(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.”
Photos by Harvey Tillis for IOCI Media Services