One of the heartbreaks of Karaine Smith-Holness’s 20-plus career as a hair stylist, business owner, mentor and teacher was to tell a young woman that she couldn’t take the test to become a licensed cosmetologist — because the state only allows it on a case-by-case basis.
A new bill aimed at providing more employment opportunities for the formerly incarcerated could change that.
Smith-Holness owns Hair’s Kay Salon on Fitch Street and used to run Hair’s Kay Academy of Cosmetology, a not-for-profit beauty school that closed in 2016. The woman wanted to enroll at the school, but it turned out she had a criminal record.
“This lady had spent some time at Niantic,” Smith-Holness recalled. “She brought me all the things that she had done, but if you have a criminal record you can’t take the test.”
Would-be cosmetologists have to receive 1,500 hours of education. (Barbers must have 1,000 hours.) The education can cost as much as $25,000. They also have to sit for and pass a written exam administered by the state to obtain a license.
Smith-Holness said having to break that news to an aspiring hairstylist or barber with a criminal record is particularly disheartening now that cosmetology is being taught in some prisons. Vocational education in cosmetology and barbering exist at state Department of Corrections facilities such as York Correctional Institution in Niantic and at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, respectively. But conventional wisdom among those in both fields and even among those who assist with reentry is that those with criminal histories can’t sit for the exam, or obtain a license to do either.
“If you made a mistake — whatever the mistake was — and you paid your time, why not allow them to have that second chance,” she said.
A bill proposed in the state legislature would do just that—give people a second chance at a new life, and possibly provide a career opportunity. The bill, sponsored by State Reps. Peter Tercyak of New Britain and Josh Elliott of Hamden, would remove any barriers to those with criminal records obtaining a licenses.