Advancing Community Reentry

The ACLU of Ohio is committed to advancing community reentry by working to eliminate barriers – legal or otherwise – that serve no purpose toward public good.

One-in-six Ohioans have a criminal conviction. An even higher number have some sort of contact with the criminal legal system. After completing their sentence, individuals face tremendous difficulty finding employment, housing, and other vital resources needed to live a productive and stable life.

In some cases, the barriers are legally imposed by a court of law or government agency. These legal barriers are known as collateral sanctions. Often times, additional barriers result from screening mechanisms, such as background checks, that disqualify people from housing, jobs, and other services. Whether imposed by law or by institutional practice these barriers increase recidivism rates and create systems of poverty and incarceration that weaken our communities and harm public safety.

What are Collateral Sanctions?

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Collateral sanctions are penalties that go beyond a sentence or conviction. They go beyond prison time, probation or parole, court fines, fees, restitution, and other community control sanctions that result from the actual criminal sentence. In essence, they are penalties people face after already being penalized.

As of 2018, Ohio has more than 850 collateral sanctions ranging from driver's license suspension to bars to certain employment and professional licensure. These sanctions create lasting and damaging limitations on convicted persons and many bear no rational relationship to the offense. Instead some may even be counter-productive such as the suspension of a driver’s license for failure to pay child support. Importantly, the far-reaching effects of these barriers impact not only the individual with the conviction, but also their families, communities, and society at-large.

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The Need for Reform

In 2021, Ohio had the fifth largest prison population.

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For far too long we have used the criminal legal system to attack social and health problems such as poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, and an overall lack of opportunity. The result is that Ohio has one of the largest prison populations in the country. In fact, in 2021, Ohio had the fifth largest prison population.

Black Ohioans are disproportionately affected – accounting for nearly half the state's prison population but only a little more than a tenth of the total state population.

The reality is, nearly everyone who goes to prison comes home. Moreover, many more people are convicted and serve no time in prison – instead receiving alternative forms of punishment. Still these individuals are labeled and locked out of opportunities through collateral sanctions and institutional barriers that prevent them from getting a job, housing, education, reliable transportation, and more. The magnitude of these barriers can have major psychological impact.

Locked Out of Employment

There are hundreds of professional trades that bar licensure for individuals with felony convictions. Even when no legal sanction exists, having a minor record can cause individuals to be stuck in perpetual poverty and employment instability. After all, more than 90% of employers use background checks in hiring. Individuals with criminal records are 50% to 63% less likely to get a callback or job offer than an identical applicant without a record. This penalty increases two-fold for Black as opposed to White applicants.

Locked Out of Housing

Housing is among the most critical needs for all human beings. Our ability to find meaningful employment, engage in educational opportunities and live fulfilling and productive lives starts with having a safe place to call home. For those recently released from prison, this basic need can often be the most difficult to obtain. Background checks leave many returning citizens and their families locked out of housing opportunities. While minor protections exist within public housing authorities, no such protections exist within the private housing market.

For more information on record sealing and expungement, please visit Ohio Legal Help.

Restoring Your Right to Vote

Your right to vote is one of the most fundamental aspects of our democracy.

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The ability to exercise your right to vote is one of the most fundamental aspects of our democracy. In Ohio, a person sentenced to prison on a felony conviction loses their ability to vote while serving their sentence, but upon release, they regain their rights.

One critically important aspect of re-entering society is restoring your right to vote by registering to vote with your county Board of Election office. Here’s the good news - registering to vote is easy!

  • Register to vote by using the Online Voter Registration service.
    • If you don’t have a drivers’ license or state ID card, you can register to vote with only the last four digits of your social security number on the paper voter registration form.
    • All Ohio citizens over the age of 17 can now apply for a free state identification card. You’ll need to prove your citizenship by providing your birth certificate and social security card, as well as prove your address.
      • People experiencing housing insecurity can use the shelter they reside at as their formal address. All you need to do is have the shelter administrators complete the Proof of Ohio Residency form, and attest that you reside at the shelter. 3
  • If you experience homelessness after release, you can register to vote using the address of a shelter as your place of residence on your voter registration form.

Death Row and Reentry

Released from death row: an even more challenging road to re-entry.

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Individuals who are released from death row face an even more challenging road to re-entry, given the enhanced, time-intensive review and appeals processes for capital cases, resulting in long periods of incarceration on death row and elsewhere. Per the Ohio Attorney General’s 2022 Capital Crimes Report, Ohio death row inmates have spent an average of around 17 years there.

Ohio’s clemency procedure provides a path from death row. Through this process, the Governor can issue a commutation of a death sentence to a lower sentence, a pardon, or a reprieve. There are four types of pardons—unconditional, conditional, general, and partial. Reprieves are temporary stays of an execution, which allow the individual more time to seek relief.

To initiate this process, an individual must apply to the Adult Parole Authority. The Ohio Parole Board, a bureau of the Adult Parole Authority, is charged with making recommendations to the Governor on each application. Learn more about the Ohio Governor’s Expeditated Pardon Project.

21 individuals on death row have received a commutation in the history of Ohio’s death penalty statute. However, all of these individuals received lower sentences of life in prison, most without the possibility of parole.

Aside from the clemency process, 11 individuals who were initially sentenced to death were later exonerated from death row. They were incarcerated for more than 200 years, combined, all for crimes they did not commit.

