Stories and Reflections from OJPC
These are stories of some of the people that inspire our work and reflections on events of the day.
These are stories of some of the people that inspire our work and reflections on events of the day.
As in years past, April is nationally recognized as Second Chance Month.
A White House press release said the monthlong observance will encourage Americans to “provide opportunities for people with criminal records to earn an honest second chance,” as “affording those who have been held accountable for their crimes an opportunity to become contributing members of society is a critical element of criminal justice.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Providing second chances is a cornerstone in OJPC’s philosophy. People shouldn’t be forever defined by their worst mistake — and redemption should be an end goal for those entering and working within our criminal justice system.
OJPC’s Second Chance Community Legal Clinics — led by Dorianne Mason — are meant to help people navigate the many nuances of the criminal justice system, particularly returning citizens who want to work and contribute to society.
The CIVICC database project is a tool and an eye-opening look at the restrictions placed on people with criminal records. For example, did you know that the state licensing board for cosmetology can refuse to grant a license to someone due to a “conviction of a felony or misdemeanor performed in a licensed or permitted facility” [OAC 4713-1-07(A)(12)].
OJPC also advocates for legislation that would promote second chances for people with criminal records. Ohio successfully “banned the box” in 2015, which prohibited employers from asking about a person’s criminal background in a job application.
Women who survived domestic abuse and human trafficking can also seek second chances with possibilities for expungement, sealed records and clemency for crimes committed while under the control of an abuser or trafficker.
This month, we’ll focus primarily on second chance employment for people with criminal records.
We spoke to our second chance clients about their experience after release from prison and jail. We asked, “What is the most frustrating thing you’ve endured? What do you want everyone to know about people with criminal records?”
We also asked our second chance clients to describe their lives in six words. These brief-yet-insightful descriptions will be shared throughout the month on social media, using #MyLifeIn6Words. Be sure to like OJPC’s Facebook page and follow us on Twitter and Instagram to see these stories all month long.
Below: Some #MyLifeIn6Words responses from OJPC clients
Hopefully, you recognize this guy: It’s OJPC’s fearless leader, David Singleton.
In addition to leading the pack of “honey badgers” at OJPC, David is a law professor at Northern Kentucky University’s Chase College of Law. He is a busy man, but completely committed to everything he does and everyone he vows to help.
On Thursday, David found out that he is the 2018 recipient of the Frank Sinton Milburn Outstanding Professor Award, which is a high honor awarded to one Northern Kentucky University professor each year. The award was first created in 1970 “to recognize outstanding achievements that incorporate the full spectrum of Northern Kentucky University’s mission.”
David includes students in OJPC’s work through the our Constitutional Litigation Clinic. Through the CLC, law students gain hands-on experience litigating civil rights cases — a rare, invaluable experience for any aspiring lawyer. Read about one of our CLC students’ successes here.
In a post announcing David’s selection for the award, the university said “Clinic students say he prepares them so thoroughly for oral arguments in appeals courts that judges rarely ask them questions they had not anticipated.”
To see David’s staff bio, click here.
Six years ago, the Ohio legislature took a huge step to allow justice for survivors of human trafficking through the Safe Harbor Act.
The law recognizes that sex trafficking victims are compelled through force, fear, duress, intimidation, or fraud to participate in illegal acts. Consequently, survivors can erase records of convictions through expungement. This opens doors to empowerment, recovery, employment, housing, education, family relationships, and successful reintegration into the community.
However, there’s still work to be done.
While the Safe Harbor Act was a step in the right direction, its expungement provision was too ambiguous. Some courts interpret the Safe Harbor Act in a way that only allows survivors to expunge three prostitution-based crimes. In reality, survivors are often forced to participate in a broad range of illegal activity — from drug offenses to theft — for traffickers’ financial gain. This can result in hundreds of convictions.
There’s a bill in the hands of our state House of Representatives that would allow survivors to expunge most crimes that can be linked back to trafficking.
This bill passed the Senate unanimously in June 2017. Now, it sits in the House Criminal Justice Committee awaiting a hearing. While this bill collects dust, survivors of human trafficking continue to hit roadblocks due to a criminal record.
It takes both House and Senate passage for a bill to become a law. The General Assembly will only meet a few more times before the end of the legislative session. If the bill is not passed, it will disappear.
Note: Two parallel bills in the legislature this session address records expungement: SB 4 and HB 56. The wording of these two bills are different and not equally helpful to survivors of human trafficking. OJPC supports SB 4 because it provides true, meaningful routes to freedom for human trafficking survivors.
To help SB 4 become a law, contact your state representative to express your support. Here’s a tool to help you search for your representative.
If your representative is in the Criminal Justice Committee, they have even more power to help the bill progress. Members of the committee include: Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville), Jeffery Rezabek (R-Clayton), Nicholas Celebrezze (D-Parma), Jim Butler (R-Oakwood), Robert Cupp (R-Lima), Tavia Galonski (D-Akron), Jim Hughes (R-Upper Arlington), Bernadine Kennedy Kent (D-Columbus), Laura Lanese (R-Grove City), George Lang (R-West Chester), Dorothy Pelanda (R-Marysville), John Rogers (D-Mentor-on-the-Lake) and Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati).
