reentry, certificates of good conduct, certificates of rehabilitation, certificates of qualification for employment, and certificates of recovery. Unlike a pardon or expungement, a certificate does not remove a conviction from a person’s record or relieve a job applicant of the obligation to acknowledge the conviction if asked.
Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)
Reduced barriers to employment
Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes
Evidence of Effectiveness
Certificates of employability are a suggested strategy to reduce barriers to employment for individuals previously convicted of a crime1, 3, 4, 5. A study of Ohio’s certificate of qualification for employment suggests such a certificate may increase the likelihood individuals with felony drug convictions receive an interview or job offer for an entry level job6. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.
Potential barriers for individuals seeking certificates of employability include the cost and time required to apply, and potential difficulty understanding eligibility and navigating the application process1. Additionally, a New York state-based study suggests substantial variation in implementation of such certificates and disagreement on which post-conviction restrictions certificates lift, particularly between rural and urban courts7.
Some researchers suggest certificates as an alternative to Ban the Box policies, as a means of providing potential employers with more information about applicants, rather than less8.
Impact on Disparities
As of 2017, at least 20 states have laws that grant courts or parole boards authority to provide certificates of employability that serve as proof of rehabilitation for employment purposes or allow removal of some post-conviction occupational disqualifications imposed on individuals with criminal records9. Examples include California10, Connecticut11, Ohio12, New York13, North Carolina14, and Vermont15. At least 12 states also protect employers from negligent hiring lawsuits based solely on criminal convictions9.
Some states offer multiple types of certificates. For example, New York’s Certificate of Relief from Disabilities may be awarded at sentencing or at any time thereafter; its Certificate of Good Conduct, however, requires a one, three, or five-year waiting period, depending on the individual’s conviction history13. Both create a presumption of rehabilitation16.
The Uniform Law Commission and the American Law Institute have proposed certificate mechanisms in their national law reform proposals2.
CCRC-Love 2018 - Love M, Gaines J, Osborne J. Forgiving and forgetting in American justice: A 50-state guide to expungement and restoration of rights. Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC); 2018.
CCRC-Certificates of Relief - Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC). Certificates of Relief.
US DOJ-NIC - National Institute of Corrections (NIC). Redemption & certificates of rehabilitation. US Department of Justice (US DOJ).
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1 Vera-Subramanian 2014 - Subramanian R, Moreno R, Gebreselassie S. Relief in sight? States rethink the collateral consequences of criminal conviction, 2009-2014. New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice; 2014.
2 CCRC-Love 2018 - Love M, Gaines J, Osborne J. Forgiving and forgetting in American justice: A 50-state guide to expungement and restoration of rights. Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC); 2018.
3 Urban-Liberman 2015 - Liberman AM, Fontaine J. Reducing harms to boys and young men of color from criminal justice system involvement. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2015.
4 Bushway 2012* - Bushway SD, Apel R. A signaling perspective on employment-based reentry programming: Training completion as a desistance signal. Criminology & Public Policy. 2012;11(1):21-50.
5 Blumstein 2009* - Blumstein A, Nakamura K. Redemption in the presence of widespread criminal background checks. Criminology. 2009;47(2):327-359.
6 Leasure 2016 - Leasure P, Andersen TS. The effectiveness of certificates of relief as collateral consequence relief mechanisms: An experimental study. Yale Law & Policy Review Inter Alia. 2016;35(11):11-22.
7 Ewald 2016* - Ewald AC. Rights restoration and the entanglement of US criminal and civil law: A study of New York’s “certificates of relief.” Law & Social Inquiry. 2016;41(1):5-36.
8 Brookings-Doleac 2016 - Doleac JL. Forget “ban the box” and give ex-prisoners employability certificates. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution; 2016.
9 NCSL-Lawrence 2017 - Lawrence A. From jails to jobs. State legislatures: National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). 2017;43(3):8.
10 SD OPD-CR - San Diego County Office of the Public Defender. Certificate of Rehabilitation and/or Governor’s Pardon FAQ.
11 CT-CE - State of Connecticut Judicial Branch. Court support services adult probation, Certificates of Employability.
12 OH-CQE - Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction. Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE).
13 NY DOCCS-Certificates - New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NY DOCCS). Certificate or relief/good conduct & restoration of rights.
14 UNC-CR - University of North Carolina School of Government. Relief from a Criminal Conviction (2017 edition): Certificates of Relief.
15 Justia-VT LR - Justia: US law. 2016 Vermont Statutes, Title 13 - Crimes and Criminal Procedure, Chapter 231 - Uniform Collateral Consequences Of Conviction, § 8010 Order of limited relief.
16 Norman 2013* - Norman DJ. Stymied by the stigma of a criminal conviction: Connecticut and the struggle to relieve collateral consequences. Quinnipiac Law Review. 2013;31(4):985-1041.
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