Understanding the Issues: Certificates of Rehabilitation
Oklahoma incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other state in the United States. Ninety-four percent of inmates in the custody of the Department of Corrections will be released back into society, which results in 8.5% of Oklahoma’s total population having some form of felony criminal history. Individuals with criminal records in Oklahoma can face obstacles to reestablishing a normal life, such as getting an occupational license or finding employment, which can lead people down the path to reincarceration (also known as recidivism), costing our state taxpayer dollars and decreasing the economic potential of our state.
While the state has taken initial steps to reform the criminal justice system and reduce the state’s prison population, there are lessons to be learned from several states which have already introduced innovative criminal justice practices to better ensure public safety and reduce recidivism. One step that many states have taken is by offering Certificates of Rehabilitation to certain, qualified former inmates. Certificates of Rehabilitation attest to the efforts formerly incarcerated people have taken to rehabilitate themselves and serve to advise potential employers about individuals’ good standing and transformation.
What are Certificates of Rehabilitation?
A certificate of rehabilitation is a decree offered by the state government, attesting to a formerly incarcerated individual’s rehabilitation and good behavior since conviction. A certificate of rehabilitation differs from a gubernatorial pardon because the convicted individual’s criminal record remains in place, there is a defined process and criteria for attaining the certificate, and in most states more public officials can grant the certificates than just the Governor or Board of Pardons and Paroles, including trial court judges or the Department of Corrections. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia currently offer certificates of rehabilitation or comparable certificates, with varying degrees of requirements necessary to earn them.
In New York State, individuals with no more than one felony conviction may apply for a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities (CRD) if they have completed all of their sentencing requirements and pass an additional background check. A CRD removes any prohibitions on employment imposed by state law or regulation due to criminal history.
In Ohio, each judicial district is required to create a process by which formerly convicted individuals in that district can apply for relief from post-conviction civil penalties, such as occupational licensing prohibitions. An individual who meets the court’s requirements will receive a Certificate of Qualification for Employment.
The Benefits of Certificates of Rehabilitation
Certificates of Rehabilitation allow formerly convicted individuals a chance to demonstrate their transformation and assets as a potential employee, but still give employers the opportunity to consider the whole picture of a potential employee before making any hiring decisions. Additionally, by having specified criteria and timelines for formerly convicted persons, Certificate of Rehabilitation programs make it easier for people released from prison to know exactly what they must do in order to earn this status, making the programs more accessible and attainable.
Why Should Oklahoma Consider Certificates of Rehabilitation?
When people are not able to live up to their economic potential because of their criminal history, our state and its communities suffer. Burdensome limitations on formerly incarcerated people who have turned their life around prevent these individuals from reestablishing a normal, productive life, harming these people’s families and communities and making it more likely that these people will once again find themselves behind bars.
As Oklahoma seeks to reduce the number of individuals it keeps behind bars, policymakers should consider what steps the state can take to ease formerly incarcerated people’s reintegration into society. Making the transition from custody to employment easier will strengthen Oklahoma communities, reduce the burden of criminal justice enforcement on the state budget, and improve quality of life for Oklahomans.