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.

 

 

New Law Removes Barrier to Restored Citizenship for Eligible TASC Clients

(Chicago) – Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has approved a bill aiming to prevent the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction for TASC clients who have successfully completed probation, including alcohol or drug treatment.

SB2601, sponsored by Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-3) and State Rep. Sonya Harper (D-6), extends the time period during which qualified program participants can ask the court to have their sentence “vacated,” or cancelled. Only participants without a previous felony conviction on record who have not already had a judgment vacated under the program may request this option.

Under the old law, requests to have a judgment vacated had to be submitted within 30 days after adjudication of the case (i.e., within 30 days of the person being sentenced to probation). In practice, this often proved a nearly impossible condition to meet, with an arbitrarily short deadline. A judge is not allowed to grant this type of request until after a participant has completed TASC’s program requirements and been discharged successfully from probation, which usually occurs 12-18 months after sentencing.

Under the new law, individuals will have until 60 days following successful discharge from probation to submit a request. It takes effect on January 1, 2017.

“Now, people who have worked all the way through the program—completing substance use treatment and fulfilling all of the other conditions of probation—won’t be automatically blocked from embarking on a pathway to restored citizenship,” said Laura Brookes, TASC’s policy director.

TASC’s court program is a longstanding alternative-to-incarceration option available to judges under Illinois law for sentencing individuals with substance use problems who are charged with certain non-violent offenses. On average, Illinois judges divert approximately 1,800 people each year to probation with addiction treatment and TASC case management instead of sending them to prison, saving the state millions of dollars in prevented incarceration costs, and connecting individuals to the services needed to address the substance use problems often correlated with their offenses.

A criminal conviction results in a host of long-lasting collateral consequences that dampen prospects of securing a job, finding stable housing, obtaining employment training or education—the very things needed to attain productive community citizenship. The American Bar Association catalogues thousands of such collateral consequences, and Illinois policymakers have passed many measures designed to eliminate them or mitigate their impacts, such as options for criminal record sealing and expungement and certificates of good conduct or relief from disability.

 

National TASC Conference Showcases Local Diversion Programs

(Chicago) – Several criminal justice diversion programs in Illinois were showcased at the recent annual conference of National TASC, an association of programs that connect justice systems to community-based treatment.

TASC, Inc. of Illinois served as the host organization for the national conference, which took place in Chicago and drew attendees representing programs in states from North Carolina to Hawaii. One of the conference themes was the importance of diverting people with non-violent charges away from traditional criminal justice processing and into services in the community.

Although diversion is not a new concept, public opinion, health coverage brought about by Medicaid expansion, and bipartisan efforts toward criminal justice reform have propelled such initiatives to the forefront of public policy. The goals of such programs vary depending on the jurisdiction, but most aim to reduce the numbers of people going into the justice system, reduce jail stays, strengthen connections to health and supportive services in the community, and reduce recidivism.

Illinois Diversion Programs Highlighted

At the conference, held April 25-27 at the Westin Michigan Avenue, experts who have implemented front-end diversion programs in Illinois offered their experiences and strategies for developing these initiatives. Chief Eric Guenther, public safety director for the Village of Mundelein, and Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim described their collaboration in implementing smart-on-crime approaches. Motivated by the dramatic increase in opioid overdoses and deaths in the area, they are leading the development of a collaborative effort to divert people with drug problems to community-based treatment rather than arrest them. Similar programs are being designed and implemented across Illinois and the country, inspired by the Gloucester, Massachusetts, Angel Program launched in 2015.

“We have been losing a lot of young people to overdose deaths all over our county. We had to come up with a new way of dealing with this [opioid] epidemic,” said Nerheim. “The vast majority of people who come into the system are going to be back with us—back in society—and we want them to be productive members. Everyone should have the opportunity for a second chance.”

Chief Guenther noted the importance of building trust between the community and law enforcement, so that community members feel comfortable coming to the police department for help. He remarked on the police department’s unique ability to engage people any time of day, any day in the year. “A person may decide at 2:00 a.m. that they want out [of addiction], and having to wait until 8:00 a.m. may mean that we lose that window.” Guenther also stressed that planning processes should include people in recovery to ensure that programming and messaging will appeal to individuals who need help.

Mark Kammerer, the alternative prosecution/sentencing unit coordinator at the Cook County, Illinois, State’s Attorney’s Office, described the array of programs in place to divert people out of traditional case processing, noting that his office has been operating diversion programming in some fashion since the 1970s. “We now have interventions for people with the least extensive criminal background to high-risk, high-need individuals. One size does not fit all, so we offer a continuum of interventions. The goal is to identify and screen people to get them into diversion programs sooner, rather than later, in the criminal justice system.”

TASC Vice President George Williams, who offered the conference’s opening remarks, spoke of TASC’s 40-year history in advocating for people who need help, and emphasized that clients, constituents, friends, and family members are at the heart of this work. “Everything we do in this room is for the rights, interests, health, and needs of the men and women who have come through our doors,” he said.

New Opportunities via Medicaid Expansion

“Diversion programs are surging in popularity and evolving in response to current needs,” said Laura Brookes, policy director at TASC. Introducing the panel discussion, Brookes offered that the justice system can divert many people who represent a low public safety risk to programs in the community, stemming the tide of people coming into the system at the front end and throughout it.

“Now is a particularly exciting time to be involved in this work, not only because of the broad support for much-needed reform, but also with the expansion of Medicaid in many states under the Affordable Care Act,” said Brookes. “This means that local and state governments can save justice and corrections costs by establishing connections to Medicaid-reimbursable behavioral health and medical resources in the community. These resources can help increase diversion, as justice systems become confident that many of people they are diverting will be able to access the care they need and reduce offending.”

The benefits of diversion programs were highlighted at the 2016 National TASC conference.

Benefits of diversion programs were highlighted at the 2016 National TASC conference in Chicago.

National Institute on Drug Abuse Publishes TASC Research: Recovery­ Oriented Care for Drug ­Abusing Offenders

(Washington, D.C.) — A recovery­ oriented system of care for drug­ abusing criminal offenders is one that provides for continuity of treatment, using evidence ­based interventions at every stage as clients progress through the justice system.

The National Institute for Drug Abuse has recognized the importance of this model and published the TASC case for a recovery oriented system in its latest issue of NIDA Addiction Science & Clinical Practice.

TASC authors Melody Heaps, Arthur Lurigio, Pamela Rodriguez, Thomas Lyons, and Laura Brookes explain how TASC has partnered with criminal justice and drug treatment programs in Illinois to establish a basic recovery ­oriented system, with programs that span pre­adjudication, probation or incarceration, and parole.

Read the full article and the peer response from Douglas McDonald, Ph.D.; Sally J. Stevens, Ph.D.; and Shiela Strauss, Ph.D.

Commenting on the TASC article, Steven’s wrote: “(Heaps et al., 2009) calls attention to the overwhelming need for a systems approach to substance abuse among criminal offenders. Although individual research projects and treatment programs can address particular types of problems, only a systems approach can effectively address the larger picture.”

And Strauss noted: “A tripartite system consisting of criminal justice, screening and referral, and treatment services provides a sensible division of labor.”

We’re on to something at TASC.