Context: In health care, licensing is pervasive. Restrictions on applicants with criminal records may have a disparate impact on historically marginalized groups. There is bipartisan interest in evaluating whether occupational licensing requirements are too strict.

Methods: We analyze how twelve representative states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Texas) handle applicants with criminal records to five entry-level allied health professions (dental hygienist, occupational therapy assistant, physical therapy assistant, radiologic technologist, and respiratory therapist).

Findings: With one exception for one AHP, all states require their licensing boards to consider past serious criminal convictions. A majority of states require the conviction to be substantially related to the scope of professional duties for it to provide a basis for disqualification. Most states make it difficult for applicants to determine whether they may obtain a license.

Conclusions: State licensing boards have considerable discretion in handling applicants with a criminal record. The trend is toward fewer restrictions, but more could be done to increase the transparency of state licensing board guidelines, practices, and procedures — particularly in the states that still rely on a “good moral character” test.

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