Are Arkansas’s Burdensome Licensing Laws Increasing Crime?

By Caleb Taylor

In an op-ed entitled “Let them work” in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on March 4th, UCA Associate Professors of Economics David Mitchell and Thomas Snyder say some licensing laws hinder ex-offenders from being able to get honest work and also burden Arkansas taxpayers with the added costs of incarceration.

Mitchell and Snyder write:

“The direct cost to taxpayers is not the only cost of locking people up. We also lose productive members of society. We could have people working and making society better. That’s how free exchange works. When you pay your barber to cut your hair, you’re better off and he’s better off. The ex-con who finds a job doesn’t cost the state money for a prison cell, and he can support his family. That family needs less taxpayer assistance.”

Mitchell and Snyder also mention ACRE’s new policy brief, “Second Chances: The Importance of Occupational Licensing Reform to Arkansas’s Criminal Justice Reform Initiatives”, coauthored by Snyder and Stephen Slivinski, senior research fellow at the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty at Arizona State University. This brief takes a close look at the relationship between Arkansas occupational licensing laws and crime recidivism. The recidivism rate measures how many former inmates end up back in prison after being released.

Mitchell and Snyder write:

“A recent ACRE study shows that five-year recidivism rates fall by 3.5 percent for every 10 percent reduction in licensing burdens. According to a 2017 Institute for Justice 2017 report, Arkansas licenses about double (72) the amount of low-to-moderate-income occupations of Missouri (37) and Kansas (35). These occupations aren’t physicians–they are low-to-moderate-income occupations.

“If Arkansas de-licensed 50 percent of these occupations or reduced the requirements of these licenses to match our neighbors, our recidivism rate would be predicted to fall by 17.5 percent in five years. Reduce the recidivism rate by 17.5 percent and you only get 3,300 prisoners recidivating. Those 700 fewer prisoners a year could help us save over $15.5 million per year.”

Mitchell and Snyder recommend lowering Arkansas’s recidivism rate by narrowing restrictions on obtaining a license to crimes directly related to performing the occupation as opposed to blanket bans of those convicted of any criminal activity.

They also recommend doing away with vague phrases in licensing language that prohibit “moral turpitude” or require “good character” which can be used to unfairly discriminate. This would still allow for those convicted of crimes related to certain occupations to be prohibited.

You can find more of ACRE’s research on labor market regulation here.
Slivinski also presented his research at UCA last year in a talk entitled, “Weighing Down the Bootstraps” which was a part of ACRE’s Distinguished Speaker Series.
For a national look at occupational licensing reform, check out our policy review, “Occupational Licensing Reform Across the United States” by Marc Kilmer.