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.”

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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

Madison County, IL Curbs Heroin Fatalities; Deaths Climb in DuPage, Marion, Winnebago

(Chicago, IL) – As heroin deaths surge in several Illinois counties, Madison County has answers that can slam the brakes on fatalities.

Heroin killed at least 15 people in DuPage County in July alone, and Winnebago County is experiencing record overdose death rates. Similar stories are emerging from Marion County and elsewhere across Illinois. Nationwide, heroin use has doubled in the past decade.

Meanwhile, in Madison County last year, an alarming spike in opiate-related deaths among people newly released from jail or residential drug treatment led to a quick and coordinated response to prevent further fatalities.

Between April 2011 and June 2012, opiate overdose had killed eight TASC clients in Madison County. That crisis prompted a team response by the Madison County probation department, jail personnel, treatment providers, and TASC. In July 2012, they implemented the Madison County Opiate Alert Project, which involved closely tracking probationers with heroin addictions as they were released from incarceration or treatment. By communicating immediately with one another regarding these high-risk cases, the intervention team saved lives.

Since the project’s launch one year ago, no TASC client has died from a heroin overdose. (See story on page 4 of TASC’s Spring 2013 News & Views.)

“When a person addicted to heroin or other opiates spends weeks or months in jail, and then returns to the drug upon release, there is a strong likelihood for overdose,” said TASC Operations Director Craig Cooper. “But thanks to partnerships between probation, the jail, treatment programs, and TASC, Madison County has a heroin overdose prevention strategy that so far has exceeded our hopes and expectations. We are committed to our strong collaboration because we know we’re saving lives.”

The project has lessons for other counties that are facing the same crisis.

“This initiative shows that heroin deaths are indeed preventable when we follow what the research dictates and when we implement partnerships and practices accordingly,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez.

“Nevertheless, a key to any drug prevention strategy is adequate funding to fully confront a drug epidemic, so that lessons learned in one area can be applied on a broad scale. A crisis such as what we’re seeing with heroin, in all of its dimensions, needs a coordinated response, whether it targets probationers in Madison County or youth in DuPage County,” stated Rodriguez. “And on this point Illinois has fallen flat, gutting its prevention funding in recent years.”

The state has nearly eliminated drug prevention funding since 2009, and has slashed funding for treatment by a third.

“We are witnessing a public health crisis in Illinois without adequate resources to fight it,” Rodriguez said. “But we will keep fighting.”

For more on responding to the heroin crisis in Illinois, please see previous post: Heroin Deaths Surge in DuPage; Good Samaritan Law and Emergency Meds Can Prevent Fatalities But They’re Not Enough

The Impact on Children of a Parent’s Incarceration

More American children than ever are experiencing life with at least one parent behind bars, with estimates ranging from 1.7 to 2.7 million children affected on any given day.[i],[ii] The Pew Charitable Trusts reported in 2010 that one in every 28 children in the U.S. has a parent behind bars, up from one in 125 just 25 years earlier.[iii] That’s an average of about one child in every classroom across the country.

The U.S. has the unseemly distinction of being the world’s leader in locking up its own residents, currently holding more than 2.3 million people in jail or prison.[iv]  These record incarceration rates affect growing numbers of parents and children. Between 1991 and midyear 2007, the number of parents held in state and federal prisons increased by 79%, and children of incarcerated parents increased by 80%.[v]

“We are living in a world where growing up with a parent in jail or prison is becoming a normal fact of life for too many children,” says Janelle Prueter, head of corrections reentry services for Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC), an Illinois nonprofit that provides statewide reentry case management and alternatives to incarceration.