If you are writing on behalf of an organization, please include a description of the organization and explain why it cares about human trafficking. OJPC Staff Attorney Sasha Naiman is happy to discuss the bill in greater detail with anyone who is interested.
You can refer to this sample letter of support, and please personalize with your name and an explanation of why this issue is important to you.
April is Volunteer Month. This blog post was penned by one of OJPC’s regular volunteers, Roger Hildebrand.
Thirty years with the Cincinnati Police Department followed by twenty as an insurance fraud investigator gives me a unique view of life, humanity and our system of justice. I’ve seen a thing or two — for fifty years, I met people at their worst, often a result of their unlawful behavior.
My career was part of a system that requires a person to face consequences for their criminal misdeeds. I’m good with that. It’s part of the process that keeps us safe. Overall, our justice system generally does a good job; working to get it right by treating people fairly and impartially.
But with all the good intentions and checks and balances, I’ve seen the flaws. Not everybody gets a fair shake. Some innocent persons are wrongfully charged — some are wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. I don’t have the numbers; I leave it to others to analyze. But, in my opinion, one wrongfully imprisoned person is too many.
Through years of experience, I’ve also learned that society is better served – and safer – when those imprisoned are treated humanely and prepared for re-entry to society (as nearly all will, at some point). Society, then, has an obligation to give returning citizens a fair shake; in particular with employment opportunities. It’s the right thing to do.
So, in recent retirement, I heard about the Ohio Justice and Policy Center. In particular, the inspiring story of how OJPC’s David Singleton and staff nobly fought on behalf of Tyra Patterson. I met the OJPC team and learned about the good work they do on so many other issues: human rights in prison, fair hiring and housing, and so much more. I was impressed by their dedication. I offered up whatever skills I might have developed over 50 years to assist the OJPC cause.
They put me to work — and I’m enjoying it.
Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State speech Tuesday night gave us hope.
Kasich, Ohio’s 69th governor, made his final State of the State Address in his hometown of Westerville. Topics of the speech ranged from jobs and addiction to philosophy and religion. Kasich focused on several deep questions, like “What’s our purpose” and “what’s life all about?”
When Kasich’s speech turned to prison, rehabilitation, justice and compassion, our ears perked up.
When discussing criminal justice reform, Kasich applauded judges for being more selective about who spends time in jail or prison. We agree — fewer people in jails and prisons is a good thing. One solution to jail and prison overcrowding and mass incarceration in Ohio is bail reform. If smart, sustainable criminal justice reform is important to the governor, we urge him to make statewide bail reform a priority during his last year in office.
Like Gov. Kasich, we appreciate the work done to aid survivors of human trafficking in Ohio. We second the governor’s nod to Rep. Teresa Fedor, champion of the Safe Harbor Act passed in 2012, which has helped us open doors for survivors of human trafficking. Now, many of our clients have started over with a clean slate, a good job and good housing. We would love to see more options for expungement for survivors of human trafficking, particularly regarding felony charges.
The governor emphasized the importance of purpose, particularly with work. “When people have a job, they have dignity. And when they have dignity, they have confidence. And when they have confidence, they have hope. And when they have hope, it helps the whole family. It helps the whole community. It helps everybody.” We couldn’t agree more — that’s why we dedicate so much time to our Second Chance Project, which helps returning citizens find jobs and educational opportunities. For all of the reasons Gov. Kasich mentioned, helping our returning citizens find work is so important.
Kasich also encouraged Ohioans to mentor youth. One of OJPC’s staffers in particular, Tyra Patterson, is an avid, passionate and gifted mentor. She connects with children and teens from all backgrounds across the state. While Tyra wants to have more opportunities to work with kids and young adults in the Buckeye State, she’s hindered by parole restrictions. Gov. Kasich has the power to grant her a pardon and officially clear her name — if he does, Tyra’s mentorship would bring positive change to the lives of many young Ohioans.
Unsurprisingly, Ohio’s entanglement in the national opioid crisis was one heavily-discussed issue in his speech. We’re proud of Ohio’s lawmakers, law enforcement and healthcare workers for listening to the people most affected by this crisis and trying unique ways to help curb this crisis. The opioid crisis is straining Ohio’s jails, prisons and law enforcement heavily. Going to jail and prison isn’t helping people overcome their addictions — but treatment could. We want to challenge Kasich and the rest of the state’s leaders invested in solving this problem to come up with a unique approach that could take people fighting addiction out of cages in jails and prisons and into treatment. Recently, Seneca County adopted an innovative drug-intensive probation program, which allows people with addictions to spend time healing instead of sitting in jail and prison cells. We’d love to see a greater trend — possibly implemented at a state level — of officials treating addiction as a health crisis, rather than a bad behavior that can be scolded away.
Gov. Kasich did acknowledge that too many people in health crises are in jail and prison and vowed “we have to treat you better.” A shift from punishment to compassionate care would work wonders for Ohio’s criminal justice system as a whole.
We at OJPC share so many values that Kasich highlighted in the address: compassion, forgiveness and, of course, justice. We try to live lives “a little bigger than ourselves,” as the governor urged. We share the same honest drive to bring change to better the lives of the people in our state. We hope to work with the governor during his last year in office to help guide Ohio towards a more compassionate and just future.
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