Ohio residents who have prison records will catch a break when the collateral sanctions legislation, Senate Bill 337, takes effect in three months. The law, supported and this week signed by Gov. John Kasich, moves the state another step forward in its effort to raise the overall effectiveness of the criminal justice system.
The legislation removes some stumbling blocks former convicts and juvenile offenders encounter when they try to build a productive new life after serving their sentences. Among other provisions, the new law makes it easier to seal juvenile records from background checks. It creates a Certificate of Qualification for Employment, which lifts restrictions on some state-issued licenses and protects employers from negligence lawsuits if they hire ex-felons. It gives courts more discretion to adjust child-support payments for incarcerated parents.
The employment-related provisions are particularly welcome. Ohio has accumulated hundreds of laws and administrative rules that impose long-term conditions on former inmates, including barriers to the kinds of trades and professions they can engage in. These so-called collateral sanctions severely reduce the employment prospects of former inmates, increasing the risk of recidivism.
An estimated 2 million of Ohio’s 11.5 million residents have felony or misdemeanor convictions. The new law promises a smoother a path for a sizeable number of individuals, most of whom are able and willing, given the opportunity, to work and to re-establish law-abiding normal lives.