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.

 

 

Advertisements

Illinois Lawmakers, Quinn Remove Employment Barriers Resulting from Criminal Records

(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.

Twitter @TASC_CHJ

New Illinois Law Clears Hurdle to Health Care Access Upon Exit from Incarceration

(Chicago) – As a means to reduce recidivism and stabilize communities, the availability of reliable health care upon release from jail or prison is a crucial dimension to any community reentry strategy. In particular, ready access to medications and services that treat mental illness and addiction are critical for preventing a return to criminal behavior.

This year, the Illinois General Assembly and Governor Pat Quinn took a key step to ensure that individuals may continue their care uninterrupted when they transition from jail or prison back to the community. House Bill 1046, sponsored in the House by Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago) and in the Senate by Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago), allows for incarcerated individuals to begin the process of applying for Medicaid coverage when there are more than 30 days remaining before their release, so that coverage could be effective once they are released from prison or jail.

The bill, signed into law by Governor Quinn on August 2, addresses an inadvertent gap in health care coverage that occurs between incarceration and return to the community. Prison and jail medical care is covered by corrections budgets, but upon release, individuals must have either private or public insurance (i.e., Medicaid) to continue their health care in the community.

The new law amends a 2010 measure, PA 096-0872, which allows individuals to apply for medical assistance 30 days before release. However, due to the length of time it typically takes to complete the application and enrollment process, the 30-day-limit became an obstacle to care rather than a means to achieve the intended goal, according to TASC President Pamela Rodriguez.

“Because of the lag time in completing the enrollment process, individuals with mental health issues and other serious behavioral health conditions are being released from incarceration without having access to needed medications and treatment upon release,”  explained Rodriguez. “The 2010 law inadvertently stopped short of ensuring access to care, as was intended.”

The John Howard Association and TASC’s Center for Health and Justice worked together in advocating the measure, thus bringing the 2010 law in line with its intent.

The new law, PA 98-0139, which was approved with overwhelming bi-partisan majorities in both chambers, allows the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services, the Illinois Department of Human Services, and the Illinois Department of Corrections to develop administrative procedures for an application process that specifically fits within jail and prison environments.

Rodriguez stressed that the law grants no new benefits to formerly incarcerated individuals.

“The new law neither affects an individual’s eligibility for medical assistance, nor does it grant medical coverage while an individual is incarcerated,” said Rodriguez. “Instead, it connects people with community health services that reduce the likelihood of crime and recidivism, and it increases their ability to conduct independent and productive lives.”

Twitter @TASC_CHJ

TASC President Hails Quinn Signature on New Criminal Justice Reform Laws

(Chicago, IL) – A new state law that is set to give Illinois employers a tax break to hire people with criminal records was signed over the weekend as part of an Illinois justice reform package.

Senate Bill 1659, which was among several signed by Governor Pat Quinn at a press conference on August 3, increases the income tax credit for employers who hire qualified individuals with criminal records. Sponsored by State Senator Patricia Van Pelt (D-Chicago), the new law extends the maximum tax credit from $600 to $1,500 per employee.

The tax credit will remain valid if an individual is hired within three years of being released from prison, rather than the current deadline of one year. The credit may be taken for up to five years.

“Formerly incarcerated individuals shouldn’t face a life sentence of no job prospects and no opportunities to better themselves just because they have served time in prison,” Quinn said. “These new laws will help them get back on their feet, contribute to their communities and keep one offense from becoming a lifelong barrier.”

In addition to the tax credit measure, Quinn also signed legislation that offers prosecutors and judges more sentencing options for non-violent offenders to reduce the risk of repeat offenses, and he approved a bill to streamline the criminal record expungement process.

Sponsored by House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), House Bill 3010 creates a “second chance probation” option for non-violent offenders. The new law allows a conviction to be cleared from a defendant’s record upon successful completion of at least a two-year period of probation, giving prosecutors and judges more leeway in dealing with certain offenses, Quinn said.

The new “second chance probation” law is a companion to the other measure signed by the Governor, House Bill 2470, sponsored by State Rep. Art Turner, Jr. (D-Chicago). This law aims to ensure that motions to expunge or seal criminal records are heard in a timely manner, enabling individuals to quickly restart their professional and personal lives.

Among those attending the Quinn press conference was TASC president and CEO Pamela Rodriguez, who hailed the new laws.

“By providing tax credits to employers and by expunging records of non-violent offenders, these laws ease the path to employment, apartments, and educational assistance for ex-offenders,” she said. “And by extension, recidivism is reduced, communities are stabilized, and neighborhoods can reignite economic activity.”

Rodriguez stressed that the legislation includes strict conditions.

“These new laws present opportunities and benefits that must be earned,” she said. “People must work to finish any necessary substance abuse treatment, they must strictly abide by the terms of their probation while under criminal justice supervision, and they must avoid any criminal activity; these are not gifts.”

TASC’s president also praised the leadership and community advocacy behind the legislation.

“When TASC began more than 35 years ago, Illinois’ prisons had not yet been flooded with people with non-violent offenses, and the collateral consequences of such convictions on a large scale were not yet recognized,” said Rodriguez. “Fortunately, Governor Quinn, state legislators, community leaders, and organizations such as our Center for Health and Justice are all working to mitigate these mistakes and renew opportunities for people to reintegrate successfully and permanently into society.”

GovQuinn-Signing_Aug2013

Photos by Harvey Tillis for IOCI Media Services

Photos by Harvey Tillis for IOCI Media Services

Twitter @TASC_CHJ

Association Recognizes Senator Dick Durbin, Congressman Danny Davis, and IL Senators Mattie Hunter and Kwame Raoul for Racial Justice Efforts

(Chicago, IL) —The Illinois Association for Criminal Justice (IACJ) presented awards on March 18 to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Congressman Danny K. Davis and Illinois State Senators Mattie Hunter and Kwame Raoul for legislative leadership in criminal justice policy.

