Program Offers Hope to Felons Seeking Employment

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The University of Akron School of Law, in partnership with Youngstown State University and several civic agencies, will host a free clinic at 10 a.m. Saturday designed to help those convicted of felonies and misdemeanors re-enter the workplace.

The clinic, to be held in the First Presbyterian Church, Wick Avenue, will present guidelines to those eligible to apply for a Certificate for Qualification for Employment, or CQE.

“It’s a free outreach clinic to help people with criminal convictions with the CQE remedy,” said JoAnn Sahl, assistant clinical professor of law at the University of Akron. “The purpose of the certificate is to remove mandatory disqualifications for jobs or professional licenses.”

Officials gathered in City Council chambers Thursday to announce the program and the second annual Hope Conference, scheduled May 13 at YSU.

Once the court awards a CQE, the person can take it to an employer or professional licensing agency. “Before, where you might not have been qualified for the job, they now can consider you on a case-by-case basis,” Sahl said.

Applicants are eligible if it’s been at least two years since they completed the terms of their sentences, including probation and payment of any court costs.

Although a CQE makes it easier for felons and misdemeanants to get a job, it doesn’t guarantee the applicant a job.

Saul said she is traveling to four other cities around the state to bring the model to Ohioans who need help in obtaining a CQE. “In addition to Youngstown, we’ll be in Cleveland,” she said. “We’ll be traveling to Toledo and we’ll be in Columbus as well.”

The CQE program has a partnership with YSU and the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, or CIRV, for the city of Youngstown to host the clinic.

Cryshanna Jackson, associate professor of politics and international relations at YSU, said that pre-law and undergraduate students have signed up to receive CQE training to help conduct the clinic. “We’re very excited to offer this opportunity to them,” she said.

Guy Birney, executive director of CIRV, said this is the second year of the Hope Conference, an event designed to inform those with criminal records of the resources available to integrate them back into the workplace.

This year’s conference features YSU President Jim Tressel and former Ohio State Buckeye running back Maurice Clarett.

Last year, Birney said, some offenders’ drivers’ licenses were cleared on the spot. Arrangements to catch up on child support payment are also available.

“This is just not information,” Birney said. “This is an actual place where you can get things done. So, that’s really important.”

Pictured: Ben Comston, law student University of Akron, JoAnn Sahl, UA associate professor of law, Cryshanna Jackson, YSU associate professor politics and international relations, Guy Birney, executive director of Community Initiative to Reduce Violence.

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