Criminal Justice

Licensing reform key to corrections reform

March 11, 2015

Jonathan Small, Lauren Aragon

In November of 2014, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs released its 2015 Freedom Agenda. This document details the most significant public policy prescriptions we believe are vital to make lives better for Oklahomans.

One of the key policy areas that desperately needs reform is corrections. In an opinion editorial published by The Oklahoman, OCPA stated:

“Policymakers should also pursue corrections reform. Incarceration of non-violent offenders and over-criminalization at both the state and federal levels are driving up the cost of other government services and robbing homes of mothers and fathers. Oklahoma should move to a system that avoids the incarceration of non-violent offenders, working instead to help those struggling with substance abuse, mental health challenges and financial woes to pursue empowerment and improvement through restorative justice and other reforms.”

One of the key changes being implemented by multiple states in corrections policy are reforms to state licensing. As the Institute for Justice has noted, even for law abiding-citizens state licensing requirements can present a significant hurdle to those trying to work and provide for their families.

But for former offenders the hurdles are immense. Often, state licenses for occupations allow broad prohibitions for licensure of anyone who has committed a felony, including in Oklahoma. These bans severely restrict the ability of former offenders to contribute to their community and provide for their family. One of the primary causes for recidivism is the inability of offenders to find consistent work to provide for themselves and their families. This burdensome and damaging approach also undermines corrections efforts paid for by taxpayers. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections and other non-profit entities assist offenders with occupational training while in prison. Offenders are prevented from ever being able to receive a license from some of the very occupations that inmates receive training for in prison!

Oklahoma can fix this problem in an effective and accountable way. House Bill 2168 would implement licensing reform for former offenders in Oklahoma. For former offenders who have not committed a felony crime in the last five years that is substantially related to the occupation for which the former offender is seeking a license, HB 2168 ensures these former offenders cannot be prevented from licensure. Such a change is reasonable. Five years is a significant amount of time to demonstrate rehabilitation and personal responsibility. If a person has not committed a substantially related crime during this period, it is a safe and wise assumption that the likelihood of re-offending is very low.

HB 2168 would apply to the following professions:

Licensing reform for former offenders is a must if Oklahoma wants to be smart on crime and reform corrections policy to work for all Oklahomans.