Left to right: Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul; IACJ Chair Diane Williams; Clarisol Duque on behalf of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin; Congressman Danny Davis; Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter; IACJ Vice-Chair Pamela Rodriguez. Photo by David Ormsby.

The association’s inaugural event, held at the Safer Foundation in Chicago, featured a room filled to capacity with audience members who lauded legislators for their commitment and sponsorship of key legislation to advance fairness in the justice system.

The association recognized Senator Durbin for authoring the Fair Sentencing Act, which was signed into law in 2010 and reduces the sentencing disparity in the mandatory penalties for possession of crack versus powder cocaine.

IACJ awarded Congressman Davis for sponsoring the Second Chance Act, which provides federal seed grants for programs that assist individuals released from prison to successfully reenter society

Senators Hunter and Raoul also received the group’s recognition for state legislative drug crime reform efforts in Springfield. Hunter successfully sponsored the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission law that addresses racial disparities in justice system’s response to drug crimes.

Raoul won approval for Illinois Crime Reduction Act, a measure that invests in community-based solutions to non-violent, drug-related crime.

“At the heart of our mission, our goals are to advance criminal justice reforms that guarantee equality for all under the law, create safer communities, and reduce the financial burden of expensive and unnecessary incarceration on taxpayers,” said IACJ President Diane Williams. “Congressman Davis and Senators Durbin, Hunter and Raoul embody those goals.”

“Our mission is to ensure that services and public policies are in place that will reduce crime and restore individuals to stability and productivity in their communities,” said Pamela Rodriguez, president of TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities). “We’re here today because it’s vital to recognize legislative leaders when they take courageous stands in matters of fiscal responsibility and social justice. We care about these issues, we understand the impact of public policy in our communities, and we’re paying attention to what happens in Springfield and Washington.”

Founded in 2010, the mission of the Illinois Association for Criminal Justice (IACJ) is to ensure quality, comprehensive and coordinated services for people with criminal histories through the education of the public, advocacy, and community capacity building. TASC and the Safer Foundation are founding member organizations of IACJ.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s Illinois Budget: Close Some Illinois Prisons, Invest More Money in Illinois Community Care

(Chicago, IL) – Illinois Governor Pat Quinn laid out plans for Illinois’ FY’13 budget on Wednesday, calling for cost-cutting measures that decrease reliance on expensive Illinois prisons and other Illinois institutions while increasing the use of transitional services and community-based care.

The details of the Illinois budget will be discussed and debated in the Illinois General Assembly throughout the spring legislative session.  On principle, TASC and its Center for Health and Justice support the Governor’s commitment to provide community-based, individualized care to achieve budget savings for Illinois.

According to the Governor Quinn’s proposed Illinois budget, a number of state institutions will close, including two adult prisons, two juvenile justice centers, and six adult transition centers. “From both a fiscal standpoint and a social responsibility standpoint, it makes sense to close some Illinois prisons,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez. “It is critical to do so in a way that doesn’t exacerbate crowding in other Illinois prisons, and in a way that ensures responsible reentry when people are released.”

Illinois’ prison population stands at record-high of nearly 49,000, of whom approximately 70 percent are incarcerated for non-violent crimes. More than half meet the clinical criteria for alcohol or drug dependence.
 
“Especially when we’re talking about nonviolent offenders with substance use or mental health problems, it benefits both the systems and individuals to redirect people to appropriate interventions,” said Rodriguez.  “As an agency concerned with both public safety and public health, we support strategies that combine accountability with clinical interventions.”
 
TASC provides transition and clinical reentry services for individuals released from the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). As part of IDOC’s designated team of community-based providers, TASC’s services are core to the success of IDOC’s Sheridan and Southwest Illinois reentry programs. A year after release, Sheridan releases had a 44% lower risk of returning to prison than those who did not receive treatment and TASC.
 
“The bottom line is that we’re talking about reducing costs while maintaining public safety,” said Rodriguez.  “Any plans to reduce Illinois prison populations must be accompanied by carefully planned transition services and evidence-based services in the community.”

Gov. Pat Quinn OK’s Restoration of Illinois Substance Abuse Treatment Funding

(Springfield, IL) – Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation Monday that restores $28 million to Illinois substance abuse treatment services that were cut inadvertently earlier this year.

The legislation, Senate Bill 2412, reallocated money within the current Illinois budget to reinstate the treatment funding.

The following budget line items were restored:

  • Addiction Treatment Medicaid: $7.6M
  • Addiction Treatment Services: $16.9M
  • Addiction Treatment for DCFS Clients: $2M
  • Addiction Treatment for Special Populations: $1.5M

The bill also includes $30 million for community-based mental health services, mental health centers, burial services for the homeless and the poor, homelessness prevention programs, and need-based financial aid for college students.

Finally, the legislation will ensure that no state-run mental health or developmental disability centers will be closed this fiscal year.

“The successful effort to restore funding to Illinois substance abuse treatment services had many legislative champions, especially Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, State Representatives Sara Feigenholtz, Barbara Flynn Currie, Kenneth DunkinPatricia Bellock, and Rosemary Mulligan, as well as State Senators Heather Steans, Dan Kotowski, Jacqueline Collins, William Delgado and Mattie Hunter,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez. “We are deeply grateful to them, and to all who voted to restore funding for these essential services.”

The current state budget runs until June 30, 2012.