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Columbus streamlines its record sealing process

Columbus City Hall
David Holm

More than 300,000 people in Central Ohio with a criminal record could have their records sealed, yet, only 1% do so each year, according to Columbus City Councilman Rob Dorans.

"There are over 300,000 people in Central Ohio that are eligible for criminal record sealing but have not taken advantage of this right. So that's the tip of the iceberg,” Dorans said.

With changes that streamlined and simplified the process in Columbus, more people are expected to take steps to seal low-level convictions and dismissed charges, which can lead to increased income and housing choices.

"The focus of this project is to remove barriers and make sure that once folks have made a mistake and paid their debt to society that they've got the ability to move on,” Dorans said.

Council has been working for a few years to make the changes.

People can now begin the sealing process online.

“Rather than going to a brick and mortar place, you're able to get on your cell phone and start the application and then eventually get connected with an attorney that's going to help you with the application,” Dorans said. “So hopefully, the only time you have to actually go to court physically is for the hearing itself to make a determination on whether the sealing application is going to be granted.”

Dorans said the efforts mark a change in attitude and a break from difficulties purposely worked into the system to make it harder to have records sealed.

“In decades past, this was not designed to be as user-friendly as it should be. And this is our attempt to try and to bring those services to folks and be as user-friendly as we can to make sure that folks have an opportunity to access what ultimately is their legal right to move on from a past mistake,” Dorans said.

Dorans said there has been an uptick in record sealing since the process was simplified, which could help lift people up in numerous ways.

"We know based on research that's been done, that folks that have gone through a criminal record sealing initiative can see their earning potential go up by 25% the next year. And that's an incredible change for someone that's trying to get back on their feet and establish some economic stability,” he said.

People who want to learn more about sealing a qualifying conviction or dismissed charge can visit opportunityport.org

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.