Black drawing of person behind bars

With each criminal conviction, the state of Ohio matter-of-factly tells the defendants how long they will spend behind bars. Hidden from view, in the “fine-print,” is a long list of additional penalties attached to these convictions. 

Only upon leaving prison and while attempting to rebuild their lives, do offenders experience, first-hand, how these non-prison “collateral consequences” limit or deny their basic rights to housing, food stamps, education, voting, employment, child custody and much more.

A 2018 study conducted by the Prison Policy Initiative found that “formally incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of over 27%—higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression…[and]…Exclusionary policies and practices are responsible for these market inequities.”

The study concludes: “A prison sentence should not be a perpetual punishment…States should implement automation record expungement procedures and reform their licensing practices so as to eliminate the automatic rejection of people with felony convictions.”   

 “The stigma of incarceration and disconnection from the workforce,” according to a Council of State Governments report, “are among the challenges people face when trying to find a job after release from prison or jail. People who have been incarcerated earn 40 percent less annually than they had earned prior to incarceration.”

Researchers at the Council of State Governments have prepared a list of 1,650 separate “collateral consequences” imbedded in Ohio statutes and regulations—waiting to snare persons convicted of a crime. Some consequences kick-in automatically. Others are applied on a case-by-case basis. Some have a set duration, others are indefinite.

Here are examples of how Ohio’s post-prison penalties make the prison-to-society transition more difficult for ex-offenders. 


“Ineligible for executive agency lobbyist registration.” A mandatory/automatic penalty with an indefinite duration for conviction of crimes involving fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation or money-laundering; public corruption offenses.

“Ineligible for indemnification by a business corporation.” A discretionary penalty of an indefinite duration for conviction of any felony or any misdemeanor.

“Ineligible for civil service appointment.” A discretionary penalty of indefinite duration for conviction of any felony.

Housing/Public Assistance

“Ineligible for food assistance benefits.” A mandatory/automatic penalty of various durations for conviction of Controlled substances offenses; Crimes involving fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation or money-laundering; Other; Weapons offenses.

“Ineligible for increase in food assistance benefit allotment.” A mandatory/automatic penalty with conditional durations for conviction of Crimes involving fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation or money-laundering.

“Evict/remove from rental property.” A discretionary penalty of indefinite duration for conviction of sex offenses.

Occupational Licenses

Because “One out of five working Americans needs a license to work while one in three American adults has a criminal record,” the Institute for Justice encourages state lawmakers to repeal needless licenses, scale back anticompetitive licensing laws and strengthen the rights of people with a criminal record to gain meaningful employment.

To do so, the Institute has prepared, for state adoption, a model legislation titled, “Collateral Consequences in Occupational Licensing Act.” And, to date, at least 18 states—including Ohio—have reformed their occupational licensing laws to reduce entry barriers for those with a criminal record.

According to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center’s Restoration of Rights Project, a non-profit organization that tracks legal restrictions on people with a criminal record, Ohio has taken steps to remove employment barriers for ex-offenders.

  • A 2018 Ohio law authorizes sealing of up to five minor nonviolent offenses. Records may be sealed six months following discharge, except for murder or rape convictions.
  • An offender may ask Ohio courts to remove specified mandatory occupational and licensing consequences and create a presumption of fitness following a one-year waiting period for felonies and a six-month waiting period for misdemeanors.
  • Employers may ask about a sealed conviction only if it relates directly and substantially to the position sought. 
  • For public employment, question about criminal history may not appear on the employment application.

When state legislatures erect legal barriers that make life after prison difficult, if not impossible, they are setting people with a criminal record up for failure—and a trip back to prison.  

Ex-offender has a personal responsibility to make the life-style changes needed to successfully re-enter society. But Ohio legislators have also recognized their responsibility to give wrong-doers the opportunity to make these changes and to become productive, law-abiding citizens. 

Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public policy issues for the DKT Liberty Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization. Write him at: