Oklahoma Frees 462 Inmates in Largest Single Day Commutation to Give Offenders a Second Chance

Second Chance

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

On November 4, 2019, Oklahoma – the state with the second highest incarceration rate in the United States – freed 462 inmates from prison through commuted sentences under House Bill 1269 (HB 1269), the largest such action in state and national history, “giving hundreds of non-violent, low-level offenders an opportunity at a second chance,” according to a press release on the website of Governor Kevin Stitt.

“I applaud the Pardon and Parole Board’s dedication to fulfill the will of the people through the HB 1269 docket, giving hundreds of non-violent, low-level offenders an opportunity at a second chance. I also thank the Department of Corrections and the many non-profits who are stepping up and working hard to connect our inmates with the resources they need for a successful transition,” Governor Stitt stated in the press release.

On November 1, 2019 – the first day that HB 1269 took effect – the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted unanimously to recommend to the Governor that the sentences of 527 state inmates for Possession Crimes and Property Crimes be commuted, saving the state nearly $12 million in costs. Of those 527 inmates – 75 percent male and 25 percent female – only 462 inmates were released because the remaining 65 had detainers.

HB 1269 enables the Pardon and Parole Board to hold an accelerated single stage commutation docket to review the sentences of inmates in prison for crimes which would no longer be considered felonies if charged today. In 2016, Oklahomans passed criminal justice reforms that made simple drug possession a misdemeanor and increased the felony dollar threshold from $500 to $1000 for felony property crimes.

“From day one, the goal of this project has been more than just the release of low level, non-violent offenders, but the successful reentry of these individuals back into society. It has been a moving experience to see our state and community partners help connect our inmates with the resources they need for a successful reentry,” Steven Bickley, Executive Director of the Pardon and Parole Board, stated in the press release.

Should employers hire ex-offenders with a criminal record? Dawn Standerwick, Vice President of Strategic Growth at Employment Screening Resources® (ESR), a global background screening firm headquartered in California, helps employers answer that question in her article in the publication “2019 In Search of Excellence in Background Screening: Best Practice Insights from Accredited Background Screening Firms.”

In her article “Should Employers Consider Workers with a Criminal Record? A Look at Second Chances.” – which starts on page 9 of the publication – Standerwick, who has 27 years of experience in all facets of background screening, explains why employers should consider the nearly 70 million ex-offenders in the United States with a criminal record – about 30 percent of the U.S. adult population – as workers.

“While it may seem unlikely for the background screening industry to support second-chance efforts, our company and many other firms agree that individuals with a prior criminal history should not be prevented from having gainful employment. We believe in the thoughtful consideration of all aspects of a person’s background, but, that there should be a job for every person,” Standerwick wrote in her article.

Standerwick believes that while “employers absolutely have both the right and obligation to protect their assets, employees and their customers from both financial and physical harm,” they should do “so in a way that is fair and equitable to job seekers.” Having “personally attended a number of second chance events,” she gives employers three steps to follow when considering ex-offenders as workers.

Follow the EEOC’s Guidance on the Use of Criminal Records in Hiring Decisions

Employers should follow sensible procedures in considering the past conviction records of job applicants, in line with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) 2012 guidance and ensure factors such as the nature and gravity of the offense, the time since it occurred and how it relates to the job being held or sought are considered. A criminal history used to disqualify an individual should have a direct connection to a discernable risk to the business before it is used to exclude a person.

Provide the Opportunity for an Individualized Assessment

The guidance provides that individuals being disqualified based on a criminal record should be offered the opportunity for an individualized assessment after the above-mentioned factors have been applied and the applicant is still disqualified. The individualized assessment gives the candidate an opportunity to provide additional information and details about their criminal history for the employer to consider such as age when it occurred, the total number of prior offenses, rehabilitation efforts and evidence that they performed the same type of work post-conviction without any problems. Providing a fair review of qualifications and background, then, following non-discriminatory practices will enable employers to protect their interests and the interests of those they serve, without excessively burdening applicants for past mistakes.

Review Your Policy & Consider Taking the Pledge

Employers should not automatically reject an applicant just because they have a criminal record. Brightline policies that automatically reject a candidate because they have a criminal record are vanishing and, potentially, an illegal practice. There are fair chance initiatives and laws everywhere you look. A movement is underway that recognizes that the best person for the job may be an individual who has a prior criminal record. We applaud companies who want to make their communities a better place and who embrace the concept of a second chance.

In May of 2019, Standerwick was selected by the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA) – formerly the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) – as the Volunteer of the Month. She was elected Chair of the Board of Directors of the PBSA for the 2016 to 2017 term and was also recognized as the longest serving Board Member in the history of the PBSA.

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) offers a complimentary white paper entitled “Ten Critical Steps for Ex-Offenders to Get Back into the Workforce” to help job applicants with criminal records reenter the workforce after leaving prison. The white paper is available at www.esrcheck.com/Tools-Resources/Whitepaper-Library/Ten-Steps-for-Ex-Offenders-to-Get-Back-in-Workforce/.

With record low unemployment, employers are more willing to hire ex-offenders with the necessary job skills. Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) also provides the millions of job seekers with criminal records an ex-offender resources page to help them reenter the workforce more quickly and easily. To learn more, please visit www.esrcheck.com/Applicant-Support-Center/Ex-Offender-Resources/.

NOTE: Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information on this website is for educational purposes only.

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