With near record unemployment levels in Ohio, many employers are hiring. But for some Ohioans who want to work, finding and keeping a job is full of barriers, particularly for those with a criminal record.

Justice for All fellow Ann Roche is using her fellowship with Southeastern Ohio Legal Services (SEOLS) to address this problem. From helping Ohioans navigate the legal system to reinstate their driver’s license, to offering legal assistance for record sealing and Certificates of Qualification for Employment (CQEs), Roche’s fellowship is dedicated to helping Ohioans achieve self-sufficiency.

“I want to get the community involved and invested,” Roche said. “This work doesn’t just benefit former offenders, it also helps families, employers, the economy, and communities.”

One of Roche’s top priorities is to set up driver’s license reinstatement clinics in southern Ohio modeled on successful clinics in urban areas. The clinics will be a one-stop-shop for Ohioans in SEOLS’ rural 30-county service area, who lack access to public transportation and need a driver’s license to get to work.

Roche is also educating the legal community and southern Ohioans about Certificates of Qualification for Employment (CQEs), a relatively new tool that can help more Ohioans with criminal records get a job. While a CQE does not expunge a person’s record, it can help overcome restrictions that limit people with criminal records from working or being licensed in certain fields.

The CQE has been available since 2012, but only 11 have been granted in Roche’s targeted area, a surprisingly low number considering the outsized need.

“A CQE is a good tool for people who are not eligible to get their record sealed,” Roche said. “It shows employers that the person is doing things to get on a better path and will be a stable worker.”

As part of a long-term strategy, Roche is also recruiting and training pro bono attorneys to help with the legal work necessary to remove barriers to employment, so that more Ohioans can return to self-sufficiency.

“I hope that there can be a cultural shift around how we look at people who have been involved with the criminal justice system,” she said. “We need to move past “throwing the book” at people and then not worrying about it. We have an opportunity to help them rebuild.”