Many Louisiana residents are gainfully employed in the oil, gas, and maritime industry, particularly related to Louisiana’s ports. In fact, these jobs account for nearly 800,000 Louisiana jobs. Not everyone in Louisiana is afforded the opportunity to work in these industries due to broad policies within the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program that disqualifies those with felony records.
The current TWIC program was created by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2001 (MTSA) passed in response to the 911 terrorists attacks. It is intended to address security concerns related to U.S. ports, particularly drug/human trafficking and terrorist activity. The TWIC program requires the issuance of “transportation security cards” for workers to access secure areas within maritime facilities and vessels. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) jointly administer the issuance of the TWIC card. The TSA is responsible for conducing background checks on applicants and its primary function is to conduct a threat assessment of the applicant. However, TSA uses criminal history to make its threat assessment and to initially deny TWIC card applications.
Louisianans with a criminal conviction are automatically disqualified from obtaining a TWIC card. Applying for a TWIC card is expensive ($125.00 non-refundable application fee), takes months to process waivers and appeals, and can be complicated to navigate.
According to the Ports Association of Louisiana, 525,000 jobs in Louisiana are tied to the state’s ports. Additionally, there are over 260,000 jobs related to the oil and gas industry in Louisiana. Many of these jobs related to Louisiana’s ports and oil and gas industry require a person to obtain a TWIC card.
Critics of the TWIC program report security concerns.
Authorities must diligently monitor to whom it allows access to our nation’s critical infrastructure, but it can do so without categorically disqualifying a large demographic of people. The Risk-Mitigation Value of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential Report: A Comprehensive Security Assessment of the TWIC Program report published by the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center, cites “among those with criminal backgrounds, the odds are between 1 in 1.77 million and 1 in 17,700 (or, between 99.99994 percent and 99.994 percent are not terrorists).” The report also addressed how “it can be difficult to see why a dock receiving barges located on an inland waterway 1,000 miles from the ocean and accessed by a half-dozen company employees would be the target of an adversary or facilitate drug trafficking.” The individual facilities and employers play a role in screening and limiting employee’s access to sensitive areas. A TWIC card, alone, does not give someone free reign of a facility, or a port. Just as with any other industry, consideration of the nature of an applicant’s criminal history, its relevance to the position applied, the circumstances surrounding the offense, and the amount of time that has passed since conviction.
During my days as a probation and parole officer, I spent a great deal of time working with the folks on supervision as they attempted to appeal, or obtain waivers related to TWIC card. Most of the men and women on supervision were unwilling to spend the money to apply, or invest the significant time necessary to seek a waiver knowing they would be disqualified.
Securing our ports and critical infrastructure is a matter of national security. The population of justice-involved individuals in Louisiana represent a viable employment resource for our state, and all of its industries. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the population of former prisoners and people with felony convictions led to a loss of $78-$87 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014. In addition to the financial costs associated with recidivism, families—most importantly the children of those incarcerated—suffer as a result. To create economic opportunity, the blanket felony disqualification of a large segment of the Louisiana population from obtaining employment in a major industry should be reevaluated with an eye toward safely narrowing the scope of its application. A case specific analysis should be applied to each TWIC applicant’s criminal history to determine whether that applicant is an actual safety risk. Factors to consider is the type of offense and when the offense was committed.
With the implementation of criminal justice reforms across the United States and an increased focus on reducing recidivism rates, federal agencies should consider narrowly tailoring the felony disqualification policy to those offenses that create a tangible risk and fall within a specific window of time. Expanding TWIC card access to justice-involved individuals creates opportunity for employment but also for economic growth. Louisiana’s ports and oil and gas industries, communities, families, and justice involved individuals all stand to benefit as a result.