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Criminal Record-Sealing Platform to Begin Assisting Franklin County Residents

Taijuan Moorman Taijuan Moorman Criminal Record-Sealing Platform to Begin Assisting Franklin County ResidentsThe Franklin County Government Center Downtown. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
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Opportunity Port, an initiative led by the office of Columbus City Councilmember Rob Dorans, will begin assisting eligible Franklin County residents with criminal record sealing applications starting Wed., Dec. 1, 2021.

The original proposal for the program was a finalist in The Ohio State University’s Alliance for the American Dream competition last year, which provides support for charitable, educational and commercial efforts with a public purpose.

During a press conference, city leaders pointed out how an old criminal record could result in long-lasting economic hardship and housing instability. A criminal record makes as much as 25% of Central Ohio jobs out of reach, and could reduce job callbacks by as much as 50%, said Professor Douglas Berman of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.

Opportunity Port digitizes the recording sealing application process in Franklin County while also offering legal assistance, making the process more accessible.

“Most people don’t understand how a record, even a misdemeanor record, can affect their lives,” said Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Eileen Paley. “Records follow you wherever you go, whether you are applying for a job, getting [a] credit check for a loan or finding a place to live.”

Franklin County record sealing “uptake” has reportedly been low. According to the 2020 Annual Report of the Franklin County Municipal Court Clerk’s Office, only 1,582 applications were filed in 2020, and only 2,011 applications were filed in 2019.

However, the Drug Enforcement & Policy Center at The Ohio State University estimates that over 300,000 individuals with cases at the Franklin County Municipal Court may currently be eligible.

A third of Ohio residents reportedly have a criminal record.

“A criminal record should not be a life sentence to poverty,” said Councilmember Shayla Favor, who is also chair of council’s criminal justice committee. “But the reality is that any criminal record, no matter how old or minor, can illicit a lifetime of collateral consequences by acting as a barrier to employment, higher education, and overall economic instability.”

After taking an online survey on the Opportunity Port platform, an applicant can select a legal service provider from the Franklin County Municipal Court Self Help Resource Center, the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, Equality Ohio or elsewhere to help them with their application. Those initial conversations happen over the phone and completed applications are later prepared for submission to either the Franklin County Municipal Court or Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

One in three adults in the U.S. has a criminal record, which can make it difficult to obtain employment, housing, or federal students loans.

The Ohio State Legislature voted to expand record sealing eligibility in 2020 and the new law went into effect in April 2021. Under the law, people who meet certain eligibility criteria can have specific criminal records sealed to prevent employers, landlords and other members of the general public from accessing this information.

Record sealing has been shown to improve employment opportunities, increase wages by 25% on average within one year and reduce a person’s chances of recidivism. Those with a sealed record are reportedly less likely to commit a crime than the general population.

“Reentry services are critical to uplifting communities disproportionately impacted by a criminal record, and Opportunity Port was designed to make the process easier,” said Councilmember Dorans.

City leaders are also asking Central Ohio attorneys to offer their time toward this effort.

“Not only does Opportunity Port remove barriers for clients, but it also allows pro bono volunteers to help clients from anywhere,” said Dorans. “And with more people expected to become eligible for record sealing, Opportunity Port will help our legal community meet the demand here in Columbus and Franklin County.”

To learn more about Opportunity Port, visit opportunityport.org.

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