By Alexandra Arriaga, The Marshall Project

Most of the Cuyahoga County diversion programs that offer an “exit ramp” from a criminal conviction are for people who haven’t been in much trouble before. 

The Second Chance program was created by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley in 2018 to give some people with a felony record a shot at avoiding a new conviction, according to the office.

The program is designed for people who are charged with a crime and have previous convictions, but have not been incarcerated or had an open case with the court for a decade or more. 

Many of the convictions cannot be removed from their record. And they make people ineligible for other diversion programs. 

Who qualifies for the Second Chance program?

To qualify, defendants can’t face more than two charges. The crimes also have to be considered low level, such as vehicle theft or breaking and entering. Prosecutors can make exceptions on a case-by-case basis. 

How does the program work? 

A county prosecutor does an initial review of a defendant’s criminal history and notifies the judge assigned to their case that the person is eligible for the Second Chance program. The probation department conductions an investigation into the person’s criminal and social history to double check eligibility and to recommend an appropriate level of probation supervision. The defendant then has to plead guilty to the charges and is sentenced to 12 months of probation.

If the person is successful at completing probation, they can ask for the judge to allow them to withdraw their guilty plea and for the charges to be dismissed and expunged.

The final decision on that is up to the judge, who will gather feedback from the probation officer and the prosecutors. If a person falls short of the requirements, their guilty plea will stand and they can be sentenced to more probation or incarceration. 

Have you participated in the Second Chance program?

Share your experiences and insights by filling out a short form, by emailing us at, or leaving us a voice message at ‪(216) 446-5001‬.

How often are people successful in the Second Chance program?

The court doesn’t share results of the program in its annual report. 

Because the records are sealed, successful participants don’t show up in court data. The prosecutor’s office told The Marshall Project that it does not keep a record of program participants, but estimates it has had 10 cases a year since 2018. 

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The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. Through a partnership with Signal Cleveland, The Marshall Project is weaving more resident voices into its reporting and building an understanding about how the justice system works — and doesn’t work — in Cleveland.