Back on February 29, the State of Ohio hosted an event on ex-offenders and collateral damages, specifically related to employment barriers. As a registered citizen, I have my own concerns about the difficulties facing employment that go beyond the concerns of the average ex-con. I made it a point to be there in hopes of voicing these concerns.
I arrived at the event around 9:30 and met a couple of members of OH-RSOL (I forgot their names, sorry), and we sat together in the front row for the event. The event began with an introduction from a representative from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (DRC), which was followed by three individuals with criminal records who shared their stories. I noted that all three speakers had "petty offenses"-- one was a bad check writer, another one for failing to pay child support, and the third one was a drug offender. It was the trifecta of petty crimes. I suppose I can understand why these individuals would be chosen, since non-violent offenses get more sympathy from the public compared to a more violent crime or a sex offense. It was interesting to note that one of the speakers, the woman convicted of writing bad checks, stated at least she wasn't a sex offender (using on of the "P" words). She's still a criminal, but I digress.
This was followed by a series of presentations followed by a Q&A session. This was my opportunity to express my two concerns:
1. Forcing registered individuals to register employment addresses is a greater barrier to employment. Cincinnati has about an 8.9% unemployment rate, but registrants in Cincy have an 82% unemployment rate. The state of Ohio needs to look at taking employers off the public registry.
2. The state needs programs specific to the needs of registrants and their families, seeing as how we have to live with far more restrictions than the average ex-offender. As a long-time advocate, I could help with creation of such a project.
There was a worker for the DRC who was shooting video of individuals willing to give personal testimony, with the video to be presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee. I managed to be a part of that, giving my personal story and offering suggestions on how to improve working conditions for former offenders like myself.
I was glad to meet some fellow activists there, and I wish they could have stayed for lunch. My only disappointment was a lack of local media presence.
I hope this will still inspire some change. Below is the Senate Judiciary Committee. Let's encourage them to follow my suggestions: