Deputy Director LaToya Bell
Success and change at OJPC
Most people have heard me admit that I am not a fan of cliches. Sure, cliches can capture a sentiment or seem like the right thing to say during an uncomfortable moment. However, I try to avoid them. But, right now, I am going to break my own rule. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
As OJPC embarks on its twenty-sixth year, the organization has gone through a fair number of changes just in our recent past. There have been staffing changes, including the imminent departure of David Singleton, the organization’s longest serving executive director. Our Second Chance Project expanded its work, to offer an alternative form of relief from criminal records-based barriers by becoming the Hamilton County service provider for the Governor’s Expedited Pardon Project. We’ve begun to foster a stronger presence in Columbus, by hosting panel discussions and community engagement opportunities centered around our Beyond Guilt exhibit. Nevertheless, we find ourselves fighting familiar fights in our quest to ensure fair treatment of all people impacted by the criminal legal system.
Two years after the murder of George Floyd, the topic of unarmed citizens and law enforcement encounters continues to make headlines. Now, cities around the country are developing ways to minimize the need for law enforcement and citizen encounters. One way is to reduce the need for encounters based on low-level traffic offenses (i.e., expired registration or a broken headlight) that do not pose a risk to public safety.
One of the major barriers addressed by our Second Chance work is employment. But like most systemic problems, once you start to work on implementing a solution, you begin to identify additional problems. There is an increasing need to consider the impact that a criminal record has on housing. Additionally, as individuals seek opportunities that create more sustainable employment, the impact that criminal records have on state licensure is becoming another barrier that needs dismantling.
Beyond Guilt has seen success in securing release for those who can demonstrate rehabilitation and safe reintegration into society. Each release deserves its proper recognition and celebration. However, this year marks fifty years of mass incarceration stemming from failed “tough on crime” or “war on drugs” policies. The current prison population in the United States is nearly six times that of the prison population fifty years ago.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. As the problems that plague the criminal legal system continue, OJPC remains steadfast in its quest for justice and fair treatment of those directly and adversely impacted by the criminal legal system.