Ohio State researchers are evaluating Opportunity Port, a new City of Columbus criminal justice initiative that aims to expand employment and housing opportunities by addressing the underutilization of record sealing in Franklin County, Ohio.
Record sealing removes eligible offenses from public view, including background checks, to combat discrimination against those with criminal records. Doing so has been shown to increase an individual’s earnings and decrease recidivism. Opportunity Port, which is free to those who meet income guidelines, makes it easier for individuals to start and complete the record sealing process through a website and with aid from legal service providers.
“Opportunity Port is broadening access to a critical service that could increase people’s financial stability and economic wellbeing,” said Adrienne DiTommaso, a John Glenn College of Public Affairs doctoral candidate and member of the project’s evaluation team. “It’s breaking down administrative barriers by using widely accessible technology to connect people to legal resources that were previously out of reach.”
Prospective record sealing applicants visit Opportunity Port’s mobile friendly website to fill out a brief survey and are then connected with local legal help to complete and submit an official application to the court. Finally, they appear before a judge who has the discretion to grant or deny the application.
According to data from the Franklin County Municipal Court and Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, most eligible applicants are granted record sealing, but underutilization of record sealing is common. In Franklin County, Ohio, court data show that fewer than 2,000 record sealing applications were submitted in 2019 even though roughly 10,000 individuals were eligible to apply in that year alone.
“Surprisingly, there is very little known about the effectiveness of these kinds of record sealing initiatives,” DiTommaso says, “so we have designed a pilot evaluation that will provide both descriptive detail and estimates of impact that are directly attributable to the pilot.”
Glenn College Professor Stephanie Moulton; Alex Fraga, senior research associate at The Ohio State University Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at Moritz College of Law; and DiTommaso will collaborate on the two-part pilot evaluation on the effect the record sealing has on residents who use Opportunity Port. First, a baseline evaluation will clarify how earnings, job quality and net income evolve for individuals with criminal records in Franklin County absent of record sealing. Second, an outcome evaluation using a research design that facilitates causal inference will evaluate the effectiveness of Opportunity Port on wage and employment stability.
The evaluation takes advantage of rich and diverse data sources: applicant data provided by Opportunity Port pilot applicants; publicly available court records; and employment, wage and consumer credit data available through the Ohio Longitudinal Data Archive and the Ohio Credit Panel, both housed at The Center for Human Resources Research at Ohio State.
“Our research approach leverages existing program resources and robust datasets accessible through various centers at Ohio State to generate meaningful insights that can guide the initiative’s operating approach and scaling decisions,” DiTommaso said. “It will also assure funders that their investment in the pilot is generating results in the community.”
Opportunity Port is funded by Columbus City Council and The Ohio State University Alliance for the American Dream, a collaboration with Schmidt Futures, and is managed by The Ohio State University Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at Moritz College of Law.