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COMMENTARY: Virginia agency won't give trucker a fresh start

COMMENTARY: Virginia agency won't give trucker a fresh start

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PHOTO: Rudy Carey

Rudy Carey at his home in Fredericksburg.

FREDERICKSBURG truck driver Rudolph Carey III knows about addiction recovery. For years, he abused drugs and committed crimes to support his habit. Then he turned his life around.

He joined a Salvation Army treatment program in 2007, and he has stayed sober and out of trouble ever since. Now, he volunteers as a pastor at his church on the weekends and stays busy as a long-haul trucker during the week.

But driving is not Carey’s calling.

He would prefer to use his experience in overcoming addiction to help others in similar situations. To achieve his dream, Carey completed more than 200 hours of college coursework in counseling and rehabilitation, and even worked at a treatment facility as a counselor for several years.

But unbeknownst to Carey—and his employer—his counseling career was illegal.

The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services imposes restrictions on people who have committed any of 176 “barrier crimes.” Items on the list include felonies like robbery and drug distribution, as well as more obscure infractions, like hazing and reckless boat driving.

Carey assaulted a Virginia police officer, a crime that triggers a lifetime ban for substance abuse counselors—no matter what they do to make amends, and no matter how much time passes. Carey’s infraction happened at a traffic checkpoint outside Richmond in 2004, more than 17 years ago, but he is out of luck.

So are the people he could help.

Carey can take courses and provide volunteer services, which he has done at juvenile correctional facilities. But no counseling organization can hire him to provide direct care.

Essentially, state regulators not connected to the criminal justice system have tacked on extra penalties for Carey that were not included in any sentence from any judge in any court.

The state’s permanent punishment is not only wrong, but unconstitutional. Put simply, people have a right to earn an honest living in the occupation of their choice without arbitrary or excessive government interference.

Rather than accept the violation, Carey is fighting back. With representation from our nonprofit law firm, the Institute for Justice, he filed a lawsuit against the state on Sept. 29, 2021.

If regulators want to bar someone from an otherwise lawful career because of the person’s history, they should consider each case separately and base denials on individual circumstances.

Among other factors, regulators should consider the relevance of a person’s criminal record, their efforts at reform since re-entering society, and ultimately whether employment would jeopardize public safety.

The state did none of that with Carey, relying instead on a zero-tolerance policy that eliminates any opportunity for discretion.

Many people will suffer as a result. Stopping people who have committed crimes from contributing to society makes little sense under any circumstance, but especially in the realm of counseling.

People who have overcome drug addiction often want to help others navigate the same challenges, yet recovering addicts typically have criminal records. The result is that the people best suited to offer guidance in Virginia are blocked from helping others, even when the disqualifying crimes are decades old.

Sadly, permanent punishments like these are common nationwide. In other Institute for Justice cases, California has stopped people with criminal records from working as firefighters, and Pennsylvania has stopped them from working as skin care specialists.

Barred from Working, a nationwide report card from the Institute for Justice, gives Virginia a “C” for occupational licensing barriers that hinder people who have made mistakes from finding honest work.

Indiana and New Hampshire provide the strongest legal protections overall, while Alabama, Alaska, Nevada, South Dakota and Vermont have the worst. Virginia falls somewhere in the middle, but that is not good enough for Carey.

People who commit crimes must face consequences. But once they pay their debt to society, they deserve a chance for a fresh start.

Michael Greenberg is an attorney, and Daryl James is a fellow at the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va.

Michael Greenberg is an attorney, and Daryl James is a fellow at the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va.

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