Amid frequent partisan sniping, it is easy to miss the consensus that has developed to correct imbalances in the criminal justice system in Ohio. For example, after years of reviews and legislative proposals, the state last summer revamped sentencing laws, changing policies that have sent a growing number of Ohioans into jails and prisons, all in the name of public safety.
The rebalancing continues, with attention increasingly turning to the punishments, beyond those already exacted, that former inmates face as they re-enter society. These “collateral consequences” or “collateral sanctions” are wide-ranging, including revocation of professional licenses, driving privileges, reporting requirements and employment and residential restrictions. Reviews of Ohio’s criminal and administrative laws have identified more than 800 sanctions that apply for extended periods after conviction.
For former inmates, a first and often insurmountable barrier to the job market is the check-box that asks about criminal convictions, employers understandably wary about potential liability. The state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction estimates more than 2 million Ohioans have a felony or misdemeanor conviction. The record of crime exposes them — and their dependents, in effect — to some form of collateral sanction.
In the agency’s estimation, “approximately a third of Ohio citizens are handicapped economically because employment opportunities are reduced for those with a criminal conviction by the impact of collateral consequences.”
That is an injustice to former inmates and a colossal waste of resources and human potential. It is to Ohio’s benefit that Gov. John Kasich has made it a priority to find a balance that assures public safety without stripping former inmates of dignity and opportunities to rebuild their lives.
Workgroups meeting since last fall on collateral sanctions have put forward several recommendations to minimize barriers to employment. The Kasich administration plans to eliminate the check-box from state application forms. It is a reasonable preliminary step, an example for private employers to encourage fairer hiring practices.