Levin College forum to discuss ex-prisoner rights

By Regan Reeck

Feb. 6, 2018

For Michael Leo Owens, Ph.D., there isn’t much difference between a professor teaching in a classroom and speaking to the public — he only asks that his students read up on their materials before class.

“I think that good scholars are also public scholars,” said Owens, an associate professor of political science at Emory College. “Our scholarship isn't to be limited to classrooms but we're also to expose ourselves to the public and help the public to figure out new ways of explaining and thinking about big policy questions, questions that bear on the quality of life.”

This approach is mirrored by the Maxine Levin College of Urban Affairs during its public forums which serve as a place not only to discuss these big questions, but also attempt to bring to the university what Molly Schnoke, the manager of the Levin College Forum Program refers to as a ‘forced and thoughtful civic debate.'

The next forum in this year’s series, “The Abolition of Civil Slavery in the Age of the ‘New Jim Crow’: Reclaiming Dignity & Restoring Rights for & by Ex-Prisoners” will be held Thursday, Feb. 8, and will feature Owens.

“This is the age of everyone wanting to discuss their rights, and I want to put that first and foremost. This is also the age of mass incarceration,” Owens said.

Owens, along with Ronnie Dunn, Ph.D., Thomas Bynum, Ph.D. and Megan Hatch, Ph.D., from Cleveland State University, will discuss the importance of restoring rights, such as voting and, as Owens argues, how job applications are reviewed, to ex-prisoners.

“It’s a very important thing,” said Owens. “It's consequential to the individual, consequential to the community that they come from, and it's consequential to politics and public policy."

As discussions of prison reform and re-entry programs for ex-offenders garner attention in the White House and Congress, it is a timely topic—not only across the nation, but here at home as well.

With more than 2.3 million people in prison across the country, the United States has one of the largest prison populations in the world. According to a report by the Office of Criminal Justice Services, the number of people released across Ohio totaled 22,399 in 2014. More than 14 percent of those individuals, 3,248, were released in Cuyahoga County, according to a report by Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

“For Northeast Ohio and Cuyahoga County in particular we have one of the largest ex-offender populations in the state; many folks who leave the prison system in Ohio come back to or return to Cuyahoga County,” Schnoke said. “Those discussions happen around everything from the social fabric of a neighborhood to employment, workforce development and job creation.”

Schnoke explained that these conversations are cyclical. This is not the first time this topic has been brought up. However, as the forums continue, so will these conversations.

“I think that there's a number of communities across the country, not just Ohio, not just Cleveland, that are talking about issues,” Schnoke said. “Clearly this is a timely topic in talking about race and equity in communities throughout the country.”


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Levin College forum to discuss ex-prisoner rights


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