By: Katie Sobiech
The Reentry Program in Summit County continues to grow and improve, according to Bernie Rochfield, executive vice president of Oriana House.
Rochfield, involved in reentry work for the past 30 years, has witnessed first-hand how things have progressed.
“Things have grown so much, even in just the last 2 ½ -3 years,” Terry Tribe Johnson, Summit County Reentry Coordinator, agreed.
The Northeast Ohio Coalition has grown. Now there is an Ohio Association of Reentry Coalitions, which includes Summit County, Stark, Franklin, Montgomery, Cuyahoga and Lorain.
All have dedicated offices of reentry to facilitate community education, advocacy and opportunities to liaison with elected officials.
Much of what the Oriana House and Summit County Reentry Network (SCRN) set out to do is now coming to pass.
Senate Bill 337
One of the main goals of 2011/2012 was to divert low-level, non-violent felony convictions from prison and review cases so those incarcerated could come home. This is now unfolding.
“It costs so much to keep (offenders) in prison. That was a real Ohio initiative, and then we got to Senate Bill 337 which was huge in late 2012 into 2013 and is still having an effect,” Tribe Johnson shared.
According to Tribe Johnson, Senate Bill 337 has helped tremendously. Now, those coming home with a suspended license are eligible to get it back right away even quickly even if they owe $2,000 in reinstatement fees. Before the bill was passed they couldn’t get their license back.
Now they can apply, get it back right away, pay $50 a month and get a job because they have their license and can continue to pay their reinstatement fees.
When the bill was passed, the SCRN had several trainings on the certificate of qualification for employment and the new expungement law.
“It’s been really important to get providers to know about that because it’s going to have a big impact on employers,” Tribe Johnson said.
For more information on Bill 337 go to: ohioexpungementlaw.com/ohio-sb337/
Successful Members of Society
“These folks need to be re-integrated back into society, and now they can be. People can earn their way from the high risk trouble makers within the prison to general population, and from general population to the lower level, or reintegration population,” Tribe Johnson said.
“The idea is that they’re not just sitting in prison anymore. There is programming that is research based that’s effective at helping them get home,” she continued.
There are a lot of people sitting in jail or prison right now with all kinds of skills that they could contribute to the workforce.
“Research says that if you get someone who is really dedicated to changing their life you’re probably going to have the most loyal employee you’ve ever had. Not to say there aren’t knuckleheads out there, but in society there’s been a whole washing away of this whole population. In reality because there’s a greater conviction level against young black men, we’re losing generations of young black men from our workforce. It’s awful” she said.
Another big change that has been made is taking “the box” off employment applications.
“Anyone who applies for a job has to check a box saying that they’ve been convicted of a crime. In December of 2012 Summit County took it off because they knew it would be much better to just interview people on a case-by-case basis,” Tribe-Johnson said.
Connecting with City Officials
“We’re striving to reach out to elected officials to have their advocacy, to take the box off (all) state applications,” Tribe Johnson said.
Last July there were several meetings with the city and by the end of July they agreed to take the box off their applications.
The next step is to work with other municipalities within the county, and there’s a big movement to take it off in the state.
“Research says that if people can have a level playing field with interviews and meet you face-to-face, person-to-person you’re less likely to throw their application in the garbage because you’ve seen them. You know your own assessment of their person. You know their skills match what you’re looking for,” Tribe Johnson said.
“Hopefully more people with backgrounds will get hired and be able to pay those taxes, child support and buy goods and services and all those things that make it a win-win,” she continued.
Problem with the Box
“The way that this all came about was that Pepsi Cola threw out everybody who applied and checked the box,” Rochfield said.
Rochfield suggests that we cut offenders, especially low-risk, some slack.
“There’s an understanding that the whole ‘tough on crime’ era really is disappearing. People have come home and we need to integrate them because there’s so many people in the system,” Rochfield shared.
“So in terms of where we’d like to go, we desperately need employers to get educated and understand that there are a lot of people who come home with amazing skills. Because you’ve heard one bad story doesn’t mean that’s going to be the same in every situation,” he continued.
Last year many entities in the community came together with Summit Work Force Solutions and had discussions about people with employment barriers.
The main question was ‘what do we do with people with barriers who aren’t working and how do we get them into the workforce?’
Those discussions led to meetings with Summit County Executive Russ Pry.
“So now there’s some understanding from employers about the work opportunity tax credit,” Tribe-Johnson shared.
The benefit for employers is that they can now get up to $9,000 a year if they hire people with a background.
This is a win-win for everyone and the SCRN continues to work on making decisions and changing things in favor of the community as a whole.
Watch for Part 7 next week as we wrap up this series by touching on their ultimate goal, working with the faith-based community and more organizations.