Corey Atchison

Corey Atchison hugs his grandson, Phillip Thomas, 10, while they play at Urban Air on Friday. 

IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

Getting a job is foremost on the mind of Corey Atchison, a Tulsa man released last week from prison after serving 28 years on a wrongful conviction.

During his first days spent with family, he spoke to Tulsa World reporter Samantha Vicent about a more pressing concern.

“I know I need to enjoy (my freedom), but I want a job. I want my own money, a job, my own place, you know, to do my own thing,” Atchison said.

With experience working in kitchens, Atchison started receiving offers of work almost immediately.

With the finding of actual innocence from Tulsa County District Judge Sharon Holmes, Atchison no longer has a felony on his record, making that job hunt easier.

This isn’t the case for thousands of people released from Oklahoma prisons. Newly released inmates, including some with high-demand skills, have difficulty finding work because many employers won’t consider hiring people with felony convictions.

In 2004, a national Ban the Box campaign launched to stop employers from discriminating against people with criminal histories; the first step is dropping job applications questions asking about arrests and convictions. Checking those boxes often keeps former prisoners from consideration for being hired.

Oklahoma’s incarceration rate leads the nation. A side effect of our punitive justice system is a hobbled workforce, willing workers who can’t find jobs.

Criminal justice reform seeks to slow down the pace of locking people up, provide rehabilitation during incarceration and help former inmates re-enter communities safely. Key to this success is finding work for people who served their sentences.

Former Gov. Mary Fallin signed an executive order in 2016 directing state agencies to eliminate questions about prior felony convictions from employment forms. It was a progressive, intelligent move that private employers ought to model.

It is reassuring that the Tulsa community is so willing to help Atchison reclaim his life. It is just as important these open arms are extended to all people who are seeking second chances.

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