U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland told a closed-door Toledo audience over the weekend that he would hire ex-convicts for state government jobs if Ohioans elect him governor in the fall.
The Democratic candidate's remarks came at a private meeting Saturday morning with local political and African-American leaders, after Mr. Strickland was asked how he would help former prisoners find work and avoid returning to crime.
Mr. Strickland, a former prison psychologist, confirmed his answer yesterday but said its wording was perhaps "inartful."
"The point I was hoping to make to them is that people who served their time and are returned to their communities must become productive members of society," he said in a phone interview, adding that he was "painfully aware" of recidivism among ex-convicts.
Asked if that meant he would hire former prisoners for state jobs, Mr. Strickland replied: "What I will try to do is have a policy that won't discriminate against people who served their time and returned to society."
Ohio's state government permits hiring people with criminal records on a case-by-case basis, said Rick Frank, the assistant director of the administrative services department. Mr. Frank said there are obvious restrictions: A convicted embezzler can't work with taxpayer dollars, for example, and sex offenders are barred from working with children.
The state corrections department employs a comprehensive plan for helping prisoners re-enter communities, including a "Career Exploration Program" and help with job-seeking.
No gubernatorial candidate responded to Mr. Strickland's comments yesterday. The campaign manager for Attorney General Jim Petro, a Republican, declined comment. A spokesman for Kenneth Blackwell, the Republican secretary of state, did not return a phone call. Democrat Bryan Flannery, a former state representative, could not be reached for comment.
About 100 people turned out to see Mr. Strickland at the Mott Branch Library, said Toledo City Councilman Michael Ashford, who organized the event. Some attendees said yesterday they recalled Mr. Strickland's hiring pledge.
Others, including Mr. Ashford and state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), said they couldn't remember that statement.
Ms. Fedor said helping former prisoners contribute to society was a "moral issue" for lawmakers.
"If that means that there are jobs that are in our society, including government jobs, that they can do, I think they should," she said.
Mr. Ashford said Mr. Strickland focused his remarks on "jobs, jobs, jobs" for Ohio and that more than half the audience signed up to volunteer for his campaign.
Mr. Strickland called the event, and a smaller meeting with community leaders later Saturday in Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's office, a success.
"I came away feeling like I had a better understanding of the concerns of the folks in the community," Mr. Strickland said.
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