Re-Entry Reform is Sweeping the States
Laws similar to Oklahoma's Sarah Stitt Act have now been passed in 21 states.
2023 has been an extremely active year on the criminal justice reform landscape, particularly with respect to recidivism reduction. Several successful efforts have made their way through the states, including legislation consistent with the ALEC Model Act To Prepare Inmates For Re-Entry And The Workforce, which was inspired by Oklahoma House Bill 1679 — the “Sarah Stitt Act.”
Named after Oklahoma First Lady Sarah Stitt, H.B. 1679 became law in November 2021 and quickly led to success in combating recidivism. To successfully reintegrate inmates into the workforce, the law ensures they are given a state-issued ID upon the completion of their sentence. It also requires the Department of Corrections to coordinate with the Department of Public Safety to ensure those without ID are provided with a Real ID. If applicable, the Department of Corrections is also required to provide individuals with their vocational training record, work record, social security card, resume, and documentation that the individual has completed a practice interview before release. Without this critical identification, it is nearly impossible for an individual with a record to obtain housing or work.
Oklahoma’s efforts have produced remarkable results. In just the last five years, their prison population has declined by a drastic 21%, the second lowest recidivism rates in the U.S., following a myriad of successful justice reform efforts between 2015 and 2020. Oklahoma Senator Darrell Weaver, who works as a law enforcement officer, said, “These are basic tools which can reduce recidivism, save taxpayer dollars, and help former inmates successfully transition back into their communities.” He also stated, “I’m really excited about this bill because it gives people who have served their time a second chance. Not having a state-issued ID can be a huge roadblock to rejoining the workforce and resuming day-to-day life. This legislation addresses that need, and that will ultimately help us reduce recidivism and save taxpayer dollars.”
Laws similar to the Sarah Stitt Act have now been passed in 21 states. In December 2022, the ALEC Model Act to Prepare Inmates for Re-Entry And The Workforce was officially adopted by ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force. Since then, similar legislation has been signed into law in Arizona, Georgia, Minnesota, Arkansas, and Alaska.
The Sarah Stitt Act exemplifies just how effective well-executed legislation can quickly and beneficially impact our criminal justice system and communities. It is incumbent on us to remember that the overwhelming majority of Americans in prisons are not serving life sentences. These individuals will serve their time and will released back into our communities. As ALEC celebrates our 50th anniversary this year, we are proud of our impact on successful criminal justice reform. States should continue to develop effective, non-partisan strategies to aid and enable individuals to successfully reenter society and strive towards a better lifestyle not just for themselves but for the greater health and prosperity of our communities.