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Point of View: HB 1310 is a good look for Oklahoma

Payton Thornton
Payton Thornton

The national movement for common-sense criminal justice reform looked favorably upon the state of Oklahoma back in November when Gov. Kevin Stitt signed off on 527 sentence commutations. National media outlets covered the subsequent release as the largest single-day commutation in U.S. history. Though this was a small step in the greater picture of removing Oklahoma’s infamous label as “one of the largest incarcerators per capita in the United States,” the monumental release was a positive move toward Stitt’s vision of making Oklahoma a top 10 state.

Another major win for common-sense criminal justice reform in the state comes with the recent passage of House Bill 1310 out of the House Public Safety Committee, with a bipartisan vote of 13-0. Rep. Marilyn Stark, R-Bethany, authored the bill in House, and the Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Darrell Weaver, R-Moore. The legislation, if passed, would require the Department of Public Safety and Department of Corrections to issue valid state identification to inmates upon release. Valid identification documents reduce recidivism rates by allowing offenders a greater opportunity to find employment post-incarceration.

Most offenders don't plan to go to prison, and assimilating back to a normal life can be difficult upon re-entry. Many of those incarcerated struggle post-prison to gather the required documents to successfully gain employment and get back on their feet again. Reducing the number of incarcerates in the state begins with ensuring that rehabilitative efforts are successful and providing offenders the opportunity to put their best foot forward upon release and re-entry.

During the interim study for the legislation in November 2019, an official from The Education and Employment Ministry spoke to the difficulty of getting an ID for newly released offenders, which typically requires a birth certificate, Social Security card, and a DOC Consolidated Record Card as well as the transportation needed to get to the DPS for an ID.

This bill would dilute the complexity of life after prison by eliminating some of the administrative barriers to gaining employment and allowing offenders to begin work as soon as possible after release. It would be a great step forward in helping reduce recidivism rates and would put Oklahoma on track to lower incarceration rates in the coming decade.

Thornton, a graduate of Oklahoma State University, is a first-year law student at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia.

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