Ex-offenders have long faced problems when leaving prison and attempting to rejoin the Ohio work force.
In some cases, they are prevented from holding certain jobs because of their criminal convictions. And in other cases, they lose their driver’s licenses, making it tougher to find or keep a job.
Hoping to make the employment process easier for nonviolent ex-offenders, state Reps. Ross McGregor, R-Springfield, and Tracy Maxwell Heard, D-Columbus, introduced bipartisan legislation this week eliminating some barriers and providing a new way for former inmates to overcome job-related obstacles, also called “collateral sanctions.”
“Unless we incarcerate offenders for life, there has to be a second chance,” Heard said.
The proposal, House Bill 524, follows sweeping criminal sentencing reform approved last year. If lawmakers don’t address the issue of collateral sanctions, ex-offenders will continue to be pushed onto expensive social service programs or back into prison, Heard said.
The goal, officials and advocates say, is turning ex-offenders into taxpaying citizens and not being a financial drain on the system.
The proposed legislation would prohibit several state agencies and boards — such as the Construction Industry Licensing Board and Casino Control Commission, for example — from withholding work-related licenses or permits because of past nonviolent crimes or crimes directly related to the job duties.
Ex-offenders also would be able to petition the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to seek court-ordered relief from barriers to getting a job. And it would be easier for eligible ex-offenders to have their criminal records sealed and/or destroyed.
The legislation has been assigned to the Criminal Justice Committee and has the support of Republican Gov. John Kasich. It followed months of discussion by government leaders and advocacy groups who say it makes no sense to banish many ex-offenders from the work force.
“It is just common sense,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said. “There are people out there who many, many moons ago made a mistake and as a result are unable to contribute to society.”
The goal is to remove “unintended or irrational penalties that hang over these people’s heads for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Officials estimate there are 1.9 million Ohioans — one of every six state residents — with a felony or misdemeanor record. Each year, more than 24,000 state prison inmates are released back into their communities.
Terry Tribe Johnson, coordinator of the Summit County Reentry Network, praised the bipartisan effort, saying it’s an important step in helping ex-offenders find jobs.
The Reentry Network — a collaborative effort of nonprofit, faith and government agencies — held a jobs seminar for ex-offenders Friday at the Job Center in Akron. Ex-offenders who attended the event said they need help and want to work.
“It’s a struggle,” said Bane Kjerrumgaard, 22, of Barberton, who was convicted in 2009 of unlawful sexual conduct and is a registered sex offender. “Everybody wants you to work, but you can’t work if you have a felony because they look at you when you walk in the door, and when they see you have a felony on the paperwork, they put that one to the side.
“We’re a whole new race now,” he added. “With a felony in your history, you might as well not exist ... We’re normal human beings. We’ve got feelings, too. We’ve got rights just like the next man does.”
Kjerrumgaard, who is living in a halfway house, said he has a 1-year-old daughter and wants to support her.
“I can’t do nothing for her because I ain’t got a job,” he said. “I ain’t got a house. I ain’t got nothing. I’m sitting in Oriana House and it’s like nobody cares.”
The more serious the felony, the more wary people are, ex-offenders said.
Andrew Worley, 28, of Akron, who has spent time in prison for felonious assault and kidnapping, said many employers don’t even call him back after interviews. He noted that he is required to pay toward his parole supervision, but can’t if he can’t find work.
He also knows some people don’t want ex-offenders to have a second chance.
“It’s kind of sad because, I mean, yeah I made mistakes, a few of them,” Worley said. “Everybody has.”
The McGregor-Heard legislation proposes a slew of other changes, ranging from child support to juvenile crime issues. They include:
•?Requiring officials to destroy records if an individual receives a pardon.
•?Decreasing the penalty for “illegal use or possession of drug paraphernalia” to a minor misdemeanor when it involves marijuana.
•?Adding an ex-offender, appointed by the state prison system, to the Ex-offender Reentry Coalition.
•?Removing sexual battery and gross sexual imposition from the list of offenses that may not be sealed for juvenile cases.
•?Requiring the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to study allowing a one-time amnesty program for people to pay their outstanding traffic and license fees and fines.
To read the Ohio Legislative Service Commission’s 41-page summary of the bill, go online to: www.lsc.state.oh.us/analyses129/h0524-i-129.pdf.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.