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Considering Criminal Backgrounds: A Q&A With ICE Research Report Co-Chairs

Earlier this year, ICE published “Criminal Justice Research Study,” a research report on how private certification organizations use information about an individual’s criminal history to make credentialing decisions. The project was inspired by an increase in legislative initiatives that would limit the ability of state professional and occupational licensing agencies to consider a candidate’s criminal history in making licensing decisions.

The research was a joint initiative of the ICE Government Affairs and Research and Development (R&D) Committees, as representatives from both served on the task force. We spoke with the task force co-chairs, Carla Caro, MA, and Nicole Risk, PhD, to understand more about the work that went into this report and what readers can expect to learn from it.

This report stemmed from a trend of increased legislative initiatives seeking to limit licensing agencies in considering a candidate’s criminal history in making licensing decisions. Why was this a red flag? What are the implications of this going unchecked?

Carla Caro: While the vast majority of proposed laws are meant to apply to licensure boards, some ICE members have been concerned that legislatures do not always understand the difference between legal licensure and voluntary certification. Some proposed legislation introduces language that confuses licensure and certification, and thus may have implications for both governmental regulatory bodies and private voluntary credentialing organizations.

While these types of state and national legislation have the laudatory goal of helping increase access to workforce opportunities for individuals with a criminal history, legislation may, in some cases, be “painting with too broad a brush” by conflating governmental and private credentialing. Doing so fails to recognize the very real public protection mission of voluntary credentialing organizations, as well as their desire to determine ethical and conduct codes for their credential holders. However, it is also important that organizations providing voluntary certification programs have policies and procedures in place that are rationally based on their public protection missions, or legislatures may do it for them.

Nicole Risk: Certification organizations function very differently from licensure, so imposing the same legislation was concerning to the credentialing community. Often, the public and employers view certification as a stamp of approval. If a highly-regarded credentialing organization credentials a particular individual, they are more likely to trust this individual with their business or care. Removing credentialing organizations’ ability to consider whether individuals applying for certification adhere to ethical codes of conduct could violate the public protection mission.

Why were you interested in helping lead the research for this topic?

CC: The Government Affairs committee has been tracking legislation related to the use of criminal background in licensure for a number of years. The committee has been getting regular updates on proposed state and federal legislation since the creation of the Professional Certification Coalition (PCC). I have also been following trends related to limiting licensure restrictions that relate to the goal of expanding workforce opportunities. At the same time, I am very aware of issues in the criminal justice system that may disproportionately impact vulnerable communities, and recognize that a path to meaningful employment is one way individuals impacted by the system may become fully contributing citizens.

When ICE Executive Director Denise Roosendaal, CAE, suggested creating the joint research project, I was very interested in being involved.

NR: I have always found this to be a fascinating topic. The policies and procedures that go into monitoring criminal history can have profound impacts for candidates, and how to establish these guidelines can be challenging. There is a delicate balance, especially when working in health care, between giving individuals a second chance and protecting the public from potential harm. When the opportunity arose to do some research into this area, I gladly got involved.

As this issue was researched, did anything surprise you or make you think differently about the topic?

CC: Many organizations are already taking a very thoughtful and nuanced approach to consideration of criminal background. In actuality, only a very small number of applicants or current certificants have received the most severe organizational responses (such as denial of eligibility or revocation of certification); these have only taken place for the most serious criminal infractions. On the other hand, some organizations take the stance that any criminal infraction, even one unrelated to the role or credential, may be grounds for severe actions.

NR: I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the majority of organizations put a lot of thought into their policies and take this issue seriously. A lot of organizations wanted to make sure they were getting it right and wanted to know what other organizations were doing. They were looking for guidance on best practices.

What are some key things you hope readers take away from the report? How can it be used effectively?

CC: We hope they can learn from what other organizations are doing and look for ways that can improve their own processes. There are a lot of data to consume. Organizations should take time to review existing policies or develop new ones that provide rational approaches to consideration of criminal background. Lastly, check the assumptions underlying organizational policies and procedures, and make sure the most qualified and trained individuals are making determinations related to criminal background in applicants and certificants.

We hope this report will provide a starting point for organizations to review their own assumptions, policies and procedures related to the consideration of criminal background in applicants and certificants. Organizations have the duty and right to meet their public protection mission, but they should also balance such considerations with concern for individuals. We hope this report will provide the impetus for thoughtful discussions within and between organizations.

NR: It is important to develop policies and procedures that are well thought out with defensible rationales. It would be a good idea for organizations to revisit their own policies and procedures to make sure they are reasonable and have a sound foundation.

We also hope it sheds some light on the process. Organizations should know they are not alone in their confusion about best practices with regard to this topic. But there is a lot that can be learned from other organizations which could help streamline their own process.

Access the ICE “Criminal Justice Research Study” here. This report is complimentary for members and nonmembers for a limited time.

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Considering Criminal Backgrounds: A Q&A With ICE Research Report Co-Chairs