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Ohio governor pushes to grant more pardons

Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 11:06 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - 15 years ago, Mutajah “Taj” Hussein says she could hardly draw a sober breath.

“During that time in my life, I experienced a level of hopelessness that most people can’t imagine,” Hussein said.

But that was 15 years ago. Now, she’s called, “Dr. Taj,” a badge she wears proudly.

She’s a licensed independent social worker. She’s served diverse populations and has worked abroad. She plans to launch a mental wellness agency soon in Parma, Ohio and sit for the BAR exam next year. She wants to be a foster parent.

The transformation didn’t happen overnight.

Before she said she, “built a spiritual connection with the universe” in 2007, she had her run-ins with Ohio’s criminal justice system. She said back then, it was like living on autopilot. Her only focus was finding the next drug fox or drink.

She eventually repaired her relationships and got on a path to right her wrongs.

“I’m very close with my family now,” Hussein said. “Before, they hated to see me coming. Now they love it when I visit.”

Even while she was on the path to living her best life, Hussein still had a significant roadblock in her way: Her criminal history.

“My past was like an albatross around my neck,” she said. “I’ve been denied apartments that I’ve fallen in love with because of my background check. I’ve been denied positions.”

She was denied her dream job.

The offer was rescinded after her background check was complete.

“I felt dejected,” she said. “I felt like I was trapped in a nightmare where no matter how much distance I put between myself and my past, it would never be enough.

HOPE RESTORED

She needed to get the weight of her past off of her shoulders if she wanted to achieve all of her dreams. A pardon from the governor would forgive her from her crimes. They wouldn’t hold her back from getting a job or housing anymore.

The pardon process in Ohio can take years.

But she got in touch with the people involved with the Ohio Governor’s Expedited Pardon Project.

It’s a partnership between Gov. Mike Dewine, Ohio State University and the University of Akron. Students and faculty from the universities review applications and figure out who is more likely to receive a pardon. The team works with applicants to help them through the process, which takes around six months to a year, instead of multiple years.

Gov. DeWine called Dr. Taj to give her the news on Good Friday. He pardoned her.

“I’ve always had hope,” she said. “But now I’m fully redeemed in the eyes of the law. That’s a truly freeing feeling. I really feel like the sky is the limit for me, especially with this pardon. I can’t wait to see what the universe has in store for the rest of my life.”

QUALIFYING

Gov. DeWine has said he wants more low-level offenders to apply for pardons through the project that launched in Dec. 2019. Dr. Taj spoke as part of a panel Thursday night that answered questions about the expedited pardon process. Part of the panel’s goal was to raise awareness about the project in order to get more people to apply for a governor’s pardon.

“There are people who’ve worked hard throughout their lives but can’t reach their career goals because something is holding them back,” DeWine said in January. “Maybe it was a fight in a bar a decade ago a breaking and entering two decades ago or the use of drugs in the 1980s.”

Those are some of the people who would qualify for an expedited pardon. To qualify, someone must have:

- No felony or misdemeanor criminal convictions in the last 10 years.

- Finished their sentence requirements prior to the 10-year period

- Made a good faith effort to pay all court-ordered restitution and/or court costs

- Must be employed or have a “compelling reason” for why they’re not employed

- Have some volunteer work or completed community service

Crimes that don’t qualify for an expedited pardon include:

a. Aggravated Murder, Murder.

b. Rape, Sexual Battery, Unlawful Sexual Conduct with a Minor, Gross Sexual imposition, sexual imposition, pandering obscenity involving a minor, pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor, illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance, felonious sexual penetration, importuning, compelling prostitution, promoting prostitution, disseminating matter harmful to juveniles, displaying matter harmful to juveniles, pandering obscenity, deception to obtain matter harmful to juveniles, human trafficking.

c. Kidnapping, abduction, felony child endangering, terrorism.

d. Domestic violence

To apply or review the list of requirements, you can visit the website www.ohioexpeditedpardon.org or search “Ohio Governor’s Expedited Pardon Project” on the internet.

DeWine hopes more people like Dr. Taj utilize the program to allow “model citizens” to maneuver what is usually a complicated and lengthy process.

“My expedited pardon project can benefit Ohioans who are living in the shadow of a dark past and regretted mistake, giving them the opportunity to truly have a second chance to reach their full potential,” DeWine said.

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