Ex-offenders improving job prospects

By Dave Scott
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Andrea Testa (right), a student volunteer from the University of Akron Law School, helps an area resident prepare an application to earn a certificate of qualification for employment at the Woodland United Methodist Church on Saturday in Akron. (Ed Suba Jr./Akron Beacon Journal)

Joann Sahl wasn’t going to let a little snow stop her from helping criminals find jobs.

The University of Akron law professor says that after a slow start, a program she runs to help ex-offenders find jobs is gaining momentum.

So despite dire weather, Sahl and dozens of students attended a free legal clinic Saturday at Woodland United Methodist Church in West Akron. A total of 51 people attended, hoping to take the first steps toward acquiring a pardon, expungement of their record or a document called a certificate of qualification for employment, or CQE. There were 25 volunteers in addition.

“We have had five or six people in our project pardoned by Gov. Kasich,” Sahl said Friday. “He’s absolutely pardoning. He really appreciates that people need a pardon to get a second chance. If you are a good candidate, we will help you do that.”

Since August, about 430 people have participated in the clinics.

Sahl said the monthly sessions are limited to 50 people and an uncounted number of people were turned away.

Precise criminal demographics do not exist, but she estimates Summit County has about 90,000 people with criminal records.

Most of them have a tough time finding jobs and their burden on taxpayers can be significant.

Sahl and Terry Tribe Johnson, Summit County reentry coordinator, insist help is available.

The CQE, for example, is 16 pages long and requires computer access, but law students at the clinic will sit down with participants at computers to go over the document line by line.

It requires information about all criminal charges, former jobs, immediate family and addresses for the last five years. It also requires approval by the Common Pleas Court, and victims are given a chance to comment. More information about the CQE requirements is available by going to www.uakron.edu and typing CQE in the search box.

The court reduced the CQE fee from $250 to $100 on Jan. 1 and veterans are eligible to have it paid by the Veterans Administration.

“It’s not an easy thing to go through, but you have help,” Sahl said. “I want to emphasize, I will probably have 30 to 40 law students at each clinic and that’s why it’s such a terrific project.”

The CQE pays off when an ex-offender seeks a job. It informs employers that they must not automatically exclude someone simply because of a felony. Additionally, the employer cannot be held liable for negligent hiring.

The CQE was authorized by a 2012 law, but by October, only three Summit County residents had acquired one. Four more have been approved since then and three are pending. Additionally, Sahl said students are at various stages of completing forms for another 80 people.

Social service agencies also are eager to help.

On Friday, 76 ex-offenders attended Reentry Resource Seminar at the Job Center on Tallmadge Avenue to hear Sahl speak. They learned about obtaining GED diplomas, help with transportation, library services including obtaining an email, vital to finding a job, and family services.

Johnson described the payoff: “We reduce recidivism. We increase public safety. We reduce the number of victims but it also reunites families and we strengthen the economy, because for every person that gets a job they get off public assistance, they are buying goods and services and they are paying taxes.”

For more information about Reentry Resource Netrowk, go to www.summitcountyreentrynetwork.org.

Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or davescott@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.

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