As the numbers of parents and children affected by incarceration have increased, so too have the studies on the consequences of this phenomenon. In its March 2012 Psychological Bulletin, the American Psychological Association reported that, based on 40 studies on the impact of incarceration on children, antisocial behavior is the most pronounced risk for these children. “The most rigorous studies showed that parental incarceration is associated with higher risk for children’s antisocial behavior,” write Murray et al., “but not for mental health problems, drug use, or poor educational performance.”[vi]

In the April 2012 issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, Johnson and Easterling concur that the unique impact of a parent’s incarceration is, as yet, undetermined. They note that it is difficult to single out the effects of incarceration as distinct from the other adversities these children face.[vii] For instance, people affected by incarceration also face disproportionate levels of poverty and addiction, as compared to the general population.

“In Illinois, thousands of children who have incarcerated parents are dealing with a parent’s addiction as well,” says Prueter, who oversees services for more than 6,000 substance-involved people each year who are in prison and on parole in Illinois.

Indeed, substance use disorders fuel the incarceration epidemic. According to the latest Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring data collected in 10 sites across the U.S., more than 60 percent of people arrested in 2011 tested positive for at least one illicit substance, with rates in Chicago and Sacramento topping 80 percent.[viii] Two thirds of incarcerated individuals meet the clinical criteria for substance addiction, but only 11 percent receive any kind of treatment.[ix]

“Having an incarcerated parent is an adverse childhood experience, and so is having an addicted parent,” says Peter Palanca, executive vice president of TASC and vice chair of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA). “We need to pay attention to what’s happening to these children. They need intervention and resources not only to help them get through their current circumstances in a pro-social way, but also to prevent them from experiencing poorer health and social problems later in their lives.”

The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study is an ongoing research effort of Kaiser Permanente and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Based on more than 17,000 health screenings of adults, it reveals “staggering proof of the health, social, and economic risks that result from childhood trauma.”[x]  The imprisonment of a parent is one of the childhood adversities measured in the 10-question survey. The higher a person’s ACE score, the stronger the likelihood that he or she will experience troubles such as alcoholism, illicit drug use, smoking, lung disease, liver disease, sexually transmitted diseases, and other negative health outcomes.

Stigma is a key factor associated with these adverse experiences, says Palanca. “As with children of alcoholics, children of incarcerated parents face a great deal of shame, guilt, and confusion. They need to have a voice, a safe way of expressing their thoughts and feelings about what’s happening.”

With more than 2,200 state and federal correctional facilities across the U.S., there are scant resources for the children of parents housed in these institutions. One program in Illinois is the Moms & Babies program at the Decatur Correctional Center, where mothers of newborns receive counseling and resources to help them learn healthy parenting skills. Focusing on incarcerated fathers, the National Fatherhood Initiative has developed the faith-based InsideOut Dadprogram, an evidence-based reentry model currently used in about two dozen correctional facilities across the country.

Once released from prison, people on parole need strong support in establishing new and positive connections with their communities and families. In Illinois–where 49,000 people are in state prisons and another 25,000 are on parole–Summits of Hope resource fairs provide information for men and women who have been released from state correctional facilities. Supported by the Illinois Department of Corrections and organized locally by community groups, service agencies, and government, these events offer individually-tailored guidance through information on parenting training, drug treatment, health screening, interviewing skills, and more.

Although resources for incarcerated parents and their children are scant compared to the need, these programs represent some of the trends toward acknowledging the scope and importance of the matter. The issue has garnered international awareness as well. In March 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution in support of children’s rights, with sections devoted to the issue of parental incarceration. [xi] The concept was originated in the U.S. by the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, who defined this Bill of Rights for children of incarcerated parents:[xii]

1. I have the right to be kept safe and informed at the time of my parent’s arrest.

2. I have the right to be heard when decisions are made about me.

3. I have the right to be considered when decisions are made about my parent.

4. I have the right to be well-cared for in my parent’s absence.

5. I have the right to speak with, see, and touch my parent.6. I have the right to support as I face my parent’s incarceration.

7. I have the right not to be judged, blamed, or labeled because of my parent’s incarceration.

8. I have the right to a lifelong relationship with my parent.

The short-term and long-term consequences of a parent’s incarceration are still being studied, and will vary from child to child. What is becoming more recognized, however, is the fact that record numbers of children are being affected. 