In any case, these individuals face a heightened set of challenges in returning to society, on top of the familiar collateral sanctions and barriers to reentry. Because of the average length of their incarceration, it is likely that the individual is coming back to a world totally different from the one they left when they were sentenced and incarcerated. Their community may look totally different, technological advances may be unfamiliar, and their support system may have changed entirely (if they had one in the first place).

Death row exonerees, particularly, face the burden of knowing that the criminal legal system failed them, and that the time they lost is due exclusively to this failure.

Because of these unique circumstances, individuals who spend time on death row before returning to the community likely will require specialized support services as they, quite literally, start their lives again.

Youth and Reentry

Everyday, hundreds of Ohio’s children are held in juvenile correctional facilities.

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Everyday, hundreds of Ohio’s children are held in juvenile correctional facilities and detention centers throughout the state. These children are often removed from their families, communities, and schools for extended periods of time during their peak adolescent years. This disruption to their adolescent development often makes the transition back into the community a challenge as complex needs such as behavioral and mental health supports and services are often unmet. This is further exacerbated as adjudicated youth face collateral consequences such as barriers to education, housing, or employment as a result of their juvenile justice system involvement.

Collateral Consequences for Youth

Although a juvenile adjudication is not a conviction in Ohio, involvement or mere contact with the juvenile justice system regularly creates several collateral consequences for youth and their families. Many of these collateral consequences are the same barriers adults who are reentering society face such as difficulty finding housing or employment. However, youth and their families may also experience additional barriers such as limited access to public education and public benefits. For example, local public schools may suspend or expel a student based on juvenile court involvement or a student may have difficulty re-enrolling in school or transferring credits upon returning home. Families of justice-involved youth may no longer be eligible for public benefits while their child is held in a juvenile correctional facility or may lose their access to public housing. Despite rehabilitation being the primary goal of the juvenile justice system, collateral consequences create long-term barriers that hinder a child’s ability to successfully transition into adulthood.

Read more about the collateral consequences of juvenile court involvement.

Juvenile Records

The collateral consequences of a juvenile court involvement can be mitigated by juvenile record sealing and expungement. Juvenile records are NOT automatically sealed or expunged at a certain age. An individual must file a request to have their record sealed, and the record must first be sealed to be expunged.

Sealing – The juvenile record is removed from the court’s central records and only accessible to juvenile court judges and staff.

Expunging – The juvenile record is permanently removed from the court’s records and destroyed.

While most juvenile records in Ohio are considered confidential, a felony juvenile record may appear on background checks and other screening tools. Thus, it is important that eligible adjudicated youth seal and expunge their eligible  juvenile records to prevent them from creating barriers in the future. (You are not eligible if you were adjudicated of murder, aggravated murder, or rape. FBI Background Checks may still show your juvenile record.)

For assistance with record sealing and/or expunging, reach out to your local public defender’s office. You can also contact the Ohio Public Defender’s office for more information.


A Way Forward

The ACLU of Ohio is committed to advancing community reentry.

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The ACLU of Ohio is committed to advancing community reentry by working to eliminate legal and other barriers related to contact with the criminal legal system.

The crisis of mass incarceration did not happen on its own; fear-based and racially-motivated policies created it. As such, it will take equally deliberate, forward-thinking, and equity-focused policies to undo it and unlock opportunities for the 1.9 million Ohioans with criminal conviction records. The ACLU of Ohio is aims to advance community reentry in several ways:

  1. Increasing awareness of barriers to reentry and the need for reform.
  2. Eradicating all collateral sanctions not closely tied to the offense and narrowly-tailored to a public safety-related result.
  3. Ending the practice of excessive lookback periods and screening mechanisms that keep individuals with criminal records (and even arrests) locked out of opportunities and replacing it with individualized consideration.

Furthermore, we will continue advocate for policy solutions that promote successful reentry and center the individuals who bear the weight of Ohio’s collateral sanctions.

Stand with the ACLU of Ohio as we work to reduce collateral sanctions and advance community reentry.


Visit the ACLU of Ohio YouTube page to watch the Collateral Sanctions video series.


  • Agan, A. & Starr, S. (2016). Ban the box, criminal records, and statistical discrimination: A field experiment. Yale Law School Journal. (Link)
  • ACLU of Ohio & OJPC. (2016). Looking forward: A comprehensive plan for criminal justice reform in Ohio. Columbus: The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio; The Ohio Justice & Policy Center. (Link)
  • Frank, J., Travis, L. F., Reitler, A., Goulette, N., & Flesher, W. (2011). Collateral consequences of criminal conviction in Ohio. University of Cincinnati, Center for Criminal Justice Research School of Criminal Justice. Cincinnati: Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services. (Link)
  • Kurlychek, M. C., Brame, R., & Bushway, S. D. (2006). Scarlet letters and recidivism: Does an old criminal record redict future offending? Criminology & Public Policy, 483-504. (Link)
  • Pager, D. & Western, B. (2009). Investigating prisoner reentry: The impact of conviction status on the employment prospects of young men. National Criminal Justice Reference Service. Washington, DC. (Link)
  • Society for Human Resource Management. (2012). SHRM survey findings: Background checking – the use of criminal background checks in hiring decisions. (Link)
  • Thatcher, D. (2008). The rise of criminal background screening in rental housing. Journal of the American Bar Foundation. 33(1): 5-30. (Link)

Disclaimer: The information on this website is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Every case depends on the specific facts and circumstances involved. To submit a complaint for review, please go to our Legal Help page.