YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The United Returning Citizens program is expanding its reach in the Valley with a brand new facility.

The Ohio Justice Policy Center said in 2020, 1 in 6 people in Ohio had a felony or misdemeanor conviction.

“It was people that I knew that was close to me. I knew cousins, brothers, you know, fathers that were returning citizens, and I knew that it’s something better for them,” said Dionne Dowdy Lacey, who runs United Returning Citizens.

The URC program helps people recently released from prison get housing, identification and employment. Now, the program is moving to a larger facility.

“Expand to 11,000 square feet. So we’ll be able to have more people that we can serve. We can serve youth now, we can serve the homeless more than just returning citizens,” Dowdy Lacey said.

Many community members and people who benefited from the URC program attended the ribbon cutting on Thursday. One of which was Marques Jones, who went to prison when he was 23 years old. He went through the URC’s expungement program.

“It feels like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Before, it was a lot of judgment and stigmas that came with having a record, but now that I no longer have one, I’m just more confident to approach my goals and take a step forward,” Jones said.

Jones was able to get his felony removed from his record.

Malcolm North took classes with the program.

“How to talk to people, interact with people. They showed me my marketing skills, business skills,” North said.

North says the program is great. It is a place for people who want to learn and try a different way of life.

We asked Dowdy Lacey what she wanted us to know about the people of URC.

“Know that they’re not just second-class people, they’re human like everyone else,” she said.