When Marietta resident T.J. Gaughan goes into a job interview he knows fully well the deck is stacked against him.
Gaughan, 25, has a felony conviction for a probation violation on his record and the second that employers hear that, he's usually on his way out the door to continue his job hunt.
"That changes their whole outlook on the person you are," Gaughan said.
Unlike many convicts, Gaughan, who was originally charged in 2007 with breaking and entering, has a trade skill as he is a journeyman with the local ironworker's union.
Still, he knows his actions in the past will haunt him as he tries to move into the future.
The prospective job market for inmates isn't a result of employer's hiring practices, however, he said.
About Ohio Senate Bill 337
- Will create certificates of qualification for employment for ex-inmates, which can be awarded by judges. The certificates remove employment barriers and protect employers from potential lawsuits.
- Allows a court to order community service instead of fines or a suspension of a driver's license.
- Permits a court to modify child-support orders for when someone has a felony record or is in jail.
- Reduces licensing restrictions for fields such as salvage yard dealers, construction trades and security guards.
- Courts have the authority to seal one felony and one misdemeanor record or they can seal two misdemeanor records.
Source: The Associated Press.
"We bring it on ourselves. It's nothing they've done," Gaughan said.
Now, for the more than 1.9 million Ohioans with criminal records, help finding a job is on the way as the Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio Senate have approved legislation designed to make it easier to find a job, legislators say.
Legislators passed Senate Bill 337 last week, with the bill aimed at addressing some of the issues keeping ex-inmates from gaining employment.
"You commit a crime, you serve your time, but then you come out and it's kind of like a prohibition on ever getting a job," said State Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta.
Senate Bill 337 passed the Ohio Senate by a 27-4 vote at the end of May and legislation mirroring the bill, House Bill 524, passed 96-1 in the Ohio House.
The senate bill was then approved and sent through the legislature to Gov. John Kasich on June 13.
According to state lawmakers, the bill will create certificates of qualification for employment, reduce licensing restrictions for certain fields and permit the courts to seal one felony and one misdemeanor conviction or two misdemeanors.
The concept behind the bill is to give former inmates a chance at employment and thereby reduce their likelihood of returning to jail or prison.
"What they found is that people who get a job, their likelihood of recidivism is greatly reduced," Thompson explained.
Gaughan, who said he plans to find a job no matter what, said the biggest obstacle for inmates when it comes to finding a job is the record.
When he filled out an application at local construction business, Gaughan said he knew immediately on going in for the interview his chances were slim.
"The first thing they asked me was have you ever been convicted of a felony," Gaughan said.
Through his union, Gaughan has an opportunity for employment and most of the unions are willing to consider a former inmate for membership, explained Bill Hutchinson, business manager for the Parkersburg-Marietta Building Trades.
Each union has its own policies on who it accepts, but the certificates of qualification gained through the bill could help a former inmate land a job.
"I would have to say it would help a guy to be able to enter one of the union apprenticeships," Hutchinson said.
Another aspect of the bill that could help ex-inmates with their job hunt is the sealing of prior convictions.
Only certain convictions are eligible to be expunged off an individual's record, as violent offenses and sex offenses are not included, Thompson explained.
Sex crimes and violent behavior would preclude someone from entering most local unions, as well.
"It would be hard to hire somebody like that because it would be so limited where they could work," Hutchinson said.
Though there are some plants that will not allow a convicted felon, regardless of the offense, to work on the premises, there are opportunities through the unions for the right people.
"It would be based on the individual and what the felony was for," Hutchinson said.
By permitting former convicts to enter the workforce they can develop a sense of pride in themselves and become tax-paying citizens, Thompson said.
"It's a practical move. It's a smart move," Thompson said. "It's one that makes sense for financial reasons, but it's one that makes sense to be humane."
Even though the law is on the books and expected to go into effect in 82 days, Gaughan remains cautious about the impact it will have on the job market for those convicted of a crime.
"I hope the law does help," Gaughan said. "I hope they give convicts and people in jail a second chance. People do change