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12/30/2015 09:24 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2016

Denying People A Job After They've Left Prison Is Unconstitutional, Court Rules

A law barring former prisoners from holding certain jobs during their lifetimes "sweeps unnecessarily broadly," Pennsylvania judges determined.
Activists deliver a petition to the White House on Oct. 26, 2014, calling to "ban the box" that requires job applicants to st
Larry French/Getty Images
Activists deliver a petition to the White House on Oct. 26, 2014, calling to "ban the box" that requires job applicants to state whether they have a criminal record.

A court in Pennsylvania on Wednesday struck down a state law that imposed a lifetime ban from employment on as many as 200,000 people with criminal records in the state.

unanimous seven-judge panel ruled that part of the state's Older Adult Protective Services Act was unconstitutional because it was too broad in delineating the types of past crimes that disqualified people from jobs that involve caring for the elderly and other kinds of long-term care.

The law "makes no provision for consideration of any other factor, such as the nature of the crime, the facts surrounding the conviction, the time elapsed since the conviction, evidence of the individual’s rehabilitation, and the nature and requirements of the job," Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote for the court.

"The employee's criminal history is the single and overriding factor that a potential employer may consider," she added.

The ruling is a victory for the group of five rehabilitated ex-offenders who filed the legal challenge. The men had been convicted of crimes including drug possession, theft, writing bad checks and disorderly conduct, all of which occurred between 15 and 34 years ago. The court said none of them had reoffended since.

Some 14 years ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had already ruled that the lifetime employment ban violated the state's constitution, but did not strike it from the books -- giving the state's legislature an opportunity to amend it to resolve the constitutional problems. But the legislature never did, prompting this new round of litigation.

In April, NPR profiled Tyrone Peake, one of the men challenging the law. Peake's 1981 conviction for riding in a stolen car prevented him from obtaining full-time work as a caregiver.

"I've been fired from three jobs because [of] having a criminal record," Peake said at the time. "And my record is like 32 years old, and I haven't been in trouble since then."

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