New Illinois Laws Remove Employment Barriers for People with Criminal Records

(Chicago) – Job seekers with past justice involvement have new opportunities for employment this year, thanks to a series of bills passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Governor Bruce Rauner in 2016. These measures, which TASC supported, reduce or eliminate a number of employment barriers for individuals with past offenses.

These new measures include: restoring hiring discretion to employers by removing lifetime bans on jobs in schools and park districts; removing a similar ban on licensure to qualify for certain healthcare jobs; removing “red flags” on the State’s healthcare worker registry for jobs in the field that do not require licenses; and prohibiting professional licensure denials in seven specific occupations solely because the applicant has a criminal record unrelated to the occupation.

Together, these initiatives improve opportunities for people with prior justice involvement to work and earn income to support their families, pay taxes, and contribute to their communities.

“These laws help remove some of the lasting employment barriers that have hindered people long after they have paid their debt to society,” said Laura Brookes, TASC’s policy director. “We congratulate everyone who led and supported these measures.”

HB 4360, sponsored by State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-14) and State Senator Patricia Van Pelt (D-5), removes the lifetime ban on employment in schools for individuals with controlled substance convictions or misdemeanor cannabis, prostitution, or public indecency records, replacing the controlled substances ban with a seven-year waiting period. SB 3005, sponsored by State Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-16) and Representative Cassidy, makes similar changes with regard to employment within local park districts. Further, the bill removes the permanent ban on park district jobs for people adjudicated for a drug offense as a juvenile.

SB 42 and HB 4515 remove barriers to jobs in healthcare for people with criminal records. SB 42 removes a lifetime ban on licenses for healthcare jobs from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) for individuals with certain offense records, replacing it with a three- or five-year ban instead, depending on circumstances. The bill, sponsored by State Senator Iris Martinez (D-20) and State Rep. Camille Lilly (D-78), enables IDFPR discretion to decide whether to grant a license in any particular case. Rep. Lilly and Senator Don Harmon (D-39) sponsored HB 4515, which changes the focus of the Health Care Worker’s Registry to an individual’s ability to work and not whether or not he or she has obtained a waiver, which in some cases has acted as a “red flag” hindering employment opportunities rather than opening them up. The law also removes misdemeanor cannabis crimes from the list of disqualifying offenses.

HB5973, sponsored by State Rep. Marcus Evans (D-33) and State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13), removes barriers to employment in barbering, cosmetology, esthetics, hair braiding, nail technology, roofing, and funeral service for people with criminal records.

Advocacy for the school, park district, and healthcare employment bills was driven by FORCE (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality), an initiative of the Community Renewal Society led by people with records and their families and faith communities to “create change and seek justice for people with records,” and RROCI (Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois), led by Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Community Renewal Society, and Heartland Alliance. The occupational licensure bill was a joint initiative of the Safer Foundation and the Illinois Policy Institute.

 

 

National Reentry Week Highlights Key Elements of Criminal Justice Reform

The U.S. Department of Justice has designated April 24-30 as National Reentry Week, highlighting efforts to support successful community reintegration for men and women who have been incarcerated.

Renewed community reentry strategies are part of a wave of criminal justice reforms across the country. These initiatives involve reversing decades-old policies and practices that not only have fueled record incarceration rates, but also have created substantial reentry barriers for people who have paid their debt to society. Such barriers include practices and policies that bar or inhibit people with offense records from accessing rehabilitative care, employment, and affordable housing.

The collateral consequences of a criminal conviction extend beyond the direct consequences issued by a sentencing court. These penalties and disadvantages are now well understood to contribute to stubborn recidivism rates. According to Department of Justice data, half of those released from state prisons returned within three years. Illinois’ recidivism rate mirrors the national trend, with 47 percent of individuals released from prison returning within that time frame.

Compounding the harms of collateral consequences are disproportionately high rates of substance use disorders among incarcerated individuals, and sparse treatment and recovery support within institutions and following incarceration. Research has identified problem substance use as a “criminogenic” need—a dynamic risk factor that can be changed—and it is increasingly recognized by reform efforts that seek to apply evidence-based approaches to reduce recidivism.

Reentry in Illinois

Faced with a prison population that increased by 650 percent since the 1970s and a system built to house 32,095 individuals with greater than ten thousand more than that currently behind bars, Illinois has undertaken efforts in recent years to reverse these trends.

In 2014, the Illinois state legislature convened a bi-cameral, bi-partisan Joint Criminal Justice Reform Committee to examine the current system, study the impact of current sentencing structure, and consider strategies for reform. In 2015, Governor Bruce Rauner issued Executive Order 15-14, creating the Illinois Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform Commission, and tasking it with a goal of mapping out strategies to decrease the state prison population by 25 percent within 10 years. TASC President Pam Rodriguez is an appointed member of the Commission.

In its work to date, the Commission has affirmed that appropriate substance use treatment not only helps address the health and social problems among those involved in the justice system, but also decreases crime and recidivism:

“Building community capacity to address the criminogenic needs of offenders, such as behavioral health services, job training, and access to social services, is critical to reducing the prison population safely and sustaining the reduction over time.”

“Recommendation 12—Enhance rehabilitative programming in IDOC. Implement or expand evidence-based programming that targets criminogenic need, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy and substance abuse treatment. Prioritize access to programming to high-risk offenders. Evaluate those programs identified as promising and eliminate ineffective programs.”

Successful Reentry Models

Proven, evidence-based, and nationally recognized reentry models already exist in Illinois. The Sheridan and Southwestern prison drug treatment and reentry programs offer drug treatment services, both within the prison facility and in communities after release, and comprehensive reentry services, including TASC reentry case management and recovery support.

