with volunteer staff writer Courtney Drenan

Last month, the Ohio Senate began debating SB288. This nearly 1,800 page piece of legislation has taken more than five years to paste together. It’s a variety pack of criminal justice reforms, incorporating more than a half dozen bills from previous legislative sessions. By updating and codifying the Ohio Revised Code, this measure aims to eliminate both recidivism and crime cycles. 

Senator Nathan Manning is the bill’s sponsor. He says he’s confident these new rules will work because, “SB 288 adopts proven approaches to ensuring that the incarcerated earn the tools to succeed and reduce the chances that they will return behind bars.” 

Part of this bill focuses on helping returning citizens put their life back together after incarceration. Once they are released, formerly incarcerated people are commonly met with two major obstacles: expunging records and collateral sanctions. 

First, SB288 broadens the scope of what can be cleared from a person’s record. The bill offers judicial discretion and allows more offenses to qualify for record sealing. In addition, it will force the juvenile court to expunge all records no later than an individual’s 23rd birthday. 

Second, SB288 goes beyond conventional reforms. During his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Manning touched on a punishment that many Ohioans may not even know exists, saying that its, “overarching goal [is] reducing unnecessary collateral sanctions on formerly incarcerated persons.” 

When SB288 was being drafted, OJPC worked alongside Senator Manning to ensure that actionable policy was being incorporated. We know what works because we witness the effect of limited expungement opportunities and collateral sanctions everyday. For us, policy is more than research – it’s reality. 

Life after a conviction is often referred to as a “civil death.” A previous conviction creates barriers, causing many persons with criminal records to remain unemployed. In fact, it’s estimated that the unemployment rate amongst the formerly incarcerated is nearly five times higher than the general population. 

Our Second Chance division works to rebuild the social and professional reputations of formerly incarcerated individuals. We pushed for expanding expungement opportunities because it’s a blessing to those trying to rebuild their lives. Our staff knows it can be the difference between someone living life to the fullest or just being another statistic. 

Our Second Chance staff also assists individuals navigate collateral sanctions. These rules make persons with criminal records second class citizens. It can forbid them from obtaining certain jobs or professional licenses, limit their access to housing, and even restrict higher education. While it may seem like a small consequence compared to serving time behind bars, it’s not. A prison sentence has an end date, but sanctions can last for years – sometimes a lifetime. 

Collateral sanctions touch the lives of many people. In fact, nearly one million Ohioans have a felony record. These formerly incarcerated individuals have to navigate nearly 1,100 rules that block them from obtaining nearly a quarter of all jobs across the state. This sanctioned population is only getting bigger. In Ohio, the number of incarcerated people has more than tripled in size since the 1980s. Moreover, the Ohio prison population is so large, that the state ranks 14th in the nation in the number of incarcerated people. 

OJPC Policy Director Kevin Werner has noted the positive impact of adopting “clean slate concept” mechanisms as outlined in SB288. He emphasized the broader impact that reforming expungement and collateral sanctions would have on the state, saying, “I know SB 288 is not an economic development bill but there sure could be a huge bonus to Ohio’s employers, our economy and the estimated 1 in 3—or approximately 3.9 million— Ohioans living with a criminal record.” 

The legislation currently sits in the Senate Judiciary Committee but its outlook seems promising. According to Senator Manning, the speed at which SB288 moves through the legislature is up to his colleagues, saying, “this is going to be a member-driven process.” Senate President Matt Huffman appears to support the initiative. Meanwhile, a pioneer in criminal justice reform, Representative Bill Seitz, says he is “enthused” by SB288 and has promised to help it become law. 

Last Updated: March 31, 2022

About the author:

Image courtesy of Courtney Drenan

Courtney Drenan is a freelance writer whose passion for criminal justice reform led her into a career of politics. Previously, she worked at Fox News in New York City as a breaking news writer and associate producer where she covered everything from Covid-19 lockdowns to Black Lives Matter protests.