“There’s so much more we all can do,” says Palanca. “A good place to start is understanding that children of incarcerated parents have a right to be heard and recognized. Teachers, counselors, youth workers, and faith leaders are uniquely positioned to notice what’s happening and provide extra support. We also need to better connect incarcerated parents with their children in a healthy ways. Every child in the world has a right to feel safe and loved.”

——

The bill of rights for children of incarcerated parents can be found at www.sfcipp.org

For information on the impact of addiction on children and families, visit www.nacoa.org

For further information on TASC’s reentry services in Illinois, visit www.tasc.org.


[i] National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated. (2009). Children and families of the incarcerated fact sheet.  Retrieved 22 May 2012 from http://fcnetwork.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/fact-sheet.pdf

[ii] The Pew Charitable Trusts, (2010). Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts.

[iii] ibid.

[iv] Human Rights Watch. (2012.) World Report 2012: United States.  Retrieved 19 October 2012 from  http://www.hrw.org/world-report-2012/world-report-2012-united-states

[v] Glaze, L. E. & Maruschak, L. M. (2008, August). Parents in prison and their minor children. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Special Report. NCJ 222984.

[vi] Murray, J., Farrington, D. P. & Sekol, I. (2012, March). Children’s antisocial behavior, mental health, drug use, and educational performance after parental incarceration: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 138(2), 175-210.

[vii] Johnson, E. & Easterling, B. (2012, April). Understanding unique effects of parental incarceration on children: Challenges, progress, and recommendations. Journal of Marriage and Family. Vol. 74(2), 342-356.

[viii] Office of National Drug Control Policy. (2012, May 17). New survey results show majority of adult males arrested in 10 U.S. cities test positive for illegal drugs at time of arrest. (Press release). Retrieved 24 May 2012 from http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/news-releases-remarks/new-survey-results-show-majority-of-adult-males-arrested-in-ten-us-cities-test-positive-for-illegal

[ix] The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2010, February 26). New CASA report finds 65 percent of all U.S. inmates meet medical criteria for substance abuse addiction, only 11 percent receive any treatment. (Press release). Retrieved 22 May 2012 from http://www.casacolumbia.org/templates/PressReleases.aspx?articleid=592&zoneid=79

[x] The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. Retrieved 24 May 2012 from http://www.acestudy.org/home

[xi] Sentencing Project. (2012, March 27). Bill of rights for children of incarcerated parents. Retrieved 24 May 2012 from http://www.sentencingproject.org/detail/news.cfm?news_id=1280&id=143

[xii]San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents. Retrieved 24 May 2012 from http://www.sfcipp.org/

- Contributed by Daphne Baille, director of communications for TASC

Illinois “Summits of Hope” Offer Positive Community Connections for People on Probation and Parole

Contributors: Janelle Prueter, Linda Gatson-Rowe, and Sandy Kiehna, TASC, Inc.

(Chicago and Marion, IL) — Across Illinois, about 40,000 men and women each year try to find their way again in society after being released from in prison. About half will return to prison within three years.[i]

In a state where unemployment rates hover near 10 percent, people who have been incarcerated find it especially challenging to secure a steady job. (See In These Times article on employment challenges for people with criminal records.) Without work or a legal source of income, without housing or a stable place to live, without community support or positive peer and family relationships, the chances for successful reentry are diminished.

And that’s just the beginning. Attempts at successful reentry can be further obstructed by a host of health issues, ranging from dental pain to drug addiction to depression. Untreated trauma, stigma, discrimination, and insufficient problem-solving skills may factor in as well.

Local communities play a key role when it comes to reducing recidivism. They are natural allies and beneficiaries in recidivism reduction efforts because these efforts translate to less crime.

This is where “Summits of Hope” come in.

Summits of Hope are day-long resource fairs where formerly incarcerated men and women can find information and services that will help them reconnect to their communities and become responsible members of society. Introduced in Mt. Vernon in 2009 through a partnership between the Parole Division of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), the Jackson County Health Department HIV Services, and other local agencies, there are now a number of such summits held throughout the year in community settings across Illinois.

