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Oklahoma is making expungement of a past criminal record more accessible than ever. Why hasn’t Washington followed suit and passed the REDEEM Act?

June 08, 2020 by G.W. Schulz

Every convict serves two sentences. The first is the days, weeks, months, and years assigned to prison, probation, and parole. The second sentence served is a lifetime of stigma for having been convicted of a crime.

In fact, a criminal record in America leads to an endless array of restrictions and outright prohibitions on voting, obtaining college and small-business loans, and finding employment.

Oklahoma has recognized this injustice in recent years by making it easier for people to expunge their criminal records and avoid the cycle of perpetual punishment.

Among the steps taken in the Sooner State was legislation signed last year by Gov. Kevin Stitt that removes the blanket requirement in Oklahoma for license holders in any profession be of “good moral character and have not been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude.”

Two years earlier, former Gov. Mary Fallin signed an executive order that required Oklahoma state agencies to remove questions about felony convictions from applications for government employment positions.

The state has also continuously made it easier in recent years for people to expunge past felonies from their records. Tens of thousands of people in Oklahoma now are eligible simply for having once been convicted of a nonviolent drug offense.

People who could seek expungement enjoyed a “sharp upturn” in employment opportunities and salaries and wages, according to a study published last year by public policy experts at Harvard University and the University of Michigan. This population was also far less likely to commit new crimes following expungement.

While states like Oklahoma have made progress, Washington has lagged behind.

The Redeem Act

For years, proponents of judicial reform have been pushing for broader changes to the Federal criminal justice system and to broadly allow expungements on the federal level. That advocacy has manifested primarily in the REDEEM Act. The bill would allow the first broad-based federal path to expunge non-violent offenses, allow for the automatic sealing of certain juvenile records, and restrict the inhumane overuse of juvenile solitary confinement.

Many attempts to pass the bill by Senate authors Cory Booker and Rand Paul (starting in 2014), have failed to gain traction.

“The reality of mass incarceration has countless consequences, but when someone has paid their debt to society and returns to their community with hopes of a second chance, they shouldn’t continue to be shackled by our broken criminal justice system,” Booker said last year.

In Oklahoma, we recognized the dire need for common-sense reforms that break the cycle of punishment for former felons, have demanded those reforms, and have seen those reforms become law. We should demand nothing less from our representatives in Washington.

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