As the legislative session draws to a close - it is important to take stock of the gains we made as a state. This session featured several monumental successes for criminal justice reform, and we are proud of the work achieved by criminal legal advocates of all stripes. In order to better understand the steps taken by the state, I have composed a brief list of the most important new laws in the criminal justice arena.
Earned Discharge Credits (HB4369)
HB4369, signed into law by the Governor on May 16, 2022, represents a huge leap forward in our treatment of those on parole by allowing “earned discharge credits” for supervision compliance. The new law provides, “[f]or every calendar month of compliance with the terms and conditions of parole supervision, the Department of Corrections, may award the offender credits equal to thirty (30) calendar days to be applied toward a reduction of the parole supervision period.” Compliance is further defined as, “the absence of a violation report submitted by a probation and parole officer during a calendar month.”
This law provides for a so-called “30 for 30” program, wherein a complying supervisee earns thirty days off their sentence for every thirty days of compliance. These types of programs are implemented in other states with resounding success, and now Oklahoma is following suit. For example, Missouri passed a very similar law (effective in 2012) which resulted in a supervised population plummet, including a fall of 18% from 2012 to 2015. Economies recognize not only shorter supervision stents for individuals, which help with re-entry barriers such as employment - but also lighter workloads for supervising agencies with probation and parole officers in Missouri averaging 70 supervisees in 2012 down to 59 supervisees in 2015.
In comparison with Oklahoma, with no form of earned discharge credits until now, which has a large and growing community supervision population. For instance, the number of people on parole in Oklahoma grew by the second highest amount in the nation in 2020, an astounding rise of 14.2%. Meanwhile, states that have implemented a “30 for 30” program, including Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, and Missouri, had an average decline of 4.15% in their parole population in 2020.
Studies confirm that length of supervision term has little effect on recidivism rates. In fact, inmates who return to crime, will do so quickly, and therefore the first year under community supervision is the most important. Shortening supervision periods will allow supervision officers to focus their efforts and resources on this critical time period. In other words, supervisees tend to “self-select” into the low recidivism group when they comply with probation for at least a year. These reforms allow for minimal public safety risks and increased cost efficiencies because supervisees who do not need supervision are removed from crowded caseloads.
Currently, the new law only applies to those on parole, but there is hope this program will be extended to those on probation in the coming year. Regardless, this is a step in the right direction to ensure that those exiting incarceration will do so with only as much supervision as necessary to ensure successful re-entry, and that a lighter workload is placed on overburdened parole officers by allowing them to focus on those crucial first months of parole.
Clean Slate (HB3316)
HB3316, also known as Clean Slate Legislation, signed by the Governor on May 2, 2022, provided that, “individuals with clean slate eligible cases shall be eligible to have their criminal records sealed automatically.” This new law does not change the expungement eligibility criteria but rather simply streamlines the process to ensure that everyone eligible receives an expungement. This is a massive step forward in our State in ensuring that a criminal conviction does not create life-long adverse effects on employment, education, and housing.
Making expungements automatic is a massive relief for the 94% of individuals who are already eligible for an expungement but have yet to receive one. The expungement process is unnecessarily opaque, and as the OSBI states in their FAQ section, “[t]here are specific paperwork, notice, and legal requirements necessary in order to successfully petition for an expungement of your arrest records. The OSBI strongly suggests you get a lawyer to advise you of the proper actions to take.” The need to hire a lawyer, and the costs associated with that, make receiving an expungement an economic impossibility for many of those eligible, and making expungements automatic will ensure that these individuals are not falling through the cracks.
The benefits of expungement reaching all those who are eligible is not limited to the individual but reverberates around the state as a whole. For example, it is estimated that the United States loses 87 billion dollars in GDP annually from keeping those with criminal records out of the workforce. According to a Stanford University study, the benefits of expungement, in the form of increased tax revenue and decreased spending on public assistance, outweigh the costs at a rate of $5,800 per person every year. In fact, if not for mass incarceration and the financial difficulties of having a criminal record, the nation’s poverty rate would have dropped by 20% from 1980 to 2004, saving millions in public assistance costs. The costs to the Government in finding and clearing eligible records exists, but these are a one-time expenditure, and the benefits accumulate annually in the form of increased revenue and decreased public assistance. You can read more about how Clean Slate will work in Oklahoma here.
Occupational Licensing Reform (SB1691)
SB1691, signed into law by the Governor on May 16, 2022,reforms how state licensing authorities treat a criminal conviction. The language of the law provides, “a conviction, plea of guilty or nolo contendere, or pending criminal charge of a
crime may be grounds for the denial of an applicant for a state license or state certification to practice an occupation only if the underlying offense substantially relates to the duties and responsibilities of the occupation and poses a reasonable threat to public safety, health, or welfare.” It continues, “[w]hen making a determination pursuant to this subsection, a licensing or certification authority shall consider. . . . the seriousness of the crime . . . . the amount of time that has passed since the conviction . . . . the age of the person at the time the crime was committed . . . .evidence relevant to the circumstances of the offense . . . . and evidence of rehabilitation.”
The law also mandates that an arrest without a corresponding conviction, unless the charges are currently pending, cannot be used for licensure denial, and if a denial is handed down for the licensing authority, that authority must detail in writing the reasons for denial. These reasons include that the specific offense relates to the duties and responsibilities of an occupation. Finally, the licensing authority must give a written statement detailing the right to appeal an adverse determination to the applicant.
Currently, in Oklahoma, an estimated 25% of the workforce must be licensed by the state in order to continue employment in that occupation, and obtaining a license takes an average of 416 days in Oklahoma, based on a sample of 102 medium to low wage jobs that require a license. The amount of jobs needing a state issued license has risen dramatically, and thus, keeping people out of those jobs because of a criminal record is damaging to our economy. For instance, the total cost of licensing regulations is between $34.8 billion to $41.7 billion per year. In barbering, hairdressing, and cosmetology, there will be a growth of approximately 64,000 positions between 2014 and 2024, all of whom will require a new license.
Further, there is no rational relationship between license stringency requirements and public safety. For example, in order to be licensed as an Emergency Medical Technician in Oklahoma, one must complete 216 hours of training, while to be licensed in the cosmetology field a person must complete 1500 hours. As Paul Larkin Jr. of the Heritage Foundation writes:
The skills demanded by the two occupations, and the importance of those professions to the health and safety of the community are obviously quite different. Because they are the first medically trained parties to reach a patient, EMTs are not only an integral part of the medical system but also are the tip of the spear.
The way in which the new law functions should ensure that public safety is truly considered, and a conviction is not used as a proxy for assumed bad moral character and unemployability. It does this by ensuring that a conviction used to deny a license is related to the occupation sought. In that way, public safety is prioritized while barriers are removed from those exiting the carceral system and local economies are improved.
For narrowly avoided mistakes this past session you can continue reading here.