February 23, 2017
CCH, reentry coalition advocate to limit barriers triggered by background checks
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) is advocating for two statewide reentry measures that would limit the barrier to jobs, housing and higher education that are triggered by a criminal background check.
The CCH Reentry Project partners in the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI), organized in 2015 by CCH, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Community Renewal Society, and Heartland Alliance. RROCI advocates for policies that remove barriers for ex-offenders in reentry, including lifetime employment bans.
RROCI successfully advocated for four jobs bills that boost employment opportunities for returning citizens at schools, park districts, and healthcare facilities.
After the job bills were signed last summer, RROCI surveyed 350 men and women with records, asking them to identify their biggest challenges. An overwhelming majority agreed that background checks prove a never-ending barrier when trying to rebuild their lives.
RROCI decided to propose House Bill 2373, which would expand record-sealing eligibility for most felonies. Currently, only nine felonies are eligible for sealing three years after sentencing. The sealing exception would be convictions related to domestic violence, sex crimes, animal abuse, or driving under the influence.
HB 2373 would offer relief to people in reentry who face years of discrimination because of an old record. The bill passed out of the House Judiciary-Criminal Committee on March 28. State Rep. Camille Lilly and State Sen. Don Harmon (both D-Oak Park) sponsor the measure.
RROCI joined in support of a second bill in mid-March: Working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the reentry coalition will advocate for legislation that would prohibit colleges and universities from asking about or considering a person’s criminal record to decide admissions.
House Bill 3142 would provide opportunities for ex-offenders to apply for and be admitted for higher education, without fear of facing discrimination and barriers. The bill is now being considered in the Senate, after passing out of the House, 65-49, on April 5. State Rep. Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) sponsors the measure.
CCH advocates for reentry measures at the local and state level with its Reentry Project committee, comprised of ex-offenders, service providers, advocates, and academics. The reentry staff includes Senior Organizer Rachel Ramirez, Policy Director Julie Dworkin, and myself.
– Jonathan Holmes, Policy Specialist