In her new position as the director of reentry for Clark County, Brooke Wagner, former associate professor of sociology and director of the criminology program at Wittenberg, is helping to develop community ties by hiring Wittenberg students to work with her in the Clark County Department of Reentry.
Junior Brynn Cunningham from Grove City, Ohio, and senior Joshua Tarrance from Cumming, Georgia, are interning at the department. Both have gained valuable experience that will help them with future career goals.
“As a student of Dr. Brooke Wagner’s, I was very sad to see her leave Wittenberg,” said Cunningham, who is majoring in sociology with a criminology concentration while pursuing minors in psychology and justice law and public policy. “She had mentioned that with the Clark County Reentry Department being brand new, she would need some interns to help get it up and running. As a criminology concentration major, I was immediately interested in the opportunity. We stayed in contact over the summer, and when the new term began, I was given the opportunity to apply for this internship. I’m so grateful to have received this internship along with one of my friends, Josh Tarrance. I am extremely grateful that Brooke wanted to work with me again in the spring.”
Recently, the two interns along with two other Wittenberg volunteers were able to participate in a free legal clinic at the Clark County Public Library, sponsored by the library along with the Clark County Reentry Department, Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyer Project, and the Clark County Clerk of Courts.
“We had volunteer lawyers come in to do free case reviews for Clark County justice-impacted citizens to see if they were eligible to have their record sealed, or if they were eligible for a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE),” said Wagner, who took over as director in May. “Apart from the lawyers at the clinic, Wittenberg students were tasked with helping these individuals fill out the CQE application. The application process is lengthy with many narrative questions, so the Wittenberg students were paramount in helping individuals draft responses. Through this clinic, we were not only able to introduce citizens with prior convictions to the CQE’s existence and process, but we were also able to help them complete and submit the application for it, which they otherwise may not have been able to complete themselves.”
Wagner said that a CQE is “essentially a certificate granted by the court that lifts certain restrictions from employment and occupational licensing that are faced by individuals with prior convictions.” People with a criminal record are often prohibited from many job opportunities they are interested in; however, a CQE can help bypass these restrictions by showing employers and licensing boards that the candidate is no longer a risk to hire. Cunningham and Tarrance helped analyze cases to determine CQE eligibility.
“Our interns and volunteers completed a CQE training to assist clients on the day of the event with their CQE applications,” Wagner added. “It is wonderful working with Wittenberg students. Their energy and passion for creating positive social change cannot be matched. We also had two other students volunteer for the clinic. Our Wittenberg team was indispensable to the success of our clinic. It’s great to see them engaging in the community in a meaningful way.”
Cunningham has always known that she has wanted to work in the criminal justice field, and her internship with the Clark County Department of Reentry has allowed her to view the system from the other side with those who have been justice-impacted while offering them a second chance.
“I love helping people, and I have never loved my job more than when I was working the Legal Clinic. There, I helped a client complete and submit the CQE application,” Cunningham said. “I got to talk with her about her past, what she wants to do career wise, and how she grew and learned from her past mistakes. Reentry is all about helping those who have spent time in prisons or jails come back to their community and be successful in it.
“As an intern, I complete many tasks, including creating materials, content, and informative documents for both the department and returning citizens,” Cunningham added. “I often create spreadsheets of data from jail entry and exits. I also compiled a technology guide for individuals coming out of prisons to show them how to use current technology, and I helped create many of the materials used in the CQE clinic. One of the largest tasks we have tackled was the Reentry Map, which shows us and our clients’ providers in the area what is offered to returning citizens, such as immediate shelter, temporary housing, medical care, mental healthcare, opportunities for economic mobility, and prosocial connections.”