Illinois Lawmakers to Consider Bill to Help Ex-Convicts

On behalf of Law Office of Steven Haney posted in Expunging a Criminal Historyon Tuesday, April 3, 2012

While unemployment is still pervasive among while collar job seekers, it is considerably worse for those with criminal records. In a story highlighted by the Chicago Reporter, applicants with the most common felony record (Class 2 drug possession) were universally being denied jobs because of their criminal backgrounds. It was as if the records themselves were creating insurmountable barriers to housing, economic opportunities, employment and education.

The push to relieve the burdens on ex-felons has seen increased interest since the release of Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Alexander, a highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, explains how many of the discriminatory actions previously outlawed by the Civil Rights Act are now being legitimized by criminal convictions. Once a person has a criminal record, it is seemingly acceptable to deny employment, housing and many of the opportunities people need to escape (or avoid) the trappings of poverty.

Because of this, Illinois lawmakers will be considering HB 5723, a bill that would add to the list of offenses that could be sealed from basic background checks. Currently, those convicted of non-violent misdemeanors and certain felonies (prostitution, possession of class 4 controlled substances and possession of marijuana) may have their records sealed. To be eligible, a person must have had no contact with the criminal justice system for four years after the end of their last sentence.

HB 5723 would add additional Class 2, Class 3 and Class 4 felonies to the list of offenses that may be sealed. The records of a number of crimes, including sex crimes, violent crimes, DUIs and offenses requiring registration as a sex offender would still be visible.

While the general public would not be able to view sealed records, law enforcement agencies and state prosecutors would still have access to them, regardless of the offense. Also, safety sensitive entities such as banks, health centers and child care providers would still use them to conduct background checks.

A number of community groups support the bill, including the Cabrini Green Law Project, Protestants for the Common Good and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. They believe that it will reduce recidivism rates, and give ex-felons a better opportunity to reintegrate into society.

Source: Chicago Reporter, “Bill seeks to seal criminal records to prevent ‘permanent underclass,‘” Yana Kunichoff, March 28, 2012