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Legal Restrictions on Formerly Incarcerated Ohioans Close Pathways to 1.3 Million Jobs

An estimated 1.3 million Ohio jobs are either completely or partially off limits to Ohioans with previous criminal convictions. That is one in four of the state’s jobs, according to a new report from Policy Matters Ohio, in collaboration with the Ohio Justice and Policy Center and the Fund for Our Economic Future.

Some 850 state laws and administrative rules – known as collateral sanctions -- limit job opportunities for Ohioans with convictions who have already served their time, including for most government jobs, jobs in healthcare and even some janitorial or food service jobs, according to the report. An estimated one in 11 Ohio adults is living with a felony conviction. As many as one in three has a criminal record of some kind. The barriers to work they face contributed to at least $3.34 billion in foregone wages last year.

Many extend to jobs that pose no special risk and ensnare people whose convictions do not indicate that they pose any danger – including for minor drug possession charges. The 1.3 million restricted jobs pay $4,700 more on average than unaffected positions and are growing at twice the rate of other jobs.

“It doesn’t help working people, employers, or the Ohio economy to lock people out of so many jobs that could help them contribute to their families and the economy,” said Michael Shields, researcher at Policy Matters and the report’s lead author.

The typical Ohioan out of work after serving time for a felony conviction lost $36,479 in wages in 2017, according to the report. These sanctions can also prevent formerly-incarcerated Ohioans from pursuing higher education.

“This research illuminates the magnitude of the limits posed by criminal backgrounds and the economic cost of this barrier to employment,” said Peter Truog, director of civic innovation and insight at the Fund for Our Economic Future, which helped underwrite the research. “We hope it helps employers, policymakers and the broader civic community understand these economic consequences and what’s needed to advance meaningful improvements.”

The report recommends that:

  • The state legislature eliminate excessive, arbitrary and confusing collateral sanctions against licensing and hiring.
  • The Certificate of Qualification for Employment process be made both better understood and more widely available.
  • Prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys account for collateral sanctions in reaching plea deals, and defense attorneys fully advise clients.
  • Hiring managers use Equal Employment Opportunity guidelines to weigh all relevant factors when a prospective employee has a criminal conviction.
  • The legislature ban the box for all Ohio jobs while allowing managers to consider convictions later in the process.
  • Licensing boards track the number and cause of criminal records-based denials.

“By restricting access to so many jobs for people who have already paid the penalty for a crime, we can actually make Ohio less safe, because we leave open few lawful paths to a decent livelihood,” said Pam Thurston, attorney at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, and report co-author. “Giving people the chance to qualify for responsible jobs will reduce recidivism, reduce public expense, and make Ohio a fairer place to live.”

 

Policy Matters Ohio is a nonprofit, nonpartisan state policy research institute with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

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The Ohio Justice & Policy Center is a nonprofit law firm located in Cincinnati. OJPC provides direct client services free of charge for incarcerated people and people with criminal records. OJPC also advocates for fair, redemptive policy reform that will reduce the number of incarcerated people in Ohio, expand opportunities for people with criminal records and protect the human rights and dignity of incarcerated people.

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The Fund for Our Economic Future is an alliance of more than 40 foundations, corporations, universities, business and civic associations, individuals, and government entities that pool their resources, networks and know-how to advance economic growth and increased access to opportunity for the people of Northeast Ohio through improved job creation, job preparation and job access. More on this collaborative and its work can be found here.

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