The programs have been rigorously evaluated. Individuals in the Sheridan prison reentry program have a 15 percent lower likelihood of return to prison within three years of release than comparable releasees who did not receive these services. Those successfully completing the program had even better recidivism outcomes, with a 44 percent lower likelihood of return to prison. The program operated at Southwestern Correctional Center has demonstrated comparable outcomes. A subsequent evaluation of the Sheridan program found that its recidivism benefits were still intact seven years after release.

Additionally, the programs were found to have generated combined annual savings of $5 million in reduced incarceration costs.

“There is substantial research on what works in reentry policies and practices,” says Rodriguez. “The more that our public systems, communities, and families understand and apply this knowledge, the more successful we can be together in reducing recidivism and restoring men and women to full citizenship in communities.”

TASC Public Policy Priorities

At local, state, and federal levels, TASC supports public policies that reduce incarceration and create healthier communities. Our policy priorities are to:

1. Shrink the justice system by diverting eligible people away from prosecution and incarceration and into community-based services, as soon as appropriate.

2. Create pathways for successful reentry after justice involvement, and reduce barriers that inhibit success.

3. Promote evidence-based strategies in substance use and mental health disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery.

4. Expand community capacity to treat mental health and substance use disorders, adapting to changing environments.

TASC President Pam Rodriguez serves on Governor Rauner’s Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, and she has been honored by the White House for advancing system-wide justice interventions for people with substance use disorders. Rodriguez and TASC Founder Melody Heaps are featured in a White House video describing TASC as a model for reducing incarceration and increasing access to community-based healthcare and recovery.

For more information on TASC’s public policy activities, please visit our Center for Health and Justice.

TASC President Appointed to Governor Rauner’s Criminal Justice Reform Commission

(Springfield) – TASC President Pam Rodriguez has been appointed to Governor Bruce Rauner’s Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

Established by the Governor’s executive order in February, the new Commission will examine all aspects of Illinois’ criminal justice system, sentencing practices, community supervision, and the use of alternatives to incarceration.

Twenty-eight members were named to the Commission, including lawmakers, researchers, nonprofit leaders, and criminal justice experts. Former U.S. Attorney Rodger Heaton, who was named in January to serve as the state’s public safety director, will chair the Commission.

A primary goal of the Commission is to issue recommendations to reduce the population of the state’s crowded prisons by 25 percent within 10 years.

“With the state’s leadership and all of us working together, I feel confident that we can achieve that goal sooner,” said Rodriguez, a projection she echoed in an interview with WICS in Springfield on Wednesday.

“We know what works,” she said. “We have an opportunity to implement evidence-based alternatives to incarceration on a far broader scale, and at the same time achieve better results in terms of cost savings and reduced recidivism.”

The Commission will issue its initial findings and recommendations to the Governor by July 1, and a final report to the Governor and the General Assembly by December 31, 2015.

TASC President Pam Rodriguez, named to Governor Rauner's criminal justice reform commission, is interviewed by WICS Newschannel 20 at the Illinois Capitol in Springfield.

TASC President Pam Rodriguez, named to Governor Rauner’s criminal justice reform commission, is interviewed by WICS Newschannel 20 at the Illinois Capitol in Springfield.

 

Governor Rauner Boosts Criminal Justice Reform; Solutions Include Diversion and Alternatives to Incarceration

At the signing of executive order establishing criminal justice commission, Governor Rauner greets Mike Torchia, director of Court Services for Sangamon County Adult Probation.  (Photo by TASC.)

Governor Bruce Rauner (right) greeted Mike Torchia, director of Court Services for Sangamon County Adult Probation, at the February 11 signing of an executive order establishing a criminal justice reform commission. (Photo by TASC.)

OP-ED: Governor Bruce Rauner signed an executive order on Wednesday to establish the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. Given that Illinois’ prison population has grown by 700 percent in the past 40 years, the commission will make recommendations to reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent.

At the same time, the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Criminal Justice Reform Committee, created last May and chaired by State Representative Michael J. Zalewski (D-23) and State Senator Michael Noland (D-22), recognizes the need to reduce incarceration of individuals with non-violent offenses and those with mental illness and addiction.

These initiatives by the Governor’s office and the General Assembly are critical and timely. They can be accelerated by leveraging proven solutions already working in Illinois.

First, sound reforms must recognize that the Illinois prison system is one of largest under-funded health operations in the country. Half of adults in prison have a mental health problem, and two thirds of adults in jail and prison have a substance use disorder requiring intervention. Many have co-occurring conditions. However, failed policies of the past 40 years have favored incarceration over treatment, driving prison and jail crowding and the clogging of courts.

Second, to slow the flood of non-violent offenders who churn through Illinois prisons, prosecutors and judges across Illinois must have means to systematically identify and divert non-violent defendants who have substance use or mental health conditions out of the justice system and into licensed treatment programs in the community.

More than 31,000 people were admitted to Illinois prisons in FY 13 (the most recently published data), with an estimated 57 percent sentenced for non-violent offenses eligible for diversion. Meanwhile, Illinois is paying $21,000 per year to incarcerate each of these men and women, when treatment and case management are only one-fifth that cost. No Entry diversion policies and programs—from “drug schools” to mandated community-based treatment with case management—reduce recidivism, save system and taxpayer costs, and address the behavioral health and social issues that often contribute to criminal behavior.

Last year, for example, TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities) diverted more than 2,000 non-violent defendants away from prison and into supervised drug treatment in the community, saving the State of Illinois $35 million.

We know what works. To achieve real reform and cost savings, Illinois must bring these proven approaches to scale.

Pamela F. Rodriguez

President & CEO

TASC, Inc.