By: Katie Sobiech
Now that we’ve discussed what works, what doesn’t, and the waves of change that are beginning to crash in on the reentry world in Summit County, it’s time to address a huge barrier. This wall has barricaded ex-felons in, giving them hardly any other options but to go back to their criminal lifestyles over the years.
This barrier is employment.
Some may wonder why so much effort is being done to help ex-cons. The truth is that helping them helps us all. Getting people out of jail and into the workforce makes the entire community a better place.
There’s a high cost to keeping people incarcerated.
What the Summit County Reentry Network (SCRN) and Oriana House hope to share is the importance of hiring ex-felons and how this can benefit both employers and the community.
One of the things that has kept ex-cons out of the workforce are employers’ concerns, and rightfully so. But where do we draw the line, say that they have paid their debt to society, and give them another chance?
The SCRN is working towards making things easier for employers to hire people released from prison into their workplaces. One of the newest breakthroughs in this area has been the development of the Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE).
“Employers will be given immunity from negligent hiring lawsuits,” Terry Tribe Johnson, Summit County Reentry Coordinator, explained.
This can ease the fear employers may have to hire someone with a criminal record.
Employers have said ‘I don’t want to hire an ex-felon, what if something goes wrong? I don’t want to get sued’. So now there’s a solution for that.
Employers No Longer Liable
“It was always one of the main concerns of many employers I talked to. They know (the applicant) has a felony. If he does something against one of their employees, they’re liable. That was more of a concern than a real threat,” Bernie Rochfield, Executive Vice President of the Oriana House, said.
“Fear is huge. So the state is saying ‘We will protect you as an employer if you hire someone with their CQE’,” Tribe Johnson said.
The expungement law has changed as well. Before, felons could only have one conviction to apply for expungement, or record sealing. Now they can have two.
“One in six people in Ohio has a criminal conviction. That’s like 90,000 people in Summit County. So we still have a lot of people with multiple convictions, unfortunately,” Tribe Johnson explained.
Since June of 2013 the SCRN, City of Akron, and the School of Law at the University of Akron have all been wonderfully collaborative, holding free clinics every month to help people apply for their CQE or for expungement.
“The county has become a partner in these clinics, which is exciting,” Tribe Johnson shared.
Law students can now get credit for their work meeting with applicants who are being assessed for the CQE.
The paperwork goes through a lengthy process, with the court having 60 days to make a decision.
“The CQE is an awesome stamp of approval,” Tribe Johnson said, “The state is saying ‘we will protect any employer from negligent hiring’. It is a really big deal for the judge to sign off on it.”
The first person in the county that received their CQE got a job because of it.
“The employer literally was waiting for it because they knew they’d be protected and it gave them that cushion,” Tribe Johnson shared.
Executive Russell Pry is even on board.
“He gets it and mentioned it in his State of the County last year and mentioned it this year. We don’t want to leave anyone behind, and that includes those with misdemeanors and felonies in their background who want to take care of their families and become self-sufficient,” Tribe Johnson explained.
“Russ has shared the benefits of the CQE to employers and how we need to use that as a bridge to get people back into the work force,” she continued.
Equal Employment Opportunities
“When the director of the clemency and CQE clinic went to speak to employment lawyers, they were thrilled about this. They know that with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission they can no longer say ‘we won’t hire anyone with a background’. It has to be case-by-case, based on what type of charge it was, how long ago, what’s the job description, is there any conflict,” Tribe Johnson explained.
“Employment attorneys are now thrilled that this is kind of a give back –now we can be protected,” she continued.
The SCRN has held clinics every month since last June. At just one clinic there were 39 CQE’s filed.
“That’s what Reentry is about. A win-win,” Tribe Johnson said.
“There’s still a lot of education and advocacy to go on,” she continued.
Watch for Part 6 next week on another barrier, how things are changing, and progress that is being made.