For nearly three years, the Second Chance Reentry Clinic at the School of Law has helped more than 300 formerly incarcerated citizens create a way forward by helping them manage the legal issues of their past. The legal services provided by the Clinic improve their clients’ chances of successful reintegration into society and, importantly, help them avoid recidivism.
The Clinic, which is a partnership between the School of Law and the Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry, is led by Hannah Christ and staffed by a team of third-year law students who are certified as Legal Interns by the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Christ, the Second Chance Reentry Clinic Fellow, says that while the Clinic receives many requests for services, the bulk of the Clinic’s work is in records sealing. “We have a lot of young people who come to us and who have one or two minor drug possession charges, but then they end up struggling for so long because they can’t get a job, afford school or provide for themselves,” she says. “But for those who are eligible, we can seal the records completely and give them a fresh start.”
She recalls former clients who have been able to return to college, pursue careers or just be present as parents without the stigma that comes with having been in prison.
Although the Clinic is geared to help clients get back on their feet, Christ says that there are benefits for the student workers, as well. “Once a student starts talking with a client, they see that this is a person who maybe lost their job and whose criminal record makes it that much harder to find a new one. And then, maybe they have to sell their car because they got behind on rent and now they’re being threatened with eviction,” she explains. “There’s this waterfall effect that some students never really think about outside the context of the criminal charge itself and avoiding incarceration—but they come to understand it.”
Christ also shared that the Clinic plays an important role in the broader community. “I think this clinic gives people hope. A lot of them have been pushed aside for so long or have been struggling when they come in,” Christ says. “When we give people better opportunities, then people can look beyond their concerns of just getting by day-to-day and really engage with the community. In the end, giving them opportunities just strengthens our communities.”