The purpose of the Summits of Hope is to enhance public safety through reduced recidivism. Each summit is an invitation-only event for people on parole and/or probation in the community where the summit is held. Organized by local agencies and volunteers, in partnership with community service vendors and several divisions of Illinois government, the summits offer a one-stop environment where participants can obtain the necessary assistance to begin to move past common barriers to success. Each local area forms a committee that spearheads the event, and the IDOC parole unit ensures that all events are consistent throughout the state. TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities) has helped plan and participate in each summit since they began.

Upon arriving at a local summit, each participant is assisted by a counselor or volunteer who guides the parolee through the maze of services and exhibits, focusing on those resources that are most pertinent to that individual. Resources include free HIV testing and service linkage, social services, shelters, food, clothing, mental health, substance abuse treatment, recovery support, education, job training, free or low cost medical, child care, college and adult education, assistance programs for utilities, transportation, and more. On-site services include the Secretary of State Mobile Unit to issue state identification cards (usually $20, but often underwritten by local organizations at each summit), medical screenings, H1N1 and other vaccinations, haircuts, mobile food pantries with clothing and other items, and demonstrations on how to dress for success.

People released from prison usually leave with no more than their private possessions and about $10. Most don’t have driver’s licenses or state identification cards, which are essential when it comes to applying for jobs or renting a place to live. By contrast, men and women leaving a Summit of Hope are likely to have a new state ID card, health screening results, appointment reminders, and a bag filled with information on agencies and community groups that offer help.

Between February 2010 and March 2012, more than a dozen Illinois communities hosted a total of 31 summits, reaching 5,871 men and women on parole or probation. Of these, more than 1,000 have received a state identification card and even more have received free HIV testing. In addition, the summits have offered hundreds of medical check-ups, blood pressure checks, H1N1 shots, and other vital services.

“Events like this give hope to clients who felt like they were all alone in their struggle,” says Tommie Johnson, recovery support services coordinator for TASC. Johnson helps set up peer-supported Winners Circles across Illinois for people who deal with the dual stigma of being in recovery from addiction and having a criminal record. For his ongoing work in establishing peer support groups for long-term recovery and success, he received the 2011 Unsung Hero Award from the Winners’ Circle Peer Support Network of Texas.

The Summits of Hope have received recognition for their innovative and generous efforts to support successful reentry. These awards include the 2009 Illinois Department of Public Health Takin’ it to the Streets’ Award for Innovative Outreach Programs; the 2010 Illinois Senate Recognition Award for Re-Entry; the 2010 Illinois Governor’s Gold Star Award for Re-Entry; the 2010 Federal Probation Award of Recognition; and the 2011 Model Practice Award from National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).

Even more than the awards, participants’ comments convey the need for and value of these summits. “Everything” was a common answer when attendees were asked what they liked most about their summit experience. Many expressed appreciation for the volunteers who walked them through the exhibits and resources. “My volunteer made sure I got all the information I needed,” wrote one participant. Another wrote, “Getting information on school and the diapers they gave me helped a lot, passing [the] drug test, everything, I am now more confident in getting a job.”

For most, the operative words were “thank you,” as in this reflection from a participant: ”Everybody treated me nice! Keep things going for the good of all, KEEP DOING THIS!!! WELL DONE!!”

Upcoming Summits of Hope will take place in Chicago, Rock Island, and Marion, Illinois. Please visit the Summit of Hope website to learn more about the summits, read participant feedback, and find out how you can volunteer or contribute to upcoming events.

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Janelle Prueter is the director of statewide corrections and reentry services for TASC. Linda Gatson-Rowe is administrator over several of TASC’s corrections reentry programs in northern Illinois, and Sandy Kiehna administers reentry programs in southern Illinois.


[i] Pew Center on the States. (2011, April). State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, p. 10.