(Chicago) – Illinois lawmakers approved multiple pieces of legislation during the spring legislative session to eliminate barriers to gainful employment for people with non-violent criminal records, including a measure to expand the number of felony conviction records eligible to be sealed.
On August 2, Governor Pat Quinn signed a new law, House Bill 3061 (PA 098-0142), sponsored by State Representative La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) and State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), that allows individuals to petition the court to order the sealing of criminal records for certain additional non-violent convictions.
As a result of the new law, felony conviction records that can now be sealed by a court include certain non-violent theft, forgery, and drug possession offenses. Research shows that these types of non-violent offenses often correlate to drug use. For instance, nearly two-thirds of individuals discharged from state prisons after serving time for non-violent offenses indicated they had been using illegal drugs in the month preceding the commitment offense, and 37 percent reported using drugs at the time of the offense.
“Often we see individuals who got in trouble long ago when drugs had overtaken their lives,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez. “Even if they’ve since left their criminal behavior far behind, and have been clean and sober for years, they still are barred from employment opportunities because of past records.”
Petition to seal these records is not allowed until four years after termination of the person’s last sentence, and any person petitioning to seal a drug offense must pass a drug test within 30 days preceding the filing of the petition to seal. These conditions regarding record sealing were already in place before, and they remain applicable under the new law.
“When individuals have paid their debt to society for past mistakes, we have to make sure the system actually allows for them to continue on paths of gainful employment and citizenship,” said Rodriguez. “This is the first successful legislative effort since 2005 to expand the eligible categories of non-violent crimes for which records can be sealed. It will give more people the opportunity to seek and obtain secure, stable employment, which is the foundation of any community safety strategy.”
Sealing does not erase eligible criminal records, but instead makes them generally unavailable without a court order. Certain agencies and organizations – law enforcement, schools, and child services, to name a few – retain access to sealed records.
Before Quinn’s signature on the new law, only a few felony convictions had been eligible for sealing: possession of cannabis, possession of a controlled substance, certain methamphetamine and steroid offenses, and prostitution.
“Governor Quinn, Representative Ford, Senator Raoul, and all of the bill’s supporters deserve congratulations and gratitude for advancing a sophisticated approach to reducing crime, stabilizing neighborhoods, and giving people fair opportunities to contribute to their families and communities,” said Rodriguez.