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She’s been out of prison for 11 years. In Virginia, she still has a lifetime employment ban from many professions.

Melissa Brown
Melissa Brown(Melissa Brown via Virginia Mercury)
Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 12:14 PM EDT
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In 2002, Melissa Brown stole a purse from a grocery store cart and ran. For the past two years, she had been addicted to crack cocaine and “had gotten to a very low place in my life,” she said. Police later charged her with robbery, and she pled guilty in exchange for prosecutors dropping several other charges.

Nearly 20 years later, Brown has completed her bachelor’s degree, owns her home in Fredericksburg and has been in recovery for well over a decade. She works for a large addiction treatment program in Virginia, coordinating events at facilities across the state. She’s also a certified substance abuse counselor and would love to provide those services professionally. But under Virginia law, her past conviction makes it impossible for her to work directly with patients.

“I actually started in the field, and then my company got the letter back saying I’m ineligible,” Brown said. “And I was lucky in the sense that instead of firing me, they moved me to another position.”

When she pled guilty years ago, Brown had no idea her conviction would fall under Virginia’s extensive list of barrier crimes. Under state code, many providers are prohibited from hiring employees with certain criminal histories. The regulations largely apply to services licensed by three agencies — the Department of Health, Department of Social Services and Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

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The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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