|Creason’s struggle took the form of Senate Bill 42. The bill would allow those with forcible felonies on their records (other than sexual offenses) to seek waivers from the state to obtain health care worker licenses, provided the convictions occurred more than five years prior to applying for a waiver. The Illinois Senate passed the bill on March 26.
The legislation now rests in the House Rules Committee and has 27 co-sponsors.
But nursing is just one occupation under which rehabilitated ex-offenders are severely restricted in Illinois. If an Illinoisan has a felony on her record, the state is permitted to deny her the license required to practice as an architect, athletic trainer, nail technician, barber and many other occupations. Given that nearly all of the tens of thousands of Illinoisans convicted of felonies every year will return to their communities at some point, these barriers pose a huge threat to successful reintegration.
The state must overhaul its occupational licensing rules, especially when it comes to ex-offenders in search of honest employment.
Illinois should also continue to expand the availability of record sealing. When a person’s criminal record is “sealed,” only law-enforcement agencies granting occupational licenses and parties with court orders are able to see someone’s criminal record. To get his or her record sealed, a qualifying offender must petition the court where the charges against him or her were brought and must supply that court with a variety of documents and information, including drug tests. For many ex-offenders, sealed records can mean the difference between gainful employment and reverting to bad habits.
Research shows that finding work is crucial to lowering the rate of recidivism among ex-offenders, which is important given that nearly 50 percent of ex-offenders in Illinois return to prison within three years.
Recidivism doesn’t come cheap. The Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council, or SPAC, estimates one recidivism event costs an average of nearly $120,000, which is borne by taxpayers, the victim of the crime and the state economy as a whole.
Moreover, those Illinoisans who recidivate commit a large portion of all crimes in the state – individuals with no previous arrests made up a mere 11 percent of convictions in Illinois in 2013, according to SPAC.
For budgetary reasons, as well as for public safety and the sake of struggling ex-offenders and their families, rehabilitation should be the end goal of Illinois’ criminal-justice system. That means dismantling barriers to success for Decatur moms, Chicago dads and anyone in between who has made a bad choice in his or her past, but is ready and willing to move on.
“You should never give up on trying to move forward,” Creason said. “You should never accept being in poverty because officials feel like you shouldn’t be able to move forward.”