Stop Covering For Criminals

Ohioans who believe they can rely on criminal background checks to warn them against hiring dangerous employees may be wrong. In fact, the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation is, in effect, lying about some ex-convicts’ records – because state law requires it.

A complex bill the General Assembly enacted last summer is to blame. Sometimes referred to as Senate Bill 337, the measure deals with a wide variety of criminal law issues. Part of it is intended to ensure that former criminals who have paid their debts to society are able to get jobs once they leave prison.

But state officials have interpreted part of the law involving sealing of criminal records to mean that when employers do background checks on potential new hires, they are not to be told the whole truth in some cases.

That has Attorney General Mike DeWine concerned. He has discovered 24 situations in which potential harm could have resulted from less-than-candid responses by the BCI to background check requests. In one case, a man who had been convicted of rape was hired for a job involving work with children. In another, a woman was hired at a hospital even though she previously had been found mentally incompetent to stand trial for murder. In both cases – and others -the BCI was prohibited from providing critical information to employers.

Part of the problem is misguided concern for adults who had been convicted of crimes while they were juveniles. Murder and sex crimes are the only juvenile offenses state officials are allowed to report on background checks. Even sex crimes are not revealed unless the adult in question is still required to be on the state sex offender registry.

Pitfalls in the new law are obvious – and should have been when legislators were considering the bill. As DeWine points out, the flaws could put some people in danger.

Legislators should take another look at the law and rescind parts of it that could result in dangerous ex-convicts being hired for jobs they have